Dogs are wonderful companions, but they can pull on your heartstrings when you have to leave them in the house. Those big brown eyes have a way of telling you that they are not very happy about you leaving them. For many dogs, if they had their way, they would be with their owner all the time. That’s part of their charm and one of the reasons they get so excited when you return home.
It does, however, make leaving them alone that much more difficult. For many dog owners, leaving them alone is when the guilt sets in, which only worsens the longer you leave them. Here, we look at how long you really can leave dogs alone to help minimise that guilt. Plus, we look at some great ways to help minimise any separation anxiety your dog may feel when you have to leave them alone.
How long can you leave a dog alone?
Frustratingly, there is no one answer to this. The length you can leave a dog alone depends on so many things. Some dogs will be fine to be regularly left alone for hours on end. Others will whine for the entire length of your absence from the home - even if it is less than an hour! In general, though, it is essential to remember that dogs are naturally social animals. They crave companionship, so if you can minimise the amount of time you leave them, all the better.
To help determine how long your dog can be left alone, think about these following factors:
Some dog breeds are better left alone than others. It is an excellent idea to do some research into what breeds can be left alone for long periods before buying your new four-legged friend. The reason being is that it will only impact both you and your dog’s happiness. If you know you have to leave the house regularly for hours on end, it is best to get a naturally more independent dog. Or a cat!
Older dogs will tend to be better at being left alone for long periods. The reason being is that in their old age, they know better. While that is by no means a given, older dogs are usually more relaxed and will have grown more used to being left. They also know that you are likely to return. Additionally, older dogs tend to sleep more, meaning that they are happier to be left than younger puppies who have only just left their mothers. Puppies will often be anxious little things that need to be with their owner for most, if not all, of the day.
One reason older dogs are more easily left is that they do not have as much energy. Bearing that in mind, you may find it far easier to leave a dog for longer periods if they have had a good exercise before you go. Try taking your dog for a walk that exhausts them physically and tires them out. Doing so will leave them with far less energy to get up to no good while you are out. In fact, they are likely to sleep and not notice that you have been gone a very long time at all. Finally, remember that mental stimulation can also be an excellent way to ensure that a dog can be left longer. Mental stimulation will also tire a dog out, so play a few hide and seek games before you go out.
The final factor that will determine how long a dog could be left for is down to personality. Sadly, this one is difficult to gauge at times. You can train a dog not to exhibit negative behaviour when you are out. However, if they are nervous, they'll still suffer from separation anxiety. Some dogs may even be tricky to train out of the negative behaviour that comes from their separation anxiety. Many nervous canines will channel their nerves into chewing a table leg or destroying a favourite pair of shoes.
Dog breeds that can be left alone for long periods
While dogs cannot be left in the house the same way cats can, some breeds are better at being left at home alone. In general, dogs that are calmer and less energetic than others are more easily left. For that reason, Basset Hounds can be left alone without too much stress, as well as Shar Peis and Chow Chows. Other breeds that are ok to leave are:
- French bulldogs
- Boston terriers
However, intelligent dog breeds are sometimes good at being left too. For that reason, Labradors and Golden Retrievers are better than immediately thought being left alone. Despite their energetic ways, Beagles can be fine left in the house for a long stretch at a time. Greyhounds are usually good on their own, as they are very calm dogs and relatively sedate despite how fast they can run. For the most part, all these dogs can be low maintenance too.
How to help your dog when you leave them alone
There are many ways you can help your dog if you need to leave them alone for several hours a day. You may find that some of the following ideas work better than others. Or, it could be that they all work together to help reduce your dog’s separation anxiety and negative behaviour while you are out of the house.
While puppies cannot, and should not, be left for hours upon hours of the day, do start leaving them for short periods as young as possible. Even doing something as trivial as leaving the room can help with their separation anxiety the older they get. Plus, keeping the times you leave them short and returning soon after will help them build up confidence that you will return. They will learn they have nothing to worry about when you do leave.
Do not punish bad behaviour
When they return to a dog who has destroyed the house in their absence, some people punish the dog. That may be with putting them outside for a short while or telling them off. However, the issue with this is that it exacerbates the situation. Dogs exhibit negative behaviour such as gnawing on chair legs when they are bored or nervous. By telling them off, they become even more anxious about the times you leave. They know that when you get back, they get told off. They are not intelligent enough to realise that you are telling them off for knocking the bin over. Instead, they see you come into the house and get angry.
Use a treat toy
Positive associations can work wonders with dogs and their training. When it comes to improving their confidence when you leave the house, giving them a high-value treat can be very successful. It means that when you leave, it not only softens the blow, but they are distracted. They also start to associate you leaving with a good thing happening in their lives. As a result, they not only do not mind you going out as much, they also have a toy to play with that they love.
Many dogs are food led. Bearing that in mind, it can be a highly effective idea to hide food in the house just before you leave. Not only is that another way you are providing a positive association with when you go out, but it also occupies them when you are out. Sniffing and finding food is mentally stimulating for a dog, so it should also have the result of tiring them out. When a dog is tired, they do not have the energy to get up to mischief in your absence.
Time toilet breaks
One reason that many dog owners dislike leaving their dog alone for long periods is practicality. It means that dogs cannot go to the toilet should they need to without someone to let them outside. Ensure that you let your dog out just before you go out for the day and let them out the moment you return. Urinating inside can cause dogs a lot of stress - not only do they not want to go in their own home, but they also know that it makes you angry or upset. Timing toilet breaks is of the utmost importance for puppies and elderly dogs.
Leaving your dog alone
Dogs are not children, so it is possible to leave them alone without fear that they will hurt themselves. Dog owners usually do not want to leave dogs for long periods, as it seems unfair. Dogs love being with their owners and vice versa. However, life does often get in the way, and owners cannot always do things where the dog can accompany them. Trying to reduce the stress and anxiety for the dog when you do leave the house is the best thing you can do. In doing so, not only is the dog happier, but the dog is also less likely to get up to mischief when you're out. And, ultimately, that relieves a lot of stress for you, leaving you to enjoy one of life’s best friendships.