Making “Home Alone” Less Lonely
~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 bearable.

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 safe!

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 at:

The Buster Cube ( 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 dental benefits!

The Busy Buddy Tug-a-Jug ( 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.


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