Making “Home Alone”
~Christine Hanaburgh, APB board
member and foster mom
One of the consequences our fast paced American lifestyle is that many
dogs are spending more time home alone while their families are at work
and school. While this isn’t the life many of us had envisioned for our
beloved pets, if you find yourself walking out the door with pangs of
guilt, there are some things you can do to make your time apart more
Interactive toys are a growing line of dog toys aimed specifically at
providing mental stimulation and entertainment for dogs without the need
for a human playmate. These toys are usually designed to stimulate your
dog’s senses and to provide a reward to your dog for completing a task,
such as manipulating the toy in a certain way.
Here is a sampling of some tried and true interactive toys, and how well
suited they might be to your individual dog:
The Kong is undoubtedly the most popular interactive toy, and one that
inspired many others. A Kong is a hard, rubber, hollow, bee-hive shaped
toy that has an irregular bounce and can be filled with yummy stuff like
cheese or peanut butter. The combinations of stuffing recipes and
strategies for making the “unstuffing” process more challenging are
endless. Mashed banana and kibble, pasta and cheese, or shredded
zucchini and tuna are just a few to start with. And Kongs are dishwasher
For dogs who are adept at emptying their Kongs,
freezing the stuffed Kong can increase the challenge and the enjoyment.
It is really no trouble at all to mix up a couple cups of your dog’s
favorite Kong recipe, fill and freeze five Kongs, and take one out each
morning as you leave for work. Recipes abound on the internet, but start
The Buster Cube (http://www.bustercube.com)
is a hard plastic cube that comes in two sizes, one for smaller dogs
(20lbs and under) and one for larger dogs (20lbs - 80lbs). As your dog
gets better at getting the treats out, you can increase the difficulty
to keep your dog challenged, but don’t worry if you have to show them
how to do it the first few times.
The Molecuball and Nylabone Crazy Ball are similar
toys that dispense individual treats as your dog plays with them. These
toys are also helpful for encouraging shy or timid dogs to explore new
things as they push the ball around and are rewarded for following the
toy into “new territory”.
The Havaball is a grooved rubber ball that not only dispenses treats but
helps to clean your dog's teeth and gums as he plays with it. When you
stuff the hollow center with kibble or treats, it will periodically
release food as your pet rolls, chews, or bounces the toy. By biting the
slits in the ball, the teeth sink into the grooves helping to clean the
teeth and stimulate the dog's gums. Adding cream cheese, peanut butter,
or doggie toothpaste to the outside of the treat will increase its
The Busy Buddy Tug-a-Jug (http://www.busybuddytoys.com)
is a relatively new toy that is a bullet proof food dispenser, chewing,
and pulling toy all in one! The Tug-a-Jug has a rubber chew thing at the
top, a rope for pulling, and a tooth resistant bottle that can be filled
with dry food or other small treats. It is a very sturdy toy!
Raw beef marrow bones are a safe and time consuming chew treat for dogs.
These bones can usually be found in the grocery store meat section as
soup bones. Dogs can dig out the marrow and chew the ends of the bones,
chipping away years worth of built-up tartar. Once the marrow and the
sinew on the outside of the bone are gone, the bones can be cleaned in
the dishwasher and stuffed much like a Kong. These bones will only keep
in the refrigerator for a few days, but they can be offered frozen for a
“project” that may well take your dog an entire day to complete!
Raw beef bones can be messy, so it may be best to
offer this to your dog while he is in his crate, or to place a sheet
down where your dog will chew it. Although raw bones are safe for your
dog, cooked bones can splinter and should never be given to dogs.
However, beef femur bones purchased raw are very strong and hold up well
to strong chewers, even after going through the dishwasher.
Some general things to keep in mind with all of these toys are that it
is best to observe how your dog uses a particular toy before leaving him
alone with it, and to discontinue using a toy if your dog is able break
pieces of it off. Also, if you have multiple dogs, it is safest to keep
dogs separate if they are going to be left alone with access to treats.
Even dogs who play together and get along splendidly may have a fight
over a particularly valuable item like a raw beef bone.
A final point to bear in mind is that dogs sleep much more than people
do! Estimates of how much time adult dogs spend sleeping range from 12
to 18 hours. So while you may be concerned that your dog is home bored
to death, it is likely that your dog is getting some needed sleep during
a good portion of that time.
Sometimes families fear that being gone at work
all day and being continually busy means they can’t give their dogs the
attention they need. However, providing stimulating toys, adequate daily
exercise, and involving your dog in family activities when possible (for
example, bringing him along for the ride while you run errands), can all
go a long way towards keeping your dog happy, healthy, and well-behaved.