For pet owners with busy schedules and a dog at home, these two scenarios don’t always “play well” together. People need to run errands and sometimes leave the house for more than an hour at a time – If you are wondering, “How long can I leave my dog home alone?”, you are not alone. Balancing free time and the needs of a furry friend can be tricky, but there are a few rules to follow that will give both pet parents and their canine companions some valuable peace of mind.
Can I Leave My Dog Home Alone? Why A Dog’s Age Matters
A dog’s age directly impacts how long he can be left alone while his owners are out. Generally, dogs that are very young or elderly can handle the shortest time spans alone; the former due to their growing bladder and lack of learned control, and the latter due to age-related bladder, stress, and canine incontinence issues.
Some important notes:
Bear in mind, for the health, happiness and overall well-being of dogs (accidents aside), pet parents should leave their four-legged friend alone as little as possible. Remember that dogs are pack animals and don’t generally like to be separated from their human companions; in fact, prolonged separations can lead to stress and destructive behaviors. Below, some general rules of thumb with regard to age limitations and being left alone:
- Puppies that are two to three months of age have about a one hour time limit before an accident becomes very likely – shorter if there are known health issues, such as worms, that could impact digestive urges.
- Older puppies between four and five months old should be checked on and taken out as needed, approximately every two hours during the day. Even if a puppy has better bladder and bowel control than displayed in younger puppyhood, stress or canine separation anxiety might trigger an accident.
- After five months of age, a healthy dog should be able to hold his urine for up to four hours, so the time span can be pushed out a little – but he should still be looked after as often as possible. Four hours is an upper limit and should be treated as a “sometimes” event, not a frequent one.
- Once a dog is over a year old, up to a six hour absence is possible – he should have the physical and emotional control to hold his urine and stool for longer periods at this age.
As with most dog-raising advice, these numbers are approximate guidelines. Dog owners know their pooches the best – so watch what he does, how he acts, and note when he has accidents, and plan absences accordingly.
What He Needs While Home Alone
It’s almost a rite of passage for dog owners: opening the door to a mess from an anxious chewer, an older dog with a weak bladder, or a nervous pooch with severe separation anxiety. For those who want to avoid this particular pet ownership dilemma, be sure to safeguard both dog and home while providing the family pooch with healthy activities to occupy him when no one’s around. Below, some helpful tips to keep in mind when leaving your pup at home:
- Safe & Sound: Secure anything fragile or breakable, or secure the dog in a safe place. Use baby gates to block off open hallways, or designate a porch or room for keeping your dog contained. If your puppy is crate trained, this may be a good option as well. In this case, be sure to keep his favorite toys and blankets accessible, as well as adequate food and water. Many dogs are also comforted by the sound of the TV or radio left on; either device can be left on with a timer if desired.
- Plenty of Toys: Chewing toys, such as bully sticks or Kong-style rubber toys, are an excellent choice. Some dog owners swear by a peanut butter and water mix frozen into a Kong toy to keep their pup occupied. Purchase appropriate dog toys based on his chewing style, breed, age and size; a vet can make recommendations for uncertain owners.
- Fresh Food & Water: Though it may be tempting to limit your dog’s water at certain times to control frequency of urination/accidents, this can be bad for his health and potentially leave him dangerously dehydrated or anxiously hungry.
- Be Prepared with Puppy Pads: Puppy pads that are absorbent on one side and waterproof on the other, are very inexpensive. They’re particularly affordable when compared to the cost of carpet cleaning! Introduce the dog to pads indoors when the family is home, and praise him excitedly when he uses them.
- A Watchful Eye: Whether it entails asking a neighbor to peek in on one’s dog or relying upon technology like streaming security cameras, checking in can relieve a lot of stress on both ends when an owner can’t physically be there.
- Clock In Some Playtime Beforehand: Before leaving, get into the habit of playing with the family dog or take him on a long walk to tire him out. This will make the wait a lot easier for him to deal with, and give him an excellent excuse to nap while his people are gone.
Frequent Absences Can Impact Dogs
While some absences (such as going to work) are inevitable, it isn’t fair to a dog to be left alone all day. If long absences are the norm in your household, consider alternatives like doggy day care, which offer much-needed companionship for pack-minded canines. Spend time with him before and after stepping out, as this will reassure him that he is still loved and that his owners will be returning.
Without this reassurance, a dog may howl, anxiously over-groom, scratch, or bite himself, damage furniture and personal belongings, or even start possessively urinating or defecating inside to mark his territory (or show displeasure). Remember, he doesn’t know why his humans are leaving – and can’t be made to understand why it’s important – so it’s crucial for pet parents to provide plenty of affection, comfort and understanding to help him through it.
- “How Long Can You Leave a Dog Home Alone?” Furbo.com, September 14, 2017, https://shopus.furbo.com/blogs/knowledge/how-long-can-you-leave-a-dog-home-alone. Accessed April 18, 2019.
- Geier, Elisabeth. “How Long Can You Leave a Dog Alone?” Rover.com, (no publish date), https://www.rover.com/blog/long-can-leave-dog-alone/. Accessed April 18, 2019.
- Pierce, Jessica Ph.D. “When Leaving a Dog Home Alone, How Long Is Too Long?” Psychology Today.com, February 21, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201802/when-leaving-dog-home-alone-how-long-is-too-long. Accessed April 18, 2019.