Dogs can become stressed and even develop separation anxiety if they feel they’re being left in an unsafe space. When they don’t see you around, they might think they’re trapped, leading them to bark for someone to rescue them.
You want the best for your dog, but most people have to leave their dogs alone every once in a while. You might also need a safe zone for your dog if it frequently roams around away from you outside, or if you need to keep it separated from children or other guests during a get-together. Here’s how to create a safe zone (indoors and outdoors) that makes your dog feel happy and protected.
1. Make It Your Dog’s Favorite Place
If your pet is alone and doesn’t see you, its favorite blanket or toys will give it some much-needed comfort. Make sure you keep all its favorite items in there when you’re away, as well as a bowl of water.
Some dogs like burrowing into blankets and pillows, while others might just want a simple mat to cool down on. You should try to recognize what makes your dog comfortable and decorate its space around that. For example, if your dog gets hot easily, a warm woolen area full of pillows is not where it’ll feel comfortable.
You can also convert a whole room for your pet, which has the added benefit of being easy to close off from guests or other pets. If you have the space, a mudroom, laundry room, basement storage room, or an extra bedroom might do the trick. You can also corner off a part of a room with baby gates or pens, but you should make sure your pet isn’t clever enough to escape from them.
2. Add Enrichment That Keeps Them Occupied
For cats, you can get a dry food feeder that requires them to paw around inside and “hunt” for their kibble. You can also get a scratching post and other cat toys.
For dogs, a peanut butter-filled Kong always does the trick. These clever toys keep them occupied for hours! If they can’t have peanut butter, you can always get them a bone. If you don’t like the mess or smell of bones, a nice alternative you can get is a coffee wood stick. This non-toxic, soft wood has the perfect hardness and is safe for your dogs. Make sure their toys are durable enough to last the full duration of time you’re away without getting shredded.
Giving your pet something to chew or scratch also makes it less likely to ruin your furniture while you’re gone!
3. Associate Positive Reinforcement With the Safe Space
It is very, very important that your dog has positive associations with its safe space. That means you should never use this space as a place it should go to when it’s being punished! This will backfire if you try to leave your dog there alone, as it’ll think it’s in trouble and won’t want to stay. Also, never trap or confine it there while you’re nearby as a form of negative reinforcement. “Go to your room” might work as a punishment for kids, but it doesn’t work on dogs.
Instead, reward your pet for going to its spot independently. Give it a small treat or chew and maybe train it to “go to its spot.” If your pet starts to get stressed, lead it to this place and leave it alone. Make this spot its happy place, and there won’t be any anxiety associated with it.
4. Add Something With Your Scent
Pets are comforted by the familiar scent of their humans, especially ones with separation anxiety. To calm down a restless dog, you should add something with your own distinctive scent, like a t-shirt or sweatshirt. This will help reassure your dog that you’re nearby and haven’t abandoned it.
5. Consider a Sound Machine
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Just like many humans, some dogs are comforted by the sound of white noise. A fan or speaker with white noise can lull a restless dog to sleep. Many dogs also like a nice breeze around their fluff, so a fan can be doubly comforting.
6. Get a Pet Camera
Set up a camera to watch your pet when you’re not home. These smart pet surveillance cameras are surprisingly inexpensive, and give you peace of mind while you’re away.
You can hook many pet cameras to a phone app and turn the camera to face your dog while you’re away. You can place them anywhere in your house, and set up multiple at once to the same account.
This way, you can monitor your pet’s behavior and see if it’s comfortable and safe. If you’re worried that it’s barking and disturbing the neighbors, you can easily find out via a microphone.
Many of these cameras also have speakers, so if you see your pet misbehaving, you can turn on the mic and scold it! Most dogs are smart enough to recognize their owner’s voice through a speaker. The voice will let it know it’s being watched, and can’t goof off, even if it can’t see you. It’ll feel more secure (and less likely to misbehave!) if it knows you’re watching.
7. Put Up a Specialized Fence
Nothing is scarier than your pet escaping in the backyard and getting lost in the neighborhood or beyond. Save yourself this fear and stress by pet-proofing your yard with a proper fence.
If you already have a fence with wide gaps, get a simple dog fence kit that creates a barrier at the bottom so pets can’t get out. These fences will let you keep your pet outside for an extended period without running the risk that it’ll escape.
If you plan to leave your pet outside, make sure you have a good fence guard and examine your full property for ways it could tunnel or weasel through a crack. Also, give your pet a comfortable shelter it can retreat to in the rain, packed with the same enrichment it would have inside.
You should also ensure neighboring pets don’t get in, as you can end up with unexpected puppies or kittens!
8. If You Have a Pool, Pet-Proof It
Pet safe zones aren’t just about calm spaces and preventing separation anxiety. You need to remove potential dangers from your pet’s environment.
When building a pool, many people don’t consider what would happen if an animal fell in. Some pools do not have a ramp or proper stairs for animals to get out, which can tragically lead to drowning. Many wild animals and pets die each year from this preventable cause. Remember that animals can’t pull themselves onto a ledge or climb a ladder.
If you leave your pool open, install a simple pet pool ramp. Also, keep the cover on when you’re not nearby.
9. Keep Away Indoor Dangers
You should remove many thing your dog’s room for its safety and comfort. You know your dog better than anyone, but even if you think it might not disturb something, you’re best off removing it from its space. If your dog considers a safe zone its own, it might play around with things it wouldn’t normally do.
Hazardous items you should remove include:
● Electric wires
● Unsecured chemicals
● Food or drink
● Pillows and damageable furniture
10. Make the Space Theirs and Theirs Alone
Just like humans have a bedroom to retreat to, dogs require a space they know they can call their own and be calm in. Giving them a space where they know they can always feel safe makes them less likely to lash out or misbehave because of stress. Dogs are territorial animals, and need a “nest” or “base” where they know they can be safe. This is one reason why dogs get so stressed when you’re moving house — their territory is being disturbed.
From as early an age as possible, give your pet a space that is exclusively its own. This can be a big cozy dog bed, a crate, or a corner of the room with a rug, blanket, and toys. Don’t let kids or other pets disturb this place or move it around too much.
If you do this right, your dog will naturally retreat to its safe space when tired or wants to be alone. This mostly applies to dogs, but cats can appreciate this, too.
Your Pet Will Appreciate Your Efforts
Giving your pet a suitable environment where it can feel safe is a big part of being a responsible owner. Your pet will be happy to have a space it can withdraw to when it’s tired or stressed, and you’ll benefit tremendously from its calm attitude. Just get a little creative and put in the effort when your pet is as young as possible, and it’s super easy to create a safe zone it’ll love!
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