How Long Can You Leave Your Dog Alone?
All dog owners know the struggle of having to open a door one handed, with one arm laden with groceries, and your dog hopping in your face, nearly wetting himself with excitement that ‘You’re back, you're back! You're finally back!’
Whether you leave your dog alone for five minutes or five hours, his reaction at seeing you again is always the same. But the effect of the different periods of time of isolation, most definitely isn’t.
Depending on their age, dogs can be left alone for varying amounts of time without it having long-term and rather significant impacts on their development and personality. A new puppy, for example, should not be alone for more than 2 hours in a day. In comparison, an older, more senior dog can safely be by himself for up to six hours. The reason behind this difference is rooted firmly in the difference in their mental development.
Why Should Puppies Not Be Left Home Alone?
A puppy’s understanding of his environment and his new ‘world’ has a lot to do with you being in it. He hasn’t lived long enough to understand that he is at home, let alone understanding that he is safe and okay even when home alone. Dogs are pack animals, and puppies rely purely on instinct, because they simply have not lived long enough to be trained into other behaviors.
Also, puppies need to pee more frequently than adult dogs. And if you are trying to potty train your puppy, leaving him alone at home for hours, with free rein to pee where he likes, will negate all his puppy training. And if you leave him in a crate or box, he will pee in there and stay in his puddle, which can lead to all kinds of illnesses.
How Long Can a Puppy Safely Be Home Alone?
As mentioned, an upper limit of two hours is how long a puppy can be safely left home alone. Any longer, and the puppy will descend into habits stemming from separation anxiety. And the separation anxiety itself can turn into a lifelong problem, which will persist even when your puppy grows older.
How Long Can Older Dogs Be Left Alone?
A dog who is older than 3 years of age can healthily be left alone for 4-6 hours. At this age, your dog understands the concept of ‘home’ even without you in it. So if you leave your dog alone at home, it’s not the end of the world for him. He understands that you ‘vanish’ for some time, but will magically ‘reappear’.
In this case, 4-6 hours is a very doable time period. If you have a senior dog, though, you will have to reconsider this a little, taking his health issues into account. Senior dogs with health issues require more attention and more frequent checking in.
Dogs who have bladder issues, for example, will need to be taken ‘out’ more often. So you might have to look into a set up, to make sure your senior dog does not have an accident on your carpet at home.
What Happens When Your Dog Is Home Alone For Too Long?
If your dog is not used to you leaving the house, he may panic when he doesn’t find you. This can manifest as anxious behaviours, whining, gnawing at items, or howling and barking, sometimes even after you’re back home.
If he’s more adjusted to the idea of you leaving and coming back, he still may simply get very bored. This can also lead to chewing on table or sofa legs, destroying furniture or all reachable items, binge eating (if a food source is reachable or available) or even pica, which is eating non-food items.
And let’s not forget stress-wetting. Your dog may pee over multiple surfaces, initially because he wasn’t let out in time, and later as a habitual stress management technique.
How Can You Train Your Dog To Manage Alone?
First of all, it’s necessary that your dog learns to let you leave and come back without making a big fuss about it. As endearing as it is that he misses you so much in such a short time, it’s not healthy for him to have this behavior.
Train your dog to let you leave. First, walk to the front door in your sneakers or shoes, and come back. If your dog hops up and chases after you, command him to go back and sit at a far away spot. Repeat this behavior and reward him when he listens to you. This will help your dog understand that your ‘leaving’ isn’t something he needs to follow you into.
Next, train your dog to not react ecstatically when you come back. When you enter your home, your dog will hop up or bark happily, or even get the zoomies. You should ignore all of this behavior completely, till he quiets down. Simply ignore his performance.
Then, command him to go sit at a different spot. When he listens, reward him, and then give him all the affection your adorable pooch deserves. Training is not about withholding attention, but simply giving it timely.
How Can You Make Being Alone Easier For Your Dog?
Just because your dog is alone at home, doesn’t mean that he has to be bored out of his mind as well. There are plenty of ways to make sure that your dog stays somewhat engaged and occupied even in your absence.
For starters, tiring your dog out before you leave the house is a very good idea. Taking him on a walk or a run beforehand means that he is very likely to sleep through your absence, and therefore not be very aware of you being gone.
Get your dog toys that require him to use creative problem solving. Plenty of toys available for dogs offer puzzle-like sets, which even have a food reward or treat inside, when he solves them. This is precisely the kind of positive reinforcement your dog needs to be to stay engaged even in your absence. Plus, it’s good for his mental development.
Increase your dog’s available space slowly and steadily, till he proves himself trustworthy enough to be allowed access to the whole house. Start with his crate, and progress to a fenced in area, then a room, then your home. As long as he does not wreak havoc, you can allow him to make himself comfortable while you’re gone.
And once you’re back? Well, cuddle your dog! He’s missed you, a lot more than you’ve missed him!