When it comes to leaving dogs at home alone, many pet parents are unsure what “best practice” is. How long is too long? Should you leave Fido a few chew toys, or not? What do our dogs do all day, anyway?!
If your best furiend’s sad puppy-dog eyes tug at your heartstrings whenever you head out the door, fear not: there is a way to leave your dog at home alone without the guilt trip. In fact, there’s several steps you can take to ensure your precious pal spends your time apart calm, happy and probably asleep!
1. Exercise Fido First (Body & Mind)
A sleepy pup is much more likely to stay calm when at home alone than one with energy to burn. Exercise your dog in the morning with a brisk walk or game of fetch, and then your pup should be happy to nap for a while.
Before you leave for the day is also the ideal time for a quick training session. Don’t just give Fido his breakfast in a bowl — make him work for it! We all know what it’s like to use your brain so much that your body is tired, too. The same is true for dogs: mental stimulation from training, a puzzle feeder or brain game will use up some of your pup’s morning buzz.
Combine training and a physical activity together, and you’re sure to leave Fido counting sheep! (Or squirrels, or tennis balls…)
2. Desensitize Your Dog to Your Departure and Return
It’s hard to leave the house without guilt while your best furiend is whining, barking or anxious about it.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to desensitize your dog, so that your movements aren’t nearly as alarming. According to canine behaviorist Linda Michaels, brief, frequent separations are a good place to start.
“Start small and build confidence slowly and incrementally,” Michaels recommends. “Practice “sit/wait” and “down/wait” while you leave the room for just a moment. Keep your dog on the other side of a closed door inside the home for short periods each day.”
Once your dog can be calm and comfortable when you’re not within sight, you can build on your progress by leaving the house for short periods — even if that means driving down the street and then coming back 10 minutes later.
Whenever you leave or come back, it’s imperative that you don’t fuss over your pet. This signals to Fido that your departure or return is a Big Deal. What we want instead is for your movements to be practically boring — hardly worth getting off the sofa for! If an elaborate good-bye ritual gets your pooch worked up and worried, you may find more success simply sneaking out the door.
When you return, continue this process: don’t give Fido lots of treats or attention right away. Simply enter and go about your business as if your dog isn’t there. After a few minutes (ideally after your dog potties outside and stops jumping), greet your dog calmly.
3. Keep Your Dog Comfortable and Hydrated
You may be stuck in a freezing-cold office cubicle, but the last thing you want is your beloved dog to be in discomfort all day while you’re away. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, your pup’s environment should be just right — not too hot and not too cold. Make sure you leave your dog with enough blankets and heating in the winter, as well as fans and air conditioning in the summer.
This is especially important if your dog spends any part of the day in a crate, as they won’t be able to move to a warmer or cooler part of the house. For example, it may be cool in the morning when you leave, but maybe you don’t realize that the afternoon sun comes directly through the window and heats up your pup’s crate to an uncomfortable degree.
Regardless of the temperature or season, your dog should always have easy access to clean water. If you’re concerned this may cause Fido to have to potty more, then it’s your responsibility to arrange for someone to let him out as often as required. Chronic dehydration can have serious health consequences for your best furiend — and being desperately thirsty all day is just not a nice feeling!
4. Play Relaxing Music, White Noise or “Dog TV”
Relaxing sounds like Mozart or waterfalls work wonders on babies — and fur-babies, too! One of our top tips for leaving dogs at home alone is to put on some white noise or relaxing music to keep your pup in a place of zen.
Of course, as Man’s (and Woman’s) Best Friend, nothing calms Fido like the sound of a human voice. Leaving the television or radio on can go a long way towards reassuring your pup, as well as making any distracting outdoor noises less noticeable.
Another option is to play an audiobook (preferably one with a canine protagonist!). Okay, so your dog may not follow the plot, but they’ll enjoy the narrator’s soothing voice all the same.
These days, there’s even canine-specific cable channels, like DOGTV. Similar options are also available on YouTube or other streaming services. (Of course, you could just put on good ‘ole-fashioned Animal Planet!).
5. Leave Your Dog Things to Do
You may wish to leave your dog something to occupy or comfort them, like a chew toy, plushie or one of your old shirts. But, only leave items if you’re completely confident your dog isn’t going to destroy them. The last thing you want is your dog inhaling fabric, choking on a chew bone or otherwise getting sick while you’re gone!
If your dog does find joy in destruction, there are relatively safe “destructible” items you can leave them with, like a head of lettuce or a brown paper bag. In some dogs, this can be a good outlet; in other dogs, it may encourage them to move on to further demolition! You’ll have to figure out what works (and doesn’t work) for your pup.
One option is to leave Fido with a completely edible Vital Essentials snack, like a Pig Ear or Pig Snout. Because these single ingredient snacks are freeze-dried and not baked, they are chewy instead of brittle. This makes freeze-dried snacks unlikely to snap into sharp pieces. (Still, always supervise your pup’s snacking if you’re unsure).
Another great option to keep your pup occupied is to hide treats around the house or bury them in a snuffle mat. If you’re concerned your pup may not find them all (and you don’t want to uncover a forgotten treat later), use particularly aromatic treats, like green tripe. The distinctive smell will definitely help Fido sniff them out!
6. Install a Pet Cam
Have you ever wondered what Fido is REALLY up to while you’re away? One way to answer that question is to use an at-home “pet cam” to keep a watchful eye on your best furiend!
This can be especially helpful during the first hour after you’re gone, as that’s when separation anxiety tends to kick in. If the camera reveals that your dog is pacing or running around the house, barking, whining, or howling, constantly looking out the window, waiting near the door, or becoming destructive — you may wish to speak to a professional dog trainer, so the two of you can work on it together.
Nowadays there are many pet cam options, such as Furbo or similar products. Each offers a variety of unique and fun features. Some pet cameras allow you to “call” your dog (or enable your dog to call you!), or will send you an alert if Fido is barking too much, or record your voice giving a command, or even allow you to virtually toss your pup a treat.
Ah, the marvels of modern technology! We’re just waiting for the day when you can leave a full-sized AI robot at home to pet your dog while you’re gone. (Just kidding…that’s creepy).
7. Don’t Leave Fido Alone Too Long
Probably the most important thing to remember when it comes to leaving dogs at home alone…is to do so as little as you possibly can!
This is especially true if your dog is restricted to their crate. Crating your pup while you are gone might be necessary if they’re destruction-prone, but it’s still unfair to your dog to spend too much of their life confined to a small space.
Think about it — if your dog spends eight hours in their crate overnight, plus eight more hours during the day while you’re at work, that would mean your dog spends two-thirds out of almost every day of their life in their crate!
If you must crate your dog during the day, we suggest no more than 4-5 hours per day at maximum. If your dog isn’t crated, and has free access to at least part of the house, you can probably stretch that by another hour or two — but you know your pup best, so that still may be too long for their happiness and wellbeing.
Regardless, try to get home at lunchtime to let your dog out and have a brisk walk or play session. (Honestly, a lunchtime stroll is good for you, too!).
As much as possible, keep to the same schedule so your dog can anticipate your movements. Your pup will be less anxious about you leaving if you consistently return on time, and their “body clock” will even adjust to this routine. After a few weeks, Fido may naturally snooze when you leave and wake up around the time you return.
8. Ask Someone to Visit Your Dog
There are many benefits to having a trusted dog-lover — such as a petsitter, dogwalker, neighbor or friend — come say hi to your dog while you’re away. Your pup gets potty breaks and human interaction at the very least, and possibly some exercise as well! Also, this means there’s someone stopping by who can let you know if something went wrong or a mess was made while you were away.
Whoever comes to visit, make sure it’s someone your dog has met and is familiar with first — when your dog is home alone is not the time for a stranger to arrive unexpectedly. But if you establish a regular schedule with this person, your dog will come to expect it. This can make Fido calmer when you leave in the morning, knowing that there’s a friend on the way!
9. Adopt Another Dog
Have you followed all of the above tips, and are still worried about leaving your dog at home alone? Well, what if…they weren’t alone?
Obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone, and it’s important to think it through carefully — but if it works for your situation, your family and your current pets, adopting another dog can be a great way to give Fido some company! (And often provide a more appropriate playmate than your deeply annoyed housecat).
Be aware, however, that just like not all humans get along with each other, your two precious pups aren’t guaranteed to be BFFs. There’s always the chance they will simply ignore each other, or even get into a scrap while you’re gone. That’s why you need to be careful and not leave them unsupervised together right away.
But, if your dogs do become buddies, the friendship will definitely make both of them happier during the day!
10. Take Your Dog to Work or Doggy Daycare
Finally, taking your dog to work with you a couple of days a week can provide a great counterbalance to the days they’re home alone. There are many benefits of bringing your dog to work — for both you and your employer, in fact! If your office isn’t currently dog-friendly, why not ask? Hey, it’s worth a shot!
Doggy daycare is another option for some dogs, but it may not be appropriate for all dogs. If your dog is anxious at daycare, or “doesn’t play well with others,” then spending the day snoozing at home may be preferable anyway.
But, for confident and friendly dogs, a few days of daycare each week can be a fun part of their routine. After a long day of playing with their friends — both human and canine — your pup will come home tired and happy!
Leaving dogs at home alone isn’t something that many pet parents would do if we had any other choice. But if you’ve made sure your precious pooch has things to do or eat, warm places to sleep, and even friends to play with, there’s no reason to feel guilty about leaving your dog at home for a few hours.
In fact, you may even find yourself getting jealous that Fido gets to nap and play — while you work hard to make sure your fur-baby can continue to enjoy the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed!