Leaving a Dog Home Alone? Here is What You Need to Know
As much as he’s a member of the family, it’s usually impossible to take your dog with you all the time, and there will be days when you need to leave them at home on their own. But for your pet, who sees you as his pack, watching you shut the door can be traumatic and may lead to undesirable dog behavior. The key to leaving your dog on their own is to train them not to see it as a big deal. To help ease your dog parent guilt and reduce any separation anxiety in your pooch, we take a look at all you need to know about how to leave your dog home alone.
IS IT CRUEL TO LEAVE A DOG ALONE ALL DAY?
At some point, you’ll need to leave your dog alone at home. In fact, being able to spend time on his own is good for your dog’s well-being. But how long is too long?
When it comes to deciding how long can a dog be left alone, four hours is the recommended maximum for adult dogs. Until they are around nine months old, puppies will ideally need someone with them all the time and should never be left alone any longer than two hours. And, with senior dogs, it depends on their health and care requirements.
If you need to leave your dog for longer than four hours – you work a full day in the office, say – then getting help is a good idea. Ask a family member or the neighbors to pop by to take your pooch for a walk or find a local dog walker who can give your dog some quality exercise time. Or consider taking him to a nearby doggie daycare or bring in a dog sitter.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is when your dog becomes overly anxious or distressed when left without its human pack. While you know what time you’ll be back, your pooch doesn’t and for the more anxious dog, those feelings of abandonment, stress, and even fear can manifest themselves into quite distressing behavior.
The likelihood of your dog suffering from separation anxiety can depend on a host of reasons. It could be as a result of learned behavior, or they are a rescue dog still struggling to adjust from his previous life. They may have never been left alone or is a puppy, new to their new human family. Or he simply could be bored. Depending on the dog breed, there are also some dogs that can be left alone quite easily, while others are more susceptible to separation anxiety.
Signs that your dog is stressed by being left alone include:
- Persistent howling, whining, and barking
- Scratching furniture, doors, and the floor
- Pacing and panting
- Destructive tendencies – which they use to ‘self-soothe or cope
- Changes in behavior, including lethargy, depression, and disinterest
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, installing a dog camera can help you identify his problem behaviors while you are away from the house or leaving the dog at home while at work.
Creating a Happy Space
To help your dog to find its happy place, you need to decide on its ‘left alone space in your house. The kitchen or utility is the most convenient for many dog owners, but it also needs to be a space they usually hang out otherwise they can come to negatively associate it with isolation.
The location also needs to take into account how long you’ll be leaving them for and has access to a yard or enclosed outdoor space for pee breaks or adequate ‘toilet facilities’ indoors. If your pooch is crate-trained, using their dog crate is good, as they’ll tend to be calmer and more relaxed. Then dress their pet bed with blankets and a few of their favorite dog toys. Puzzle toys, such as a Kong toy filled with his favorite treats, can also help to stave off boredom, and if there’s a TV or radio in the room, you could switch it on. And finally, make sure he has plenty of fresh water and a full food bowl.
Tips for Training Your Dog to be Alone
Your aim is to show your dog that being on its own is OK. Here are our top training tips:
- Put a few toys in his dog bed and ask them to stay, while you move away
- Repeat, gradually moving further away for longer. Then start leaving the room before returning, then shut the door
- Build up the time you spend outside the shut door before returning. Always praise and reward
- Aim to work up to an hour with the door shut. Monitor his reactions and once he’s calm and comfortable with you not being there, you should be able to leave the house for longer
Things to do Before You Leave the House
When it comes to leaving your dog home alone for longer periods of time, there are a few things as a pet parent you can do to make the experience easier:
- Take him for a nice walk beforehand to work off some of his energy and stretch his legs
- Do a few fun training games in the house, leading him to his bed
- Check his water bowl is full, and if the time is right, leave him with a meal
…and When you Come Home
Now’s the time to reward your pooch for his good behavior and give him plenty of fuss and attention. If it’s his dinner time, feed him and re-fill his water. Then if it’s not too late, pop on his lead and take him for some exercise or go out into the garden for a game of fetch with his favorite toy.
Finally, What Not to Do
Never get frustrated with your furbabies, even if you return home to a scene of doggy damage or mess or complaints from your neighbors. While it’s natural to be angry, don’t let your dog see this, especially if he’s suffering from separation anxiety. Shouting or punishing your already stressed-out pooch can make things worse and amplify any negative associations with being left alone. Instead, hide your disappointment, reassure and talk calmly to your dog, then clear up the mess and work out what else you can do to make your dog feel happy at home alone. And don’t be afraid to ask for professional help – from a vet or animal behaviorist – when it comes to leaving your dog home alone, you want to be able to find a solution that’s a win-win for both of you.