How to Keep Dogs Happy While You're Away

It's one of the great mysteries in life: what do our pets get up to when we're away? If you have an active, intelligent dog, chances are he's not just lying around all day. You might even find yourself coming home to piles of shredded paper, chewed shoes, and other signs of mayhem. If you're facing the challenge of a bored or lonely dog, we've got great tips for helping. These simple solutions will keep your dog happy when you can't be home.

A tired dog is a well-behaved dog

It's all about prevention. If your dog is showing signs of pent-up energy while you're away, morning exercise will help. In fact, one of the best things you can do is give your dog a walk before you go. A game of fetch will also help settle her. It's not just about the physical exertion; it's also about giving her some extra stimulation so she doesn't get bored as easily.

Mental workouts count, too! Engaging in a quick, focused training session in the mornings helps calm dogs down. Try working on simple commands and then slowly ramping it up to more advanced tricks.

The power of distractions

Many dogs enjoy the sounds of the TV or of your favorite music. If you're dealing with excessive daytime barking, leaving music on can help mask the outside noises that set off your dog's alarm system. There's even a TV channel just for dogs: the aptly named DogTV plays dog-friendly content all day long.

Additionally, leaving the blinds open onto a yard or interesting view can provide your dog with visual stimulation. However, this can backfire if you live on a busy street and have a territorial pup — he'll likely bark at people passing by.

Break up the day

When possible, popping by your house at some point during the workday gives your dog a break from solitude. Even if it's just for 10 minutes, your dog will appreciate the company, attention, and quick game or activity.

If your schedule makes it difficult to do this, consider booking a trusted pet care provider. You can opt for a full doggy daycare experience, or simply have someone swing by for a drop-in visit. offers the nation's largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers — and they're only a tap away on your phone.

Puzzle toys

Puzzle toys are ideal for smart dogs that need plenty of mental stimulation. One of the most popular options is the Kong, which can be stuffed with cheese, peanut butter, or other treats to keep your dog busy. Freezing the Kong increases the difficulty level for advanced pups. You can find a list of more puzzle toy recommendations here; they range from simple to complex for the canine Einsteins of the world.

If you're feeling crafty, DIY puzzle toys are a fun project. Try simply putting kibble into a clean, empty milk jug with a hole on the bottom. Or freeze small dog toys in a bucket of water overnight for a homemade "ice lick" that has the added benefit of keeping your pooch hydrated. Just be sure to put down a tarp or blanket, or otherwise give it to your dog on a surface you don't mind getting wet.

Crates and other secure spaces

For anxious dogs, high-energy dogs, or puppies, crate training can be especially helpful. Once they learn to love their crate, many dogs will relax there during the day, rather than knock over the trash can or pee on your shoes. Crates provide dogs with a special "den" where they feel secure. Put chew toys and treats in there, and you're golden. Not sure how to get started with crate training? Check out these simple tips.

For bigger dogs or dogs who've moved beyond the crate, you can still create a space just for them. This should be a secure area of your home, whether it's the living room, a bedroom, or a section of the kitchen. All it takes are baby gates to construct a "dog zone" of your very own, complete with your dog's bed, food, and water bowls. And again, treats and toys are helpful!

Separation training

It's hard to leave when your dog is crying or whining. If your dog is upset every time you shut the door, there's a solution! You can teach him it'll be OK. It takes some time, but a training routine to help with separation anxiety is effective. Change happens gradually when you're patient and consistent about it.

Here's how it works. Begin by asking your dog to "stay" in one room while you're home together. (It's nice if this room has plenty of treats and toys just for your pup.) Slowly extend the distance and time of your separation until you can leave him alone for 15-plus minutes without incident.

Eventually, your dog will learn to trust that everything will be OK — even when you're not around.