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False Alarms: Keep Your Pets From Triggering Your Burglar Alarm

False Alarms: Keep Your Pets From Triggering Your Burglar Alarm

Pet-friendly burglar alarms – how do I find and install one? 


So you bought a new home security system. Good for you! There’s just one problem: you have pets and they stay home while you’re away.  How can you make sure your pets won’t trigger a false alarm when your system is armed?

False alarms are no laughing matter.Pet-friendly burglar alarms help avoid false alarm calls. Police waste valuable time and resources when they respond to an alarm and find that a playful dog or even a Roomba vacuum is the culprit – not an actual criminal. It’s no fun for you either when the alarm sounds in the middle of the night.  Is it your cat – or a cat burglar? A pet-friendly motion detector that’s been properly installed can usually tell the difference.

Choosing the right security system and properly placing your alarm sensors can help you avoid false alarms and the anxiety that comes with them.

Types of Motion Sensors

All motion detectors look for movement in a particular area. It’s a simple concept that gets complicated quickly if you want the detector to respond to some types of motion (like a person walking into a room) but not others (like a cat jumping up on a high shelf).

There are two main types of motion detectors: active and passive.  Active systems emit energy waves that detect movement. They’re actively searching their field of view. Passive systems don’t emit anything: they just look for changes in the area – like body heat. The type you choose depends on the area to be covered and how you plan to use the system.

The two types of motion sensors most commonly used for home security are passive infrared (PIR) and active infrared (IR) detectors.

Passive Infrared Detectors
A PIR sensor looks for changes in heat and movement in the sensor’s coverage area. When someone moves across the sensor’s field of view, the sensor detects the person’s heat signature, and triggers an alarm. Because they’re sensitive to both heat and movement, PIR detectors are most often used indoors.

A security system with a high-quality PIR motion detector  is the best way to prevent pet false alarms.  These detectors are set to distinguish between a 20 pound dog and a 200 pound person moving through the room. They’re the type of motion sensor most often used by people with cats and small to medium-sized dogs because there’s less chance of the pet tripping the alarm.

Active Infrared Detectors
AI sensors are often used in outdoor applications. They emit an infrared beam that triggers an alarm when a person or object crossed the beam.

Other active motion sensor types work much like sonar in a submarine. They emit energy waves and measure the amount of time it takes for the waves to bounce off stationary objects. When someone or something moves, it changes the reflection time so the sensor detects the movement.

  • Ultrasonic sensors use sound waves to detect motion.
  • Microwave sensors work much like ultrasound sensors, but use microwave pulses instead of sound waves to detect motion.
  • Area reflective sensors use an LED to emit infrared rays in the coverage area.

Mixed Technology Motion Detectors
Some security systems employ multiple technologies. For instance, a dual technology system might combine a PIR sensor with an area reflective sensor. The active sensor detects motion and the PIR sensor determines whether the movement is caused by a human or smaller animal. This type of motion detector doesn’t issue an alert unless the movement trips both sensors.

Pet-friendly Burglar Alarm Sensors Help Minimize False Alarms 

Pets are more likely to trigger false alarms when the security system uses active motion detectors. Passive infrared motion detectors are more reliable because they use heat to distinguish between human and pet movement. GetSafe includes a PIR motion detector in our basic Starter Kit

However, even the most pet-friendly burglar alarm will trigger false alarms if the motion detector isn’t installed and placed correctly.  The coverage area is key:

  • Consider your pet’s habits. This is especially important if you’re using active motion detectors because everyday activities can easily trigger a false alarm. For instance, if your cats regularly play on the stairs or your dog just won’t stay off the sofa, it might be wise to point the motion detector in another direction. In some cases, you may have no choice but to lock the animals out of the area when the system is armed.
  • Keep the detector itself away from pets. Install your motion detector at least 5-6 feet out of the reach of pets. Keep in mind that cats are adept at jumping and climbing on doors, drapes, and bookcases.
  • Remember that pets are low to the ground. Place the detector near the ceiling so that the coverage area begins a few feet above the floor. That will still catch humans, but not your pets.
  • Place the detector upside down. Is your pet close to the weight or height limit? In that case, consider installing the motion detector upside down so that it points toward the ceiling, not the floor.  Be sure to test the placement carefully. The bottom of the coverage area should be low enough to catch a person, but at least a foot above the height of your biggest pet.

Keep in mind that things other than pet activity can also trigger alarms:

  • Don’t point the detector at a window. The glass allows light and heat into the room and may trigger the sensor. Think of the sun coming out on an otherwise cloudy day and quickly warming an object next to the window.
  • Keep heaters out of the coverage area. Space heaters emit a lot of infrared energy when turned on. Some heaters have thermostats so they cycle on and off as the temperature changes.

Check Your Arming Mode

If all else fails and your big dog still triggers your motion detector, you might consider using a different arming mode. 

Most security systems feature multiple arming modes, including one called Night Arm, Arm/Stay or something similar.  In this mode your door and window sensors are armed, but your motion detectors are disarmed.  This allows you and your pets to move around inside your home, the alarm is triggered if someone opens a door. 

This option is really intended for security while you are at home. If you want to sleep safely at night, you can arm the system, without worrying that you’ll trigger an alarm when you go to the kitchen for a midnight snack.

This isn’t the ideal way to handle the pet issue, because you’re basically taking your motion detector out of the system.  Use this as a last resort only.

False Alarms Waste Time and Money

Home security systems trigger so many false alarms that some law enforcement agencies have stopped responding.

Nationwide, false alarms cost police agencies $600 million a year and use up 6.5 million personnel hours, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. A 2002 Justice Department study put the price tag nationwide at $1.5 billion.

Public money aside, false alarms could cost you personally.  In some areas, homeowners and businesses can incur fines or be required to attend a “False Alarm Awareness Class” if law enforcement responds to a false alarm.  Think of it as traffic school for security system owners – only even more boring than the DMV version.

Pet-friendly burglar alarms and motion detectors help keep your pets and your home safe. They minimize false alarms – without wasting anyone’s time and money.

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