How To Expert Tips How to pet-proof a model railroad layout

How to pet-proof a model railroad layout

By Gerry Leone | May 16, 2024

Your pets and your layout are not always compatible, so keep these tips in mind

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Living with a model railroad and a dog or cat isn’t always easy. The animals don’t know the difference between your toys and theirs, and can wreak havoc on scenery, models, or your workbench.  Animals love to chew on natural materials and unfortunately, many scenery products are made of those.

But peaceful coexistence is possible if you take the right measures.  Here are some tips to help maintain harmony between you and your pets in your train room.

Lose the loose stuff

A cat stands on the benchwork of a model railroad layout looking out the adjacent window
Loretta uses the early return loop benchwork on the Bona Vista IV to check the weather in the backyard.

An old joke says that if the Earth really was flat, the cats would have knocked everything off the edge already.  Make sure you’re not giving your cats easy access to loose objects like scale automobiles, figures, fire hydrants, etc., on or below the layout.  Glue them down to the layout or store them in containers underneath.  For dogs, stash away anything that’s “chewable” like stripwood, cork roadbed, and unused Super Trees.

Add their own toys

Two cats look at a dog through a glass door
Irene and Loretta, our far-too-curious cats, envy trouble-free Wally’s admittance to my train room.

It may seem counterintuitive, but adding some of your cats’ or dogs’ familiar toys to your train room may actually distract them and keep them from playing with your stuff.

Seek and hide

A cat pokes its head through a tunnel on a model railroad layout
Dearly departed Phyllis thought the area behind the return loop on the Bona Vista III would be the perfect hiding spot. Her dad disagreed.

If you’re a cat, there’s no place like a comfy hiding place under the layout.  While they may love napping there, too many hiding places may fuel their curiosity and eventually you’ll find them snoozing in your farm fields or tunnels.  Store items in boxes under the layout and stack them tightly together.  Close off tunnel portals when you’re not running trains.  Make “behind the backdrop” areas inaccessible.

Spray the scents

It goes without saying that you should clean up any of the Three P’s (pee, poop, and puke) that the animals leave on your train room floor.  But take that extra step and avoid return visits by treating the area with a scent remover like Bodhi Not Here! Spray, OdoBan, or Nature’s Miracle No More Marking.  If your train room has removable carpet tiles, pull up the soiled ones and toss them in the washing machine.  Carpet tiles are inexpensive, look good, and are easy on your feet, too!

Don’t chew the choo choo

If your animals have taken to gnawing on layout items like trees or lichen, spray those items with bad tasting deterrents like NaturVet Bitter YUCK! or Bodhi Bitter Apple No Chew Spray.

Keep it closed or covered

A cat laying on a model railroad layout
Irene caught napping in a farm field on the Bona Vista IV was grounds for total and complete banishment.

As a last resort, you can gently cover your layout and workbench with inexpensive plastic drop cloths available at hardware stores.  Animals shy away from walking on flexible materials that aren’t solid or which can shift beneath their feet.  The final solution may be to keep the door to your layout room closed, or improvise a door.  I had no door to the train room in our last house but I was able to put a hinged 4-foot-square piece of ¼” plywood in the stairway landing that kept the room critter-free.

There’s no substitute for positive reinforcement when it comes to training animals, but when it comes to model railroads a few extra steps may be necessary to keep you – and your pets – happily coexisting.

7 thoughts on “How to pet-proof a model railroad layout

  1. My first layout was in the furnace room, and was a beginning project. At the time we only had one cat that knew right from wrong. Since a starter RR, didn’t have scenery yet, so the cat would find a space almost totally hidden and watch the trains go. Then once in a while she would swat at a train passing by her reach. She also knew NO! One of the cats that would tease you more than cause any problem. In the front room she would sneak around to get your attention then put paws on the furniture, just long enough for you to roll up a newspaper and stand up, and she was gone in a flash. Eventually I moved my layout to the garage out of harms way, with a door to restrict entry of animals. Couple months ago had a layout tour and wouldn’t you know, Murphy arrived first. Have to figure out the problem before the next tour, and rebuild the sawmill that has always gave me fits!
    But no more animals to disturb things!

  2. We had a cat who could have passed for “Chessie Cat” and an iguana at out old house, and my layout was in the former living room. The minute I fired up the layout, Runt, the cat would run off scared. Whipper, however had no problem with my Lionel trains, which surprised us since we thought they would have reminded her of boa constrictors. I learned to check the tunnels first. There was one she liked and would be in head first and her body would look like a dinosaur there. Both of them went to heaven and we moved to East Texas where I got a separate train room. We had a stray move in with us as an outside cat, but Weaver would join me out in the train room and sit in my lap while I ran trains. Even the ones with RailSounds didn’t bother him. He’d walk on the layout once in a while but it was never a big problem. Unfortunately he got lung cancer at 5 and he’s now with Runt, Whipper, and my wife. I’m glad I had them all though.

  3. I have a backwards Z layout with a helix in “N” scale I started in my closet in one house and once moved to another house expanded it a bit, so it sits partly in my closet & partly in half of my bedroom. I had to put a top on it with drapes in front to keep my cat from playing Godzilla on it and chasing the trains running on it. She now just sits in the center of the helix and watches them run around the layout. All mountains are made of terry towels with panel glue on back side holding it to the framework, so the cat would use them to scratch on. She has learned the word “NO” and won’t go on layout anymore. Also it keeps out dust & Cat hair in room.

  4. Call your local Invisible Fence dealer — the cats wear a collar and you surround your layout with a loop of stereo wire (in my case.) The wire is connected to a device that causes the cats collars to give them a mild shock which they quickly learn to avoid. The cost is for the initial installation and the device and the ongoing cost of new batteries shipped every three months.

    Absolutely works unlike the pheromones, positive reinforcement, and every other bit of voodoo you might have hears of! Best money I’ve ever spent!

  5. I have 4 cats. I’m just starting out. I got my loco almost running. I’m sure much of this advice will come in handy. I would only add that patience and persistence pays off. My cats love coming up on the table to “give advice” (sometimes its good). When they start getting in the way I can shoo them away. Sometimes I have to that 2 or 3 times until they get message. I am wondering what is going to happen when the trains run better.

  6. Well ya’ll I have a solution. Think big as in Great Dane and or English Mastiff. They won’t crawl into tunnels (unless John Henry made it) and except for one incident will leave stuff alone. A mastiff several years ago got hold of a UPS package and tore it up destroying the 00 passenger car, can’t blame the dog the package smelled like good English roast beef!!!! Happy modeling.

  7. There is no such thing as “cat-proofing” a model railroad, especially when one has a very determined feline. Like mine.

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