Complete guide to leaving a dog home alone

home alone viewLeaving dog home alone while at work

There is nothing more a dog wants than to spend all their time with you. However, with our busy modern lifestyles and work commitments, there are times that your dog will have to be left home alone. Many people use doggie daycares for when they are at work. However, doggie daycare is not necessarily suitable for every dog. This guide for leaving your dog home alone while at work is aimed at providing you with the necessary information and tips to make that home alone time for your dog as stress-free and as comfortable as possible.

Confining a dog or puppy when home alone

One of the first considerations when leaving your dog home alone is where they are going to be kept. Do you want them to be inside, outside or be able to come in and out? Are they to have full run of the house or be confined to certain areas? Alternatively, do you want to have them in a playpen, crate or confined to one room? We will look at each of these options so you can decide what is the best option for you and your dog.

Crate confinement

Many people feel that putting a puppy or dog in a crate is cruel. However, to your dog or puppy, the crate acts like a den similar to a dog in the wild. It gives them a safe space where they can feel secure and relaxed. A crate is only really suitable for a short period of time. If you are going to be out for an hour or two putting your puppy or dog in a crate is fine. I do not recommend leaving a puppy or dog in a crate all day such as while you are at work.

A puppy can not hold their bladder for the 8 plus hours you will be out of the home at work. This would defeat the purpose of crate training which is to aid in toilet training. A puppy generally will not want to toilet in their den. An adult dog can hold their bladder for up to 24 hours, but still leaving them in a crate all day would not be fair on them.

How long a puppy can be left in a crate is dependant upon their age. As a general guideline here is the recommended lengths of time.

8-10 weeks up to 1 hour

11-12 weeks up to 2 hours

13-16 weeks up to 3 hours

Over 4 months up to 4 hours

For an adult dog, being in a crate for 4 hours at most is recommended.

The advantages of putting your puppy or dog in a crate when you are out are that it will prevent any destructive behavior or damage to your property. It is also a good way to prevent nuisance barking as with correct crate training they will learn that they are not released from the crate when barking.

A further advantage of a crate over a playpen is that your puppy or small breed dog can’t escape from a crate. With a basic puppy pen, many puppies are able to climb up the side and escape over the top. Off course this can be dangerous to your puppy falling to the ground.

Puppy or playpen

confining a puppyThis option will allow your puppy or small breed dog space to play. You can set up their bed in one corner and a toileting area in the opposite. For toileting, you can provide your puppy with either potty pads or an artificial grass toilet. You can even set up their crate in the playpen or attach to the outside of the puppy pen so they have a safe area if they are feeling anxious.

For leaving your puppy or small breed dog in a playpen for long periods of time such as while you are at work or when home alone I would recommend having a roof on the puppy pen to prevent any escape attempts. Also, if you don’t have an easy clean floor area in which to set up your playpen I would recommend a playpen with a floor.

For more information about confining a puppy or small breed dog in a playpen see here.

Room confinement

You can confine your dog or puppy to a small pet-proof room with easy-to-clean floors. The advantage of confining your dog or puppy to one area of the house is that it will prevent unwanted behaviors such as chewing, barking, and toileting. The room doesn’t have to be huge. Your dog probably doesn’t need that much space and in fact, they will feel more secure in a smaller space.

Obviously, you will need a room that is safe from hazards such as electrical wires they could chew on. This room would also need to be free of any of your possessions they could do damage to such as furniture they could chew. If you have such a space in your home it would be ideal for confining your dog while at work. The best places for a confinement area are the kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, or an empty spare room. If the selected room doesn’t have a door that can be closed you can use a pet gate to keep your dog in.

It is important to make the room dog safe by

  • Storing any cleaning products, detergents, fabric softeners, bleach, medications, vitamins, and even dental floss food items in another room or up high in cupboards.
  • Ensure there are no electrical cords, phone or computer cables that they are likely to chew.
  • Put away anything your dog want your dog to chew or have such as shoes or children’s toys.
  • Remove any trash cans or use a dog proof trash can.
  • Make the room a comfortable temperature for your dog. The recommended room temperature for a puppy is 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in the summer and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) in the winter. If you have air conditioning or a heat pump you can set the thermostat to these settings.

Keeping your dog in the garage or basement

A garage or basement can be a good space to confine your dog when home alone, but ensure that you remove any potential hazards that may be toxic or cause harm to your dog. These may include:

  • any sharp or potentially dangerous tools.
  • keep things like pesticides, gasoline, solvents, antifreeze, coolants and oils, slug or rat poisons either high up or in a closed cabinet.
  • ensure there are not small items they could swallow such as screws, bolts, and nails.
  • beware of the temperature in these types of areas. In the hot weather, a closed up garage or basement may get extremely hot. Leave a window open for air circulation or provide a fan for them. In cold weather ensure that your dog is able to stay warm.
  • remove any electrical cords that your dog could potentially chew.

Keeping your dog outside

dog in yardIf you have a fully fenced secure backyard you can keep your dog outside while at work. Obviously, it depends upon the individual dog whether or not this is a good option. The last you want is your dog causing trouble with the neighbors by barking and howling or day. Other things to take into consideration are your dog escaping if they are bored and looking for adventure, ensuring they have shelter from the weather, either hot or cold and the potential of your dog being stolen.

To learn more about keeping a dog outside when home alone see here.

Giving a dog run of the house while home alone

If your dog is well behaved and doesn’t get into any trouble they should be fine having the run of the whole house. For a dog that is confident being alone they will probably find it more enriching to have the option to be in whatever room they like. For dogs that have separation or isolation stress issues, they would feel more secure and relaxed in a more confined area.

Allowing dog indoor and outdoor access while home alone

If you have a secure yard and you have no concerns about your dog being inside you can allow them access to come in and out as they please. A dog door is probably the simplest way to achieve this.

Anxiety in dogs left alone

The term separation anxiety is a way overused phrase. Actual separation anxiety is a severe situation and is not as common as many people may think. This is when a dog has extreme anxiety when they are away from a certain person or people. What many dogs suffer from is separation stress which is a much milder condition. The good news is that this can be dealt with and your dog can learn to cope with this relatively easy as compared to separation anxiety.

The other distinction that needs to be made is between a separation-related issue and an isolation issue. A dog with a separation issue is caused by them being away from a particular person or people. Simply leaving them with another carer or person will not stop them stressing and threating. A dog with an isolation issue means that being with another person other than their owner will help relieve the stress or anxiety.

Then there is the difference between stress and anxiety. This tends to be on a scale with mild stress being at the low end with extreme anxiety being at the high end. High-end anxiety is extremely serious and it will need to be dealt with by a professional. This is where a dog may really hurt themselves trying to escape or working themselves into a state of extreme panic and fear.

If you have a dog that has an issue when being left alone you need to figure out which of these categories your dog fits in to, a Separation or Isolation related issue. You then need to objectively analyze where they fit on the scale of low-level stress up to extreme level anxiety. Even though each dog is different it will give you a starting point to finding a solution and beginning to help your dog cope and adjust. Separation problems are in general more difficult to fix than isolation problems.

To learn more about anxiety in dogs left alone see here

Ways to help a home alone dog with anxiety and stress

Don’t make a big deal when leaving or returning

Don’t make a big fuss of your dog when leaving.  Avoid making your exit with lots of fanfare or over the top affection. When you return don’t greet your dog or give them attention immediately. Come in and just act normal as if you never left. Creating high arousal in your dog when leaving or returning will make it harder for them to adjust to being alone.

Leave something with your scent on it

Leave a T-shirt or other item that has your scent. Your scent will help comfort your dog and will help keep them calm until you return. A dogs’ primary sense is smell, and reassuring and familiar smells can offer safety cues.

Take them for a walk before leaving

If your schedule allows, take your dog for a walk to help settle them and to release some pent-up energy. Alternatively, play a game of fetch or similar activity. Once the game is complete just carry on with your normal activity such as getting ready to leave to allow them to settle before you leave.

Provide your dog with activities to do while you are gone

Ensure you leave your dog with toys and ways to occupy and provide a mental challenge while you are gone. For ideas on how to occupy a dog when home alone see here.

Use dog anxiety meditative music

There is plenty of music designed specifically to relax and calm a dog. You can either purchase dog relaxation music on Amazon or there is plenty of free dog anxiety music on Utube.

Thunder shirt

A thunder shirt is a garment that your dog wears that applies gentle and constant pressure to their body. This has a calming and stress relieving effect on dogs. They work well with dogs that are stressed or anxious about being alone as well as dogs that have fears with thunder, fireworks, and traveling.

To learn more you can see Thunder shirts on Amazon here

ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser for Dogs

This is a diffuser you plug into a power point that releases dog appeasing pheromones that give then a calm feeling. To us, these scents are odorless and are only perceived by dogs and provide a strong signal of security and comfort. The diffuser will cover an area of up to 700 sq. ft. Comes with a diffuser head and a vile that lasts up to 30 days. Replacement viles are also available on Amazon

Rescue Remedy

This is a well known homeopathic remedy that has been around for 80 years. It is quite commonly used by humans to feel relaxed, calm and stress-free. As a dog groomer, I have used Rescue remedy with great success when working with highly anxious dogs. Easy to use as you just put a drop or two on the tongue.

anxious sad dog

Training a dog to be alone

All dogs should be able to be alone some of the time. Ideally, it should be something you teach your dog from a puppy. However, you can teach an older dog to like being alone or at least tolerate it.

Tip 1.

Start by leaving your dog or puppy in their confined area such as a playpen or selected room for between 30 minute and an hour each day. They will gradually learn how to be alone and also come to the understanding that you always return. Make this time alone pleasant for them by ensuring they have everything they need. This will include food, water, and toys. Toys that can occupy them such as a Kong for dogs or a puzzle toy are best. Alternatively, give them a chew toy.

Tip 2.

Practice leaving your dog alone when you are there. Even when you are home you can practice alone time for your dog. Put them if their confinement space such as a playpen or selected room and get on with doing your own thing without them around.

Tip 3.

Keep leaving and returning low key. For your dog to be calm and comfortable about being home alone they must see that it is not a big deal. When leaving a simple “bye and be good” is sufficient. Making a big fuss with lots of kisses and cuddles will send you dog the wrong message. Dogs are masters at reading our energy and emotions.

Checking up on your dog when home alone

Arrange visitors

Arrange to have a neighbor, friend, or family member pop in for a visit to check how your dog is going and to give them some company. Even if you are unable to have somebody check up on your dog it is often a good idea to speak to your neighbors and give them a contact number if there are any concerns. Alternatively, there are many pet minding services that can provide this service for you.

Monitor them with a pet camera

pet camera for dogsWith a pet camera, you can check in with your dog and even have direct interaction with them. Many pet cameras have two communication so you can speak to your dog. They also have a microphone and can send notifications to your phone if your dog is barking. Other dog cameras can provide even more interaction including giving your dog a treat. For the best pet camera for dogs see here.

What your dog will need when home alone

Comfort Zone

Provide your dog with an area that they can go to sleep or feel safe and secure if they are anxious. This ideally will be their kennel or shelter if they are to be kept outside. If they are inside when home alone this can be a corner of the room or a crate with the door left open. In this comfort zone should be their bed and blankets and favorite toys.

Shelter

For a dog that is outside, you need to provide for your dog shelter where they can go to sleep and get protection from the weather. This may be access to a garage or a kennel. The ideal size for a dog kennel is high enough for them to be able to stand and wide enough for them to be able to turn around comfortably. If a kennel is too big a dog is less likely to use it as it doesn’t give them a feeling of being snug and secure.

If confining your dog to the garage make sure they don’t have access to areas in your garage where there may be toxic chemicals for your car such as antifreeze, gasoline, or sharp tools that could seriously injure or kill your dog. Also, be aware if the temperature in your garage gets high on hot days.

Feeding

Ensure that you leave food for your dog especially if you are not going to be home at their meal time. It is a good idea to have food available even if you are likely to be back in time just in case you are held up. Dogs like routine and structure to make them feel secure. It is best not to just leave their food in a bowl for them to eat whenever they want. Most dogs will just eat it all up at the beginning of the day even if they are full. Many dogs simply don’t know when to stop until all the food is gone. If you have a puppy they are probably being feed three or four times a day.

Free feeding is generally not a good practice to get your dog into for a number of reasons

  • it puts your dog at risk of becoming overweight.
  • free feeding can make it difficult to monitor your dog’s appetite and eating habits.
  • having access to food whenever they want can lead to resource guarding and food aggressive behavior.
  • if they are eating just as much as they want they are likely to produce more pooh.

It is best to use an automatic dog feeder with a timer so their meals can be available at the right time.

View automatic dog feeders on Amazon

Water

It is important to ensure that your dog has access to fresh drinking water at all times. A standard bowl can accidentally be spilled or run dry.
This is a problem as you don’t want your dog not to have access to water all day leaving them dehydrated, especially in hot weather. It is important to use a non-spill water bowl for your dog. My personal recommendation and the bowl I use for my own dog is the Torus water bowl.

See Torus water bowls on Amazon

The Torus bowl stores up to 2L of water in its reservoir walls and filters it to remove any contaminants. Each time your puppy takes a drink, replacement water automatically flows from the storage area into the drinking well. The enclosed water storage area also aids to keep the water cool. There is no power or batteries required.

Another great option for water for a dog being left outside when you are not there is a self-filling water bowl that attaches to your hose. Alternatively, use a gravity feed water bowl.

Toilet Area

If you are leaving a puppy home alone for eight or more hours while you are a work they will need to go toilet. An adult dog can hold its bladder for up to 24 hours, but this is not possible for a young puppy. The best option for a toilet area is to use either puppy pads or an artificial grass puppy toilet.

Grass pad potties may be a good option if your puppy goes to the bathroom outside sometimes, or if they will be doing so in the future. These are trays containing a layer of removable fake turf. Since they resemble the grass your puppy relieves themselves on outdoors, it helps reinforce the appropriate potty surface. They are usually on a plastic tray base that does also help with misses and spillage.

See options for grass pad potties on Amazon

Puppy pads are absorbent and usually lined to protect your floors. But they do have some shortcomings. The underside lining makes them slide across surfaces however some types do come with adhesive tape on the bottom to prevent this. They are also easily shredded which may be a fun game for your puppy but does defeat the purpose. They lack raised edges to prevent misses and spillover. You can get a plastic tray to put them on much like the fake grass potties.

See options for puppy pads on Amazon

How to entertain and occupy a dog home alone

View to the world

anxiety home aloneIf your dog is inside when you are at work or out of the home it is a good idea to give them a view to outside by pulling the curtains open. It is probably best to do this with a window that faces the backyard as you don’t want them barking at any people or other dogs passing by.

Provide ambient noise

Leave a radio on to provide background noise for your puppy. This not only provides them company but also helps to mask outside noises that may make them excited or scared such as car horns, noisy neighbors, and even thunder.

You can even get music that is designed to be calming and soothing for dogs. Alternatively, leave the television on. Some dogs really do enjoy watching television especially if there are dogs for them to watch. If your dog is interested in watching a bit of TV consider leaving it on for them. Maybe a good dog movie or Animal Planet may make good viewing for them.

Dog enrichment box

To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle done with when they are finished.

You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?

Watch the video to see how to make an enrichment box for your dog

Chewing

Chewing is a natural instinctive behavior for dogs and has many benefits. These include keeping them occupied and dental health benefits. The chewing action also releases endorphins to your dog’s brain giving them that feel good stress relief and calm feeling.

To learn more about the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys for dogs see here.

Puzzle toys

Interactive puzzle toys are one of the best ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog. These generally involve your dog having to work out how to get a treat or food stuffed inside out and can keep your dog busy for a long time. For the best puzzle toys for dogs see here.

Kongs for dogs

The Kong is essential for every dog. They have multiple uses such as stuffing with food or treats giving your dog a challenge to get to the goodies. They also double as the perfect chew toy for dogs. Kongs are also great for a fun game of fetch when you are home as there unique shape means they bounce in unpredictable directions.

To learn more about how to use a Kongs for dogs see here.

Snuffe rugs

A Snuffe Mat is another great way to provide for your dog’s natural digging instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. A Snuffe mat is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it.

If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon.

Scenting games

A dog’s sense of smell is one of their main senses. By stimulating the nose you are stimulating the brain. There are a number of ways a dog can do scenting activities when they are home alone. If your dog is outside in the backyard while you are out, try splashing a small amount of beef or chicken stock around the section. You only need to splash a small amount of the stock in various places. This will keep your dog intrigued and occupied for a long time.

Another scenting game whether your dog is inside or outside is to hide treats and chews for them to find. You can also do this with a stuffed Kong or puzzle toy. This way they get the fun of locating the toy and then get to work on the challenge. The first time you do this show your dog that you have hidden the goodies so they know to look for them.

For more ways to occupy and entertain your dog when home alone see here.

A final tip for leaving a dog home alone

Exercise, both physical and mental is essential for a dog to burn off pent-up energy and to prevent boredom. If your schedule allows take them for a walk before leaving. This will also give them the opportunity to toilet before being shut up inside for the day. Alternatively, play a game of fetch or similar to help tire them a little before you leave.

Even if you don’t have time to exercise your dog before leaving for the day it is still important that they do get their required exercise. See this dog exercise calculator as a guide to how much exercise your particular dog needs on a daily basis. If you don’t have the time or energy to fulfill your dog’s exercise needs I would highly recommend using a dog walking service. This will help to create a happy calm dog and avoid behavior problems forming.

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