Equipment and Gear You Should Get For Your Home Alone Dog

Welcome to the third mini-post of the first week here on the 9-to-5 Dog blog. My name is Olga Zuberg, and I live in Ontario, Canada. I’m glad you’re reading this page. You may have found this blog through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and I’m glad you’re here. This blog is about creating, building and improving the lives of our dogs that stay at home alone while we’re at work.

Every week I’m going to deliver a helpful and informative post. I’m also writing a book called 9-to-5 Dogs, and you’ll read about everything: interviews with dog trainers and behaviorists, my failures and wins, and all the details as I conduct my research. I will try everything on my dog so you can see how we did, what went well and what didn’t go well and what results we got. So if you’re a dog person, this is the blog for you.

For the first week I’m creating five mini-blog posts about what it takes to be a dog these days. On Day 1 we talked about understanding your dog’s life a little better and choosing some aspects you could improve. On Day 2 we covered getting started and introducing just one simple mini-game into your regular life. So if you haven’t read those, head over to 9to5dog.com/blog and read it. And today we’ll talk about what kind of equipment and gear you should get for your home alone dog.

I want to preface this post by saying that getting all the right equipment can be a rabbit hole. It’s also an often-debated topic among dog owners. Opinions are very divided. Some people refuse to buy anything, not even a ball. Others are into high tech toys and would love to buy everything that makes their pooch smile. So what is the right equipment to have for the dog that’s alone at home? Will any of this work? Where do I buy it? And it’s all kind of come to a head lately when some elite dog trainers say that if you don’t spend hundreds or thousands to ensure your dog’s wellbeing, you shouldn’t have a dog at all. I disagree.

When I started to leave my dog alone at home for the first time, I had very minimal gear, and it worked out quite well. We went through the initial separation difficulties fairly quickly. It even came to the point that my dog got to understand her routine and be happy about it. Cesar Millan, who I think is one of the most famous dog trainers in the world agrees on that. He has a great resource, called Cesar’s Way, and this is what he has to say:

“It’s vital to leave out your dog’s favorite toys and anything else you can think of that he can use to entertain himself in your absence. Dog toys make great diversions. Aside from keeping him away from your toys, you’ll provide distraction for your dog during the day, so he won’t be as anxious about you being gone.”

Great words. You can get the link to the article in the post notes.

OK, with all that out of the way let’s talk about equipment.

I started out with a simple red Kong toy. It’s a perfect toy for stuffing with treats. My veterinarian recommended it. The benefit is that you can get these almost everywhere. I got mine on Amazon here. It’s also fairly inexpensive. The disadvantage is that depending on what you stuff the toy with, it looks complicated to clean. I have this toy lying around on the floor right now, and you can see how small the space inside it is, but I found I can easily clean it up with an old toothbrush.

If you can get it, I’d like to recommend a different toy. I heard about this toy from a fellow author Kira Sundance, who, by the way, has a whole podcast episode about dog toys that she uses with her amazing trick dogs. You can check that out. The toy she recommends is Kong Wobbler food and treat dispenser. I actually bought it from Kong when it was on discount.

It’s an inexpensive toy that works really well. I’m using it right now. It’s also a dynamic toy, meaning that your dog will have to move around the room and paw at the toy to get the treats out of it. Plus it's a lot larger, so it's easy to clean, especially since the top twists off. And you can even fill it with regular kibble so you can put your dog’s breakfast in it, and make them for work it while you’re gone. It’s a great value.

A simple piece of advice here: If you have a very mouthy dog, he or she can destroy any toy. So, leave the toy with them for a whole day when you can observe what the dog will do with it when left alone. My dog is not very mouthy, so I trust her to stay unattended with most of her toys. But look at what happened when her mouthy friend came over for a play date.

I still use it, because my dog doesn’t chew it.

Let’s head over to the area where you want your dog to stay. When I just started out leaving my dog at home alone, she was still a puppy, and to keep her out of trouble, I left her enclosed in the kitchen. I chose the kitchen because it’s close to the entrance door and it’s a small room. I removed everything she could chew up from the room. She had a simple bed so she could rest comfortably, and she had a water bowl. For the dog bed I wasn’t sure if she would go for the stuffed bed, so I rolled up a piece of very heavy fleece fabric and left that instead. It didn’t have anything that she could chew off on it (like a tag or embroidered decoration), and I tested it to make sure she didn’t want to destroy it.

If a small enclosure and a simple doggie bed are all you can afford, just use that. But it you have a little more money, I recommend organizing a puppy pen for your dog. A puppy pen is better because you don’t have to worry that your dog may chew on the walls, or anything else that’s impossible to remove. A pen is also better for the dog because it’s the area your dog is going to consider safe. Your friends and visitors may enter the kitchen, but it’s unlikely anybody would ever go into your dog’s pen. Your puppy will have a place to rest, some area to walk around and play, and a water station. I recommend getting one of the metal ones. I gave mine to a friend after my dog outgrew it, but I bought it on Amazon, and it was something like this one.

Now you’ve got your dog set up. You have some boredom-busting toys. All what we have left is some fun and very useful high tech toys. (Don’t let your dog play with human toys.)

Do not leave your dog alone and just assume that he/she is sleeping. Most dogs enjoy naps, but you need to know and pay attention to any issues your dog might have staying at home alone. Get a way to monitor what your dog is doing while you’re away. It’s best if you can both see and hear what happens while you’re away.

If your dog must stay in a small area, you can simply use your laptop or camera to record him. If you have a Mac, just go to Launchpad and find an app called Photo Booth. I believe it’s a free built-in app that comes with all Macs. It’s fine. I used it a few times, and it served me well.

If you’re on Windows, there’s an open-source software called iSpy. You can download it for free to turn your PC into a surveillance system. That’s a good place to get started. I’ve heard of people who use it and like it. I particularly like the feature that lets you review only the time when your dog is moving or making noise. (Watching hours of video is pretty boring.)

We will talk more about issues with separation anxiety and other problems later, but for now, just make sure you know what your dog is doing when left alone before your neighbors complain. (Don’t rely on your neighbors exclusively; they may never complain!)

That’s it for this post. Hope you’re all geared up. But remember, don’t spend too much time on this. The important part is that your dog is safe without getting into trouble, and you know of any issues that he or she may have, which is what we are talking about in our 30 Day Challenge. So tune in for that.

But now, there are two things you can do to keep this blog going. First, I’d love to hear from you. If you end up having questions, leave me a comment or send me an email by filling a form on this website, or write to me on Facebook, or the easiest way is just to sign up to this blog and reply to the email you’ll receive. You can ask me any questions you’d like.

Also, this blog is going to go far. We do need to get other people on board. And there are two ways you can help this. First, click on share buttons below to share this post. And when you do this, it will rank higher on search engines. That’s how most people decide to tune in and subscribe to the blog. So if you are reading this blog, recommend it to your friends.

You can do that right now as you’re reading. And you can share it on Twitter or Facebook. That helps a lot. Thank you to everyone who has already shared the blog or has liked it.

So, do those things in today’s posting. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading. I’ll talk to you tomorrow when we cover some of the ways to let our dogs experience our world. So come back for that tomorrow.

Post Notes

Dog separation anxiety from leaving dog alone by Joe Wilkes