We dog owners love to spend time with their pooches. After all, they love us unconditionally and completely – it’s a joy to be around them. Sadly, modern life and responsibilities often take us away from our pets, often for hours at a time.
Even dog owners who are lucky enough to work from home will probably have to leave the house to do grocery shopping or meet up with friends and family.
The question on most dog owners’ minds is this – will my dog be okay? How will they cope without me? How do I make sure my dog is comfortable and happy while I’m gone? Luckily, most dogs are fine for a while even if you leave, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. How long a dog can comfortably spend alone depends on a wide variety of factors.
Factors to Consider Before Leaving Your Dog Alone
- Age and Health
Puppies, senior dogs, and those with medical conditions require more attention and frequent breaks. Puppies, for instance, need to go outside every few hours to relieve themselves and cannot be left alone for long periods. Similarly, older dogs or those with health issues might need medication or special care that necessitates frequent check-ins.
- Breed and Temperament
Some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety and destructive behaviour when left alone (especially true during dog pregnancy times). Dogs with high energy levels or those bred for companionship may struggle more with solitude. Understanding your dog’s breed-specific needs and temperament is crucial in determining how long they can be left alone.
- Training and Habituation
Dogs that have been properly crate trained or taught to stay alone for short periods can gradually be accustomed to longer durations. The key is to increase the alone time slowly, allowing the dog to adjust without stress.
Guidelines for Leaving a Dog at Home
Creating a Safe and Comfortable Environment
Safe Space: It’s crucial to create an environment that is both physically and emotionally safe for your dog. This might mean dog-proofing certain areas of your home or setting up a specific room or a comfortable crate where your dog can stay. Ensure that this space is free from hazards like small objects they might ingest, toxic plants, or loose wires.
Comfort Items: Providing familiar items can help soothe your dog. This can include their favourite bed, toys, or even an item of your clothing that carries your scent. The goal is to create a space that feels secure and calming for your dog.
Access to Essentials: Your dog should have easy access to fresh water at all times. Depending on how long you’ll be out, you might also need to consider a way for your dog to relieve themselves, such as pee pads or a doggy door that leads to a secure yard.
Establishing a Routine
Predictable Schedule: Dogs are creatures of habit, and a predictable daily routine can significantly reduce their stress. Try to maintain consistent times for feeding, walks, and play, even on days when you’re home. This regularity helps your dog understand when to expect certain activities, including your departure and return.
Alone Time: If you’re planning to start leaving your dog alone, it’s important to introduce this gradually. Start with short absences and gradually increase the time you’re away. This helps your dog learn that you’ll eventually come back and shower them with love.
Mental Stimulation and Entertainment
Interactive Toys: Provide toys that not only entertain but also stimulate your dog’s mind. Puzzle toys where they have to work to get a treat can keep them occupied for extended periods. Rotating toys can also keep things interesting for your dog.
Environmental Enrichment: Consider ways to enrich your dog’s environment. This could include windows with a view, where they can watch birds or people, or safe, chewable items. Some dogs may enjoy background music or pet-friendly videos.
Physical Exercise: Ensuring your dog gets adequate physical exercise before you leave can make a big difference. A tired dog is less likely to be anxious or engage in destructive behaviour. Tailor the exercise to your dog’s age, health, and breed – a young, active dog may need a long run, while an older dog might prefer a leisurely walk.
Pet Cams: One great thing about always being connected to the internet is that you have ways to monitor and even interact with your pet while you’re out. Pet cameras can provide live feeds, and some even allow for two-way communication so you can hear and speak to your dog.
Regular Check-ins: If you’re gone for more than a few hours, consider having someone check in on your dog. This could be a neighbour, friend, or professional pet sitter. If they’re able, they can give your dog a bathroom break and ensure everything is safe.
When to Seek Help
Recognizing Signs of Distress: If your dog exhibits signs of distress when left alone, such as excessive barking, destructive behaviour, or signs of anxiety, it might be time to consult a professional. Behavioural issues can often be addressed with the help of a certified dog trainer or a veterinarian.
Professional Care Options: For dogs that can’t be left alone for long periods, consider alternatives like doggy daycare, a pet sitter, or a dog walker. These options may be more expensive or difficult to come by, but can be a lifesaver for dogs who can’t handle being alone for too long.
Every dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Pay attention to your dog’s cues and adjust accordingly. With the right preparation and considerations, you can ensure that your dog remains happy and safe while you’re away.
As much as you can’t bear to be away from your dog, remember that they have it worse – we humans have friends and work and hobbies, while they only have us. So give your dog a good scritch when you get home, and forgive them if they’ve made a little mess – they only do it because they miss us.