Tips for Leaving Your Dog at Home Alone

Picture of a Golden Retriever

All dog owners love their dogs and look forward to spending quality time with them. Unfortunately, the reality is most dog owners do have to work, meaning time with their fave furry companion has to be interrupted while they log hours to earn a living. While some people are lucky enough to work from their home, most people must leave their houses and head to a traditional workplace where they spend an eight-hour day or longer before returning home. This means that unless there is another family member able to stay home with the dog, their dog must spend lengthy periods of time alone. It is no one’s first choice, but to provide for all of the things a family and their dog need, family members must work…and their dogs must spend time alone while they do.

How Long is Too Long To Leave Your Dog Alone?

Unless you have the fortune of being independently wealthy, it is more than likely that you spend the better portion of most work weeks at your job. Though some family members are able to work part time, most must work full time hours. Since the average person works a minimum of eight hours per day then must factor in the commute time to their jobs as well as any errands that must be run, it is possible that your dog could spend up to 12 hours per day on their own.

The issue is complex. It is not financially feasible for most families to resign their jobs and remain at home to ensure their dog is comfortable and at ease. A job is necessary to provide all of the things their best canine pal requires to remain healthy and well. However, leaving your dog alone for a period of 10-12 hours per day is far too long. Some experts believe that even six to eight hours without any human interaction or the opportunity to be taken outdoors for a bathroom break is irresponsible.

How do we reconcile these two matters?

You have to work, and as a responsible dog owner, you want your dog to be happy and to have his every need met. This leads to the question, “Should families who must leave their dogs for lengthy periods of time regularly be permitted to own a dog?”

There is no question that there is a major pet overpopulation problem in the United States today. With so many discarded or unwanted pets waiting in shelters on the hope of a new home and narrowly avoiding the euthanization list each day, it would seem that shelters would jump at the opportunity to send a dog home with any qualified, loving, and responsible family. In addition to this, it cannot be denied that a home environment is far preferable for any dog than remaining in a shelter which is stressful and uncomfortable for even the most well-adjusted dog.

Yet, the questions remains…how does a dog feel about being left alone for long periods of time each day?

Since dogs cannot communicate with us to tell us how they feel about spending time isolated from human contact during the work day, we can only rely on what we see and what we surmise. Some dogs do experience what is known as separation anxiety when their owners are away from them. Dogs who suffer from this condition become frantic and can resort to destruction in their home and have also been known to take out their frustrations on themselves. A dog in this state is undoubtedly experiencing extreme trauma. Though it does not change the fact that you still need to work; if you have a dog with separation anxiety, behavior modification therapy and often medication is not an option; it is a necessity to help your dog learn that time spent away from his family is not so scary. It takes a great deal of patience to work a dog through this, but this commitment to a treatment plan to address the problem is a critical component of dog ownership. If an owner is not prepared to provide this level of care, then it is likely that they are not ready to own a dog. A dog left in a heightened state of anxiety is not a happy dog, and it is unfair and cruel to expect a dog to simply cope with that level of distress. Part of responsible dog ownership includes compassion for your dog. It is not easy to help a dog through separation anxiety, but it is necessary and best for your dog.

However, separation anxiety is an extreme situation, and many dogs never experience it. This does not mean that the time they spend alone does not have a negative impact on them.

We naturally assume if we return home at the end of the day to find our home and our dog are still intact that the dog didn’t mind being left alone. But how can we know this for sure?

Most dog breeds experience a high level of boredom when left without company for lengthy periods of time. Though a dog can typically hold their bladder for up to four hours, their minds stray far more quickly. Boredom which continues to build can lead to a state of restlessness and feelings of depression and discontent.

At heart, the dog is a companion animal. Though some distress can be alleviated by the presence of another pet in the home, many dogs experience stress and low level anxiety until they are reunited with the people that they love. This sense of unease can be further exacerbated if the dog is not only alone but also confined to a small area like a crate.

Though we know a dog can hold their bladder for up to four hours, it certainly is not comfortable for them to do so. Since dogs need to be given the opportunity to use the bathroom several times throughout the day, it is not kind to leave a dog without access to the outdoors to void their bladders and eliminate their bowels at least once in the middle of an eight hour time frame.

So, How Long Is Too Long to Leave Your Dog Alone?

There is no easy answer to this question. Each dog is an individual. Some dogs can hold their bladders for 8-10 hours while others can only go two. Age certainly plays a role in this as well with puppies and elderly dogs needing to be taken out to the bathroom far more frequently, and of course, with both very young dogs and very old dogs, there are safety issues which also make leaving them home unsupervised a foolish idea.

As an average, the maximum amount of time a healthy, mature adult dog can be safely left alone is four hours. Since most families have to work an eight hour day or longer, it is important to put strategies in place to allow your dog access to the outdoors and contact with another animal or person if possible.

Top Tips for Leaving Your Dog Home Alone

The truth is if every family who had to work a full time job was ineligible for dog ownership the pet overpopulation problem would skyrocket to epic proportions. Having full time employment that requires your time does not make you an irresponsible owner and should not disqualify you from the joy of owning and loving a dog.

It is possible to provide an environment for your dog that will keep him mentally and physically stimulated when you must be away from him.

Here are our top tips of things you can do to meet your dog’s needs when you have to be away from home:

  • Get your dog a “friend.”

The beauty of companionship is it doesn’t have to be a person to fill the loneliness a dog experiences in your absence. Sometimes, getting your dog a friend to spend time with is enough to alleviate the stress he feels when you are away. This, of course, will not eliminate the need for regular bathroom breaks during your work day, but it will help your dog to feel more calm and satisfied.

  • Arrange to come home for your lunch break.

If you live close enough to your place of employment, you could always choose to spend your lunch break at home. This provides several benefits. Research shows that spending time with your dog reduces stress levels and improves mood. So in zipping home to let Fido out for a pee, you not only allow him to relieve his bladder, you also decrease stress and improve feelings of contentedness for both you and your dog. Even as little as ten to fifteen minutes will make a large different in your dog’s overall well-being and demeanor.

  • Hire a dog sitter.

If you’re not in a position to bring an additional animal friend into your home, having a dog sitter pop by to interact with your dog for half an hour in the middle of the day will give your pet something to look forward to. Sometimes neighbors or family members are only too happy to provide this service for you, and many of them will work for the joy of doggy kisses alone though it doesn’t hurt to slip them a little cash for their efforts.

  • Consider dog day care.

Dog day care is the perfect solution for many dog owners who want to give their dogs an outlet for them to get some physical activity and enjoy the companionship of other people and dogs. Most dog day cares offer extremely reasonable rates, making it an affordable option for most families.

Best of all, it isn’t necessary for your dog to go every day. Send your dog a few times a week to play with his pals, and you will find he contentedly snoozes the day away on the inbetween days.

  • Make use of brain games, puzzles, and raw, meaty bones.

A great way to stave off frustration and boredom is to provide your dog with some fun things to do. If you can find items that allow him to use both his brain and his jaws, all the better! Toys stuffed with delicious treats then frozen to increase the length of time it takes to enjoy them; raw, meaty bones, and puzzle games are a great way to keep your dog productively engaged. Be sure to only give your dogs toys and bones that are appropriate for his size and not likely to break into pieces that could be swallowed to cause a blockage or choking hazard.

  • Install a dog door.

If you have a fenced in yard and a trustworthy dog, why not install a dog door? A dog door gives your dog the best of both worlds. He will have access to roaming, playing, and peeing outdoors when the mood strikes or snoozing on the couch if that’s where the wind takes him.

  • Exercise your dog well before you leave.

Taking the time to exercise your dog in the morning before you leave for work is a great idea for both of you. Though most people do not look forward to getting up even earlier than usual to tag a walk onto their day, it is a great way to bond with your dog as well as get in some extra exercise. But more than that, taking your dog for a walk before you head out for your day is a great way to leave him on a positive note. If your route was interesting and vigorous enough, your pooch will likely contentedly curl up on his favorite dog bed and catch a few zzzz’s while he waits for you to come home.

  • Employ a dog walker to break up the day.

Can’t find the time to take a walk in the morning? That’s what a dog walker is for! Whether you hire a dog walking service or ask a family member of friend to take Fido for a jaunt, you will find your money is very well spent. Employing a dog walker gives your dog something to look forward to every day and will help alleviate boredom. Best of all, your dog gets to stretch his legs and put his nose to work sniffing out all of the wonderful smells in your neighborhood, meaning he comes home contented and ready to relax while he patiently awaits your arrival.

Can you own a dog and work a full time job?

Many can and do. Follow some of our top tips to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to having to work and owning and loving a dog.



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