So, you’re getting a new dog and you know you have to work. Or, you’re going to work for the first time and preparing to leave your dog or puppy home alone during the day. Your first question is probably “Can I leave my dog alone all day?” The answer to this is a resounding yes! Especially if you take the necessary precautions and you provide ways for your dog to take care of all of its needs in a reasonable time frame, you can absolutely leave your dog alone during the workday.
Your next question is probably “How do I keep my pup safe and happy during the workday?” The first step to keeping your dog cared for during the workday is to acknowledge that they have needs that must be met. Thankfully, there are many options to choose from to ensure your pup is kept happy, healthy, and most importantly, safe during those hours away.
Considerations for the Stay-at-Home Dog
How to leave your dog alone during the workday is entirely dependent on your particular dog. Some do just fine being left alone for hours at a time, so long as they have access to relieve themselves as needed, food, and water. Many dogs, especially older ones, are perfectly content to sleep until you get home. Other dogs, namely puppies and breeds known for their tenacity, may need some serious supervision, confinement, and potentially even doggy daycare to prevent major problems.
Age of Your Dog
Just like children, the age of a dog determines the degree of supervision needed, and even the amount of time they can be left alone before they need you to address their needs. To help guide you on your decision, remember the following rules:
- Puppies under the age of 10 weeks can only stay home for an hour before needing to relieve themselves.
- Puppies from 10 to 12 weeks can be left alone for around two hours.
- For pups aged 3 months to 6 months, they can generally hold it for 1 hour for every year of age.
- Dogs over the age of 6 months can usually go 6 to 8 hours without a bathroom break.
The personality of your dog also matters in considering their daytime care. If you have an anxious or neurotic dog, they may not do so well with long-term separation from you. If your dog has never learned to stay home alone, you may need to gradually acclimate them to it.
If you have a rambunctious troublemaker that likes to push boundaries at every opportunity, free reign of the house likely isn’t a good idea. For dogs that you worry about becoming destructive, you may need to include some degree of confinement to prevent chaos from breaking loose while you are away.
Similar to personality, you may also need to consider the breed of your dog. Some dogs, especially those bred to be independent, likely will be just fine on their own during the day, given the right tools. If you haven’t yet chosen a dog but work full time, make sure you choose a breed that is more comfortable with that separation.
The size of your dog often determines its physical needs. Smaller dogs with smaller bladders will need to go potty and eat more often than larger dogs. Can you meet your dog’s needs within a reasonable timeframe? If you can’t, can you outsource that work? Don’t forget that your dog still needs to exercise, eat, drink, and relieve themselves during the day.
Emotional and Social Needs
It’s not enough to meet your dog’s physical needs. Are they getting their emotional and social needs met? If your dog is spending much of the day alone, can you dedicate the necessary time in the evenings to them? What many dog owners forget is that while they may have very busy social lives with lots of people to interact with, your family is likely your dog’s whole world. They will be eager to spend time with you when you are home.
Meeting Your Dog’s Needs During the Workday
Just about every dog will need to be left alone at some point. If you work out of the house, you have to worry about four major needs during the day: How to feed and water your dog, how to keep them stimulated mentally, how to keep them safe, and how to ensure their potty needs are met.
Food and Water
Food and water is perhaps the easiest need to plan for during the day. Meals can be provided with an automated feeder that opens up compartments on a timer or a gravity feeder that will ensure your dog always has access to food. Water can be kept in a large gravity container as well to ensure your dog has plenty during the day.
If you keep your dog in a crate, make sure the crate is sized correctly and leave their feeder in with them if necessary. There are also water bottles, similar to those you’d use for a small caged pet, that you can clip to the outside of your dog’s crate so they can sip at water as needed.
Take your dog for a jog before work, even if that means you get up an hour earlier than you otherwise would or toss a ball around the backyard to get them running. It’s not enough to just let them out to pee and come in; they need to be exercised to tire them out. This also increases the chance that your dog will sleep throughout the day.
Beyond exercise, you can also provide your pup with safe toys to play with. Get an automated motion-activated laser pointer to chase around during the day. They’re not just for cats! Or, freeze some treats inside a Kong to force them to work it out. Provide them with some puzzle toys, chewing toys, and anything else that will keep them busy during the day.
Safety and Supervision
Even well-trained dogs will likely need some degree of supervision and planning to ensure they are kept safe. What this will look like depends on your particular dog and its particular personality.
Whether you have someone coming into your home to walk your dog during the day or you just want a way to peek in at your pup when you’re away, consider setting up nanny cams or security cameras in the areas your dog frequents. Many of these can be accessed remotely, and some even allow you to speak through them to tell your dog to do something if needed.
Creating a Dog-Friendly Room
For the untrustworthy dog, create a room they are kept in during the day where they have access to everything they may need. If there are concerns about accidents, the best rooms are those without carpet, which can often be cleaned easier. Make sure the room is dog-proofed!
Potty planning is one of the most important considerations to make. There are a few options if your dog will be alone longer than they can hold it:
- INDOOR POTTY PADS: Some people opt to provide their dog, often a smaller dog, with indoor potty pads that are then cleaned and discarded when used.
- INDOOR DOGGY LITTER BOX: Doggy litter boxes can come in many forms, from those used for cats (but bigger!) to boxes with little patches of grass with a base to absorb the waste. Training your pup to use one of these may be the option for those who have to be away from home for longer than 6 to 8 hours.
- DOGGY DOORS TO A FENCED YARD: If you have a securely fenced yard and you reasonably trust your dog not to try to escape, you may choose the doggy door option and let your pup come and go as they please.
- PAYING A DOG WALKER OR A NEIGHBOR: If you can’t get home and none of the other options appeal to you, you may need to pay a dog walker or a neighbor to let your dog out from time to time.
- GOING HOME DURING BREAKS: If possible, go home during your lunch break to let your pup potty.
Options for Dogs that Can’t Be Trusted Alone at Home During the Day
If your dog is the kind you know will get into trouble or behave destructively while you are away, you may need to start considering other options, ranging from confinement to having someone watch your dog during the day. This might not be ideal, but depending on your pup, may be necessary.
Crate training offers easy confinement if your dog tends to get into trouble when alone. Remember that no dog should be kept in a crate longer than 8 hours, and they need access to water, a bathroom break, and toys to keep them busy.
Leaving Your Dog with a Family Member or Friend
If you don’t want to crate your dog, you may be able to leave them with a friend or family member during the day, much like getting a babysitter for a child. This is an ideal solution for dogs that get into trouble since they get to stay out of the crate and get their social needs met by someone else during the day.
Doggy Daycares and Boarding Kennels
If you don’t have any friends or family members that can take your pup, consider enrolling them in doggy daycare. This is great for socialization and lets your dog get all their energy out during the day. Many daycares also offer extended hours, and sometimes overnight care for those who have to travel.
Taking Your Dog to Work
Workplaces are increasingly welcoming furry friends in the office. You may be lucky enough to work in one that will allow you to bring your pup to work with you. If so, this can be the perfect option for a still-training pup or dogs that tend to get lonely. Just make sure that you provide them with toys to keep them busy during the day while they’re in the office.
Working from Home
If you can’t take your pup to work with you, you may be able to work from home. Working at home allows you to be home to meet your dog’s needs during the day while still meeting those workplace needs.
Teaching Your Dog to Stay Home Alone
If your dog has never been home alone for long periods, or you have a puppy, you will need to teach them to be home alone. Puppies likely have never been truly alone before when you’ve first received them. You’ll need to teach them to tolerate time alone before you can leave them longer term.
Begin by leaving them in crates or exercise pens when you leave the room. They may start to get fearful at first, but by making this a safe space with plenty of toys and treats, they can slowly grow to love that time instead.
Slowly start extending the period of time you are away. Step out of the house for 5-10 minutes at a time to show your pup that there is nothing wrong with you leaving and that you will return. Every few days, lengthen the amount of time you are out of the house until you can leave for an hour or two at a time, for age-appropriate lengths of time.
As your pup gets older, or as you continue to stretch out the alone sessions for older dogs, it will be tolerated more, especially if you leave some special toys that only come out when you leave. If you’re worried about how they will behave while you are away, try putting a nanny cam in the room you are leaving your dog to sneak a peek at them.
Chances are, they won’t be very upset for long, especially if you keep your returns and departures low-key. Don’t make a big deal about leaving or praising your pup when you get home so they learn that it’s not a big deal. After all, as much as we want, we can’t take our pups everywhere with us! By teaching your pup early on that being home alone is no big deal, you can prevent a lot of anxiety.