Many dogs, no matter if they are newly adopted puppies or long term family members, have enjoyed being with their families around the clock and hardly being alone in the last year. But slowly, things are opening up again which means that most dogs will have to face the reality of not being with their beloved human 24/7 anymore. So, it is only natural that every good dog parent at some point asks themselves the question, “How long is too long to leave my dog home alone?”.
We looked into this topic and, while there is no “one size fits all” answer, we have gathered some insights which will help you determine how long your dog will be okay to be alone. And what you can do to make home alone time less daunting for your furry family member.
Why dogs don’t like to be home alone – strong bond with humans
One of the things we love most about our dogs is how great they are at bonding with us humans Many dogs crave to be close to their human family, so, if it was up to our dogs to choose, the vast majority would most likely vote for “No home alone time at all”.
Unfortunately, not leaving your dog home alone at all is not possible for most pet parents who need to leave the house to earn money to put a roof over Fido’s head, make sure he has good food and a cosy bed to sleep in.
So, how long can your dog be home alone without you feeling guilty?
When your dog is home alone – Dogs need regular potty breaks
We value the fact that our dogs don’t do their business inside the house. Consequently, we need to give them enough options to relieve themselves outdoors. On average, grown-up dogs need a potty break every four to six hours. That does not mean that they cannot hold it longer, but you wouldn’t want to be forced to postpone your potty break longer than necessary, would you? So, let’s make sure our dogs don’t have to do that either.
To find out how long your dog can go without a potty break, pay close attention to your dog’s body language while you’re home together. Most dogs will show you that they need to go outside by signs like circling, sniffing, whining, pacing, standing by or scratching at the door or looking at you intensely.
Observe your dog’s signs for some time to find out what the preferred time between potty breaks is for your dog.
If you realise that the comfortable timespan between potty breaks does not correlate with the time you’re gone, ask a dog-loving neighbour if they are up for taking your pooch for a walk while you’re at work. Alternatively, find a reliable dog walker or enrol your dog in a doggy daycare to make sure that he gets to fulfil his needs while you’re gone.
Puppies need many more potty breaks than grown-up dogs, so make sure you welcome a puppy into your life when you have the time to be with your new family member. Or enlist puppy-loving family and friends to be on standby while you’re training your dog that being home alone is nothing to worry about.
Dogs sleep a lot, but….
Dogs sleep 8 – 13,5 hours a day which is helpful for dog parents who have to work outside the home and cannot bring their pooch.
But it’s important to note that dogs don’t sleep all these 9-14 hours in one stretch. Next to their potty breaks, they also need to have the chance to get rid of their energy. How much exercise your dog will need to feel tired and relaxed will depend on your specific dog, so you will know best which activities will cause your dog to happily snooze for hours once you’ve returned home.
So, if you know that your dog will have to be home alone for a longer time, make sure to schedule enough time for the activity that tires out your dog most before you leave. By doing that, you will know that once you’ve left the house, Fido will drift off to dreamland.
Is your dog bored when he is home alone?
Another challenge for dogs who are left home alone is boredom. Dogs who do not get the physical and mental stimulation they need might turn to “creative” solutions. This could be those new shoes you accidentally left out which your dog will “redesign”, excessive barking, digging through the trash or other types of destructive behaviour with which your dog wants to tell you: “I am not okay!”
Instead of being mad at your dog, ask yourself if you’ve lived up to your end of the bargain. If you have gone for a long adventure walk before you left home, hopeful that Fido would snooze until you return, but come back to a destroyed couch, look into mental stimulation options for your dog. They offer your dog more acceptable activities to engage in while being home alone.
Fill a Kong with yummy treat paste in the freezer and give it right before you leave the house
Hide treats in different rooms for your dog to find after you’ve left
Give your dog a special toy which he only has access to when home alone
Fill a puzzle or treat ball with yummy snacks which will take your dogs some time to get out
Get some inspiration for fun DIY games that you can prepare before you leave here
Ask a neighbour if they’d be up for coming by and playing with your dog during the day
If your dog still struggles with being home alone, find ways to cut down the number of hours he needs to spend alone.
Does your dog experience separation anxiety when he is left home alone?
No matter if you get a puppy or a grown-up dog, make sure to always allocate enough time for home-alone training in the beginning of your time together. Make sure to welcome your new family member at the start of a long holiday and have friends and family members ready to help out whenever you have to leave without your dog. By doing that you will ensure that your dog has enough time to understand that being home alone is no big deal.
Your dog should learn to feel safe alone at home and know that you will always come back. As mentioned before, dogs are very social animals, so you cannot expect them to learn to be home alone for hours within a few days or weeks. Give your dog the time he needs to feel comfortable being home alone in the beginning. Take baby steps and always make sure to come back before your dog gets nervous or upset – you will reap the benefits in the years to come!
If your dog has severe problems with being home alone or has developed separation anxiety, consult a dog trainer who can help you with this issue. Also, find solutions to not leave your dog alone until the situation has improved. Make sure to choose a trainer who focuses on solving your dog’s problem (your dog’s anxiety and how to overcome it) – not one who just focuses on stopping the unwanted behaviour. The goal is to have a dog who snoozes in his dog bed/on your couch, or happily gnaws on a bone when you leave – knowing that everything is fine and that you will be back soon.
To sum-it up
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, there is not one exact number of hours for which every dog will be fine to be home alone. Some dogs will start to feel bad after an hour while other dogs might happily snooze for 5-6 hours while you’re gone. That’s why it’s important to watch your dog’s behaviour closely to judge if the amount of time he needs to be home alone is fine for him or not. Whenever you notice behaviour that shows you that your dog is not happy, make sure to take action, so your furry family member can live a fulfilled and happy life.
If you are regularly gone for more than five hours per day, find a trustworthy neighbour or dog walker. They can make sure that your dog has the chance to fulfil his physical, mental and social needs. And you have the good feeling of knowing that you will come home to a happy and relaxed dog.
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