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Home Alone

How long can I leave my dog at home? Dog experts reveal a complex answer

Here’s how to keep your dog happy and healthy while you are away.

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There’s a reason they’re known as “fur babies.”

While dogs can bring joy, let’s be honest: they’re also a lot of work. To have a dog is to care for a living creature and all the responsibilities involved.

When you’re heading out for a trip or going to work, it’s only natural to wonder how to meet your furry friend’s needs while you’re away.

Inverse spoke with four pet experts about leaving dogs at home, including:

  • How to keep dogs entertained while you’re away
  • When you should get a dog sitter
  • Why some dogs can be left at home longer than others

“The time a dog can safely be alone will vary from dog to dog and will increase as the dog matures — with a two-year-old dog able to be left alone longer than a puppy or young adult,” Brad Phifer, executive director of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, tells Inverse.

How long can I leave a dog alone?

First: observe your pet and know how long they feel comfortable staying home alone. Each dog is different.

“Dogs are social creatures. Their tolerance for being left alone varies depending on the individual,” Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, tells Inverse.

Experts offer advice on how to keep your pet healthy while you’re away from home. Getty

Next, consider your dog’s age and other unique circumstances. Leaving a puppy alone is a very different matter than leaving an older dog at home.

Phifer says that puppies — dogs that are between eight weeks to six months old — can be left home alone for approximately one hour for each month they have been alive.

“With that in mind, a three-month-old puppy can usually be alone for about three hours before needing to eliminate,” Phifer says. (“Elimination” refers to urination or defecation).

The puppy might also need to be confined to a specific part of the home for its wellbeing and the safety of your home.

“Professional dog trainers often recommend that young dogs who are not fully trained or newly acquired dogs be confined to a space such as a crate or small gated area like a mudroom when the owner cannot supervise their dog,” Phifer says.

What should you know before leaving a dog alone?

“A dog should have all of its needs met before leaving them alone while an owner is away from home,” Phifer says.

Renee Streeter, a veterinary nutritionist at PetPlate, tells Inverse people may also want to “puppy-proof” whatever space a dog is being left in “so they don’t get into anything they’re not supposed to.”

Your dog’s needs must be met before you head out of the home, experts state. Getty

While every dog is different, most pets can be trained to “be comfortable while you’re away for work as long as they have access to water and a place to potty,” Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian at Clearwater Valley Veterinary Clinic and a remote veterinarian affiliated with Excited Cats, tells Inverse.

While Phifer stresses that “exercise needs vary between breeds and individual dogs” he also recommends owners “provide a minimum of two hours of exercise each day in addition to regular trips outside” so your dog can do its business.

“This will give your dog a schedule so they know what to expect and when.”

Some dogs may also need to be trained to be confined to specific areas of the house or to crates for their safety while you’re gone. (Consult with your veterinarian if you’re unsure about what setup is best for your pet while you’re away).

“Dogs should be resting comfortably in the confinement area before being left alone,” Phifer says.

It’s also important to keep a stable routine for your dog while you’re gone.

“The big thing is to stick to a routine,” she says. “Try to leave and get home at the same time every day, feed meals at the same time, and play and exercise at the same time. This will give your dog a schedule so that they know what to expect and when.”

Do some dogs like being alone?

“Some dogs are independent and can tolerate hours without interactions with people,” Pankratz says. “On the other hand, some dogs are very sociable and would love the opportunity for constant people interaction if given the chance.”

Some dogs may also experience separation anxiety when away from their owners. Dogs with separation anxiety will require specialized plans to keep them safe while you’re away. Consult with a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog behavior consultant to assist your dog’s needs.

“Dogs who are stressed — barking, pacing, chewing — in the owner's absence should not be left alone until a behavior modification plan is successfully implemented with the aid of a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant,” Phifer says.

How do you keep dogs entertained when they are home alone?

Some dogs may demonstrate a tendency toward “unsafe behaviors” while their owners are away, Pankratz says. These behaviors include:

  • Destructive chewing
  • Biting or barking at doorways
  • Accessing unauthorized areas (like the trash)
How should you keep your canine companion happy while you’re gone? Pet experts offer some suggestions. Getty

To reduce the likelihood of pets demonstrating these unsafe behaviors, keep them safely stimulated with toys and engaging activities.

“To keep your dog entertained while you’re away, look into interactive or puzzle toys,” Bonk says.

The experts Inverse spoke with recommend a wide range of safe and stimulating toys for pets, including:

  • Food puzzles, such as Kong, which are stuffed with kibble, or LickiMat for dogs who find licking soothing
  • Small amounts of peanut butter
  • Soothing classic music playlists geared specifically toward dogs (like Through A Dog's Ear by iCalm Pet) or white noise to keep dogs calm
  • Automatic food dispensers
  • Treat-dispensing cameras so you can interact with your dog while away

Some dogs may over-eat while their owners are out, so automatic feeders could also be a good option to “slow down the rate of food to be consumed,” Pankratz says.

Pankratz stresses that each dog has a unique personality, and while some dogs may prefer playing with toys while alone, others might destroy approved toys.

Experiment with different toys and food puzzles to figure out what your dog likes best — but make sure you first try these toys out before leaving your dog alone, Pankratz says.

How often should a dog sitter visit?

All of our pet experts recommend getting a trained sitter or hiring a dog daycare service to care for your pet while you are away. These caretakers can walk your dog, feed and play with them, meeting their physical and emotional needs while you’re gone.

If you’re away for a while, you’ll need a sitter to take care of your dog, but it’s important to find the right person. Getty

But how often should these sitters check in on your dog?

“The frequency of a pet sitter to check in on a dog really varies on the dog's needs,” Pankratz.

For dogs without separation anxiety, Pankratz recommends a sitter check in on the dog a minimum of two times a day — once in the morning and afternoon — but says three times a day is best to ensure the dog has safe access to a potty area.

If you’re gone for more than a day, you’ll likely need to consider whether a sitter can stay overnight, or whether you need to look into overnight daycare options.

“Whether or not a sitter will need to stay overnight will depend on your dog,” Bonk says. “Ideally they would. Otherwise, check-ins right before bed and first thing in the morning will do well for most seasoned dogs.

Pankratz explains that “some dogs really enjoy and benefit from having a caretaker stay overnight whereas other dogs may prefer minimal contact time with an unfamiliar person in the house.”

Is it okay for me to get a dog if I work a 9 to 5 job outside of the home?

The short answer? Yes.

“Having a dog is a big commitment but that doesn’t mean you have to quit your job,” Bonk says.

But you also will need to take a few steps to make life safe and comfortable for your dog while you’re at work.

“If you’re going to be out of the house all day, it would be worth looking into a dog walker to check in on your loved one and help with potty breaks,” Street says.

While it’s best to get a sitter or daycare service to care for your dog while you’re at work, Streeter says there are other options to keep your dog safe while you’re working.

Some dogs are better at staying home alone than others. Getty Images

Some dogs may need to be crate trained to keep them safe at home. Other dogs can be trained stay outside the crate and access a doggy door “which lets them out to a safely enclosed outside area where they can go to the bathroom,” Streeter says.

If your pet is having trouble adjusting to your eight-hour workday away from home, Phifer recommends looking into certified professional dog trainers (CPDT-KA) who can help your dog based on its specific needs.

But again, some dogs may get lonelier than others and you’ll need to observe your pet’s mood and behavior upon returning home to determine if they can be safely left home alone for eight hours.

“Like all things, it depends on if the dog you have would tolerate an owner that works 9 to 5, whether there may be other people in the home that could care for the dog during that time or the ability for someone to stop by mid-day to provide a potty break,” Pankratz says.

Your canine’s care while you’re away will depend on the individual needs of your dog. As always, consult with your veterinarian before making any training decisions or changes to your dog’s routine.

Is it good to get another dog for your dog?

Should you get a companion dog to keep your lonely pup company? It’s complicated.Getty

If you’re worried about your pooch being lonely while you’re away, it’s only natural to consider getting a furry companion for your pet to keep them company.

“Dogs are pack animals so they tend to do well with a partner,” Streeter says.

But pet experts suggest there are downsides to getting a fellow companion for your pet, which you need to take seriously.

“With rare exceptions, my advice is to not get a pet for your pet,” Pankratz says.

Phifer agrees, explaining it is “unnecessary to have a second dog and is not advisable if you're raising a young dog,” he says.

Getting another companion for your dog is a wild card move: It’s not clear whether your pet will be receptive to the new animal or not. It’s equally possible they’ll get along, act neutral, or misbehave.

New dogs also come with their own challenges. “A single dog left alone may happily snooze the day away, whereas if you get another they may decide to get into trouble together,” Streeter says.

Bonk states that each dog — like each human — has its own personality, and some dogs may prefer their own company.

“Social dogs will be very friendly, while dogs that prefer to be alone may be standoffish or grumpy,” Bonk says.

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