Tips and tricks to entertain your lonely four-legged housemate
Being left with nothing to do, day after day, will get old for nearly everyone. So it is no surprise that left to their own devices, day after day, some dogs or cats will get unbearably bored and do things we would rather they didn't. Some pets will bark or meow, seemingly without pause, while others will urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations, tear, scratch or chew things apart, or mutilate themselves neurotically by biting, licking or scratching too much at themselves.
These destructive behaviors can cause you to feel terrible frustration and guilt, and without knowledge or recourse, you may feel the need to give up your pet. But in almost all cases this is an unnecessary resolution. There are ways to help your pet acquire new habits, and ways to relieve your dog of the daily loneliness so that life can fall into a rhythm where both of you are happy to see each other at the end of the work day.
Even shy cats and dogs respond well to social activities and sharing companionship with their families -- human or otherwise. Providing a time for daily exercise and for relaxing together is necessary for a well-adjusted pet. Walking your dog for just 15-20 minutes in the morning before leaving for the day may help him or her to release some pent up energy -- at least enough until you come home from work to walk again.
It is similar for cats. Giving your cat some playtime before walking out the door can stimulate the mind and body, and playing a little game such as with lasers or feather toys can help your cat to release some of the energy he has had to hold in all day.
Hire a “Friend”
If your day is just too hectic to spend enough time in the early morning playing or taking walks, or if you have a pet that has an energy level that exceeds your allowance of time, you might consider hiring a local dog walker or pet sitter (or even a neighbor) to come in and spend some time with your pet in the middle of the day.
Doggie day care centers are also an excellent option, and are fortunately a growing trade. These facilities provide daily activities and socialization with other dogs, along with healthy meal choices. Just as you would for a daycare for a child, do your research, and ask lots of questions before enrolling your dog in a daycare program.
Go Ahead, Toy Around
There is a growing industry in the pet market, and toys are no exception. Just as the '80s saw mentally stimulating toys for newborns, so has the pet industry recognized the need for animals to be mentally stimulated. Puzzle-type toys that release treats at certain intervals or in response to interaction are excellent ways to keeping your pet from thinking about more destructive matters. Hard plastic toys with holes can be stuffed with various food products, like kibble (one that is different form the usual) or bits of meat flavored treats, so that the game is enticing enough to stick with until the goal has been reached.
Cats particularly enjoy having places to climb, hide, and exercise their claws. A cat tower or scratching post can provide critical moments of relief for your cat. It may take several tries to find the perfect scratching material, but it is worth it, both for your sanity and for your cat's mental health.
Tune In So They Don't Tune Out
Leaving the television or radio playing for your pet can sometimes provide comfort and distraction in an otherwise quiet house. Soothing music, such as classical or tranquility music, or a special DVD program that is geared especially toward domestic animals can help entertain a lonely homebound animal.
You might also consider providing real company in the form of another pet. In many cases, this is exactly the antidote that is needed for the cure to boredom. Keep in mind that taking in another animal is a big step, and all aspects of doing so should be carefully considered.
Don't Worry, Be Happy
If your pet is suffering from what appears to be clinical anxiety, the stress of being separated from you every day may be more than s/he can handle and medical attention may be the only course. Anxiety is a serious condition but it can be treated and resolved in most cases. Your veterinarian will be able to help you to determine if other steps, such as medication and behavior therapy and training are necessary. In the end, there are many options to help out your poor little bored friend.
Image: TheGiantVermin / via Flickr