Pet Activities For When You're Away
You've seen those pet shaming photos on social media: the ones where the dog or cat is "confessing" to tearing up the sofa, stealing the cake from the counter or even chewing through walls when their people aren't home.
But do those furry friends really have anything to be ashamed of? Experts agree that our pets are typically not mad at us for leaving them alone. They're actually bored and have pent up energy, says Brian Umbach, a dog trainer for Reserved Barking in Springfield, Virginia. Who can blame a lively pup or curious kitty for that?
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to keep your dog or cat safely occupied while you're away.
One of the most foolproof solutions to boredom-based destruction is crate training, as pets can't destroy what they can't reach. Umbach says if you're going to crate train a dog, begin with short periods of time in the crate.
"Let them go in, shut the door for a short period and then let them out, rewarding them with a treat. Do it again, increasing the time," says Umbach. "This teaches them their crate is a safe place and when the door is closed, they will eventually be allowed out."
It's a good idea to make sure you choose the right size crate so your dog has room to move while you're away.
"A lot of times, destructive behavior comes from dogs not getting enough exercise," says Umbach. Exercise burns energy so your dog can chill out later while you're away.
And don't forget to exercise your cats! Get down on the floor and play with your feline friend to zap his boredom and keep him healthy, too.
The amount of exercise time needed depends on your pet's energy level. "High-energy dogs need to go farther," Umbach says. He recommends taking your dog for a walk or playing with your cat just before you leave.
It's fine for your pets to play while you're away, as long as they're playing safely — and not with your houseplants or the expensive sofa.
"Hard, puzzle-type toys can keep pets occupied for hours," says Umbach. "You can even apply a thin layer of peanut butter to the inside of the toy, freeze it and then give it to them just before you leave."
A hard, plastic ball that dispenses treats when tipped just so is one example of a puzzle toy. Take care to only use small, safe treats in these toys, like Milk-Bone® Mini's Biscuits or Meow Mix Irresistibles®, which make for yummy distractions.
Photo Credit: "Eevi, Emmi ja Leo Caine Genius" by smerikal via Flickr.
Think you're the only geek in the house? Your fuzzy friend just may be one, too.
"There are products that allow you to interact with your pet even when you aren't at home," says Ashley Jacobs, founder of Sitting for a Cause, an online pet-sitter locating service that gives 50 percent of its profits to animal charities. "Some are simple screens that enable you to see and talk to your your cat or dogs while dispensing their favorite treat, while others include actual toys you can use to remotely play with your pet."
Dog Walkers and Pet Sitters
If you're gone for many hours every day, you might consider hiring someone to come to your home to check on your pet, play with them and walk dogs. "Having someone give them some exercise midway through the day can help reduce their energy levels, keeping them occupied and safe," says Jacobs.
Darcy Matheson, author of "Greening Your Pet Care," says if your home has windows, you already have a great way to keep cats entertained while you're away. "Make sure you have a wide windowsill for them to sit, so they can take in the great outdoors from the safety of the indoors." If you have sills that are too shallow, install some wide, floating shelves near the window at a height that allows cats to reach them.
Matheson also advises cat families to install what she calls "Cat TV" — bird feeders and birdbaths outside the window that will attract winged entertainers for your cats to watch all day.
Photo Credit: "JellyBean versus the DigiKey packaging materials" by Windell Oskay via Flickr.
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