When you leave the house in the morning, your dog sits at the door, begging you not to leave. Or your cat sits in the front window and longingly watches you pull out of the driveway.
When you return, your dog is back at the door waiting for you, and your cat is back in the window.
Surely they didn’t spend the whole day in those spots, right?
In the animated movie, The Secret Life of Pets, animals are seen rocking out to music, throwing parties, and getting into all sorts of high jinks and adventures while their owners are away.
While the movie is obviously fiction, many pets do live secret lives. As this piece from BarkPost can attest, animals can get into all sorts of things when left home alone — including watching TV, rearranging furniture, and helping themselves to food in the kitchen.
Thanks to modern technology, we can set up cameras and watch our pets’ actions from any computer, smartphone, or tablet. And while a lot of these videos provide laughs and cute moments, they can also be used as learning tools.
More often than not, unusual, inappropriate, or destructive behavior is caused by pets who are simply bored when they’re home alone.
So do more than just monitor your pets when your away, and do more with those videos than posting them online, trying to become the next viral superstar. By watching your pets’ behaviors you can see what stimulation they’re lacking and find ways to make their “secret lives” a little bit better.
Preventing Dog Boredom
Some dogs may sleep and just laze around the house all day while their owners are gone. Others may suffer from extreme boredom, and will literally bounce off the walls looking for something to do.
If your dog is the latter, here are some tips to help alleviate that boredom — and keep your house from being destroyed:
Radio/TV. Many people already leave a radio or television on for their dog when they leave. The “white noise” does seem to have a soothing effect and thus may have some redeeming features. Think of it this way; any lilting/melodic sound (not heavy metal) or even just background gibberish is probably better than the sound of silence or a clock ticking on the mantelpiece. Most animals seem to prefer seeing images of other animals or nature programs.
A room with a view. Some of the best visual enrichment that a home alone dog can enjoy is the “real TV” experience of observing the world outside through a window with a panoramic view.
Transitional object. Some people report that leaving out an article of their apparel comforts their dog. The dog can then snuggle up to the item in their absence and be reminded of better times.
Rotation of toys. Well-meaning owners leave toys out for their dog to play with in their absence. This is a valuable enrichment strategy but will not work well unless the toys are interesting and novel. Toys that move or are good to chew are apparently the most fun and the way to keep them riveting is to rotate them so that they don’t lose their appeal.(?)
Preventing Cat Boredom
Indoor life can be tedious for some cats. They lack the all-important aspects of daily life in the wild, including the freedom to hunt, mark, protect, and defend, and to interact with others of the same species.
But there are several ways cat owners can enrich their cats’ indoor lives, including:
Climbing frames. Cats really appreciate a three-dimensional environment, as evidenced by their constant attempts to climb up on top of things. To facilitate this innate compulsion, provide climbing frames in strategic locations so that your cat can elevate his position with ease and obtain a panoramic view of the outside world. This is the closet thing to a cat newspaper. From their perch they can survey their immediate environment in safety and catch up on the latest comings and goings.
Bird feeders. The instinct to watch and stalk birds still courses through cats’ veins even though it may have been generations since they relied on catching prey for a living. The provision of window feeders for birds can provide cats with a lot of viewing opportunities at no risk to the birds.
Fish tanks. For similar reasons, a fish tank (with its lid firmly attached) can be another great pleasure for cats. Even though they never catch the fish, that failure does not detract from the thrill of “fishing.”
Food puzzles. In nature, cats had to work for their food. Hunting consumed a great deal of their time and energies. Yet we simply put their food down and leave them to scoff in as little as five minutes. What do they do then — sleep? If you get creative regarding your cat’s feeding opportunities you can spin out those meals and make the process of eating more entertaining.