In a perfect world, our dogs would never have to be left home alone. Our dogs certainly lay on the guilt when we grab our briefcase, car keys, purse and other items when we’re dashing out the door. They give us the puppy-dog eyes, they whine at the door, they race around our legs as if to say, “Don’t leave us!”
You know you won’t be gone that long, but your dog doesn’t know that and frankly, for your dog whether you’re gone five minutes or five hours it’s all the same--you’re gone, they don’t want you gone.
These are a couple of the real-world reasons we have to leave our dogs alone: work, going out with friends, running errands, etc. What’s a pet parent to do? For those times, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts of leaving dogs home alone.
How to leave your dog home alone
1. Give your dog a safe space. For some dogs, a crate is their safe space, for others, having the run of the house is best. No matter whether your dog is in a crate or not, you will want to check that there are no hazards in their path—dangerous foods, electrical cords, or places a collar can get caught.
2. Leave water and a temperature-controlled room. Whether you’re leaving your dog alone in the summer or the winter, make sure the temperature in the room is sufficient to keep them comfortable. A dog in a crate needs to be able to have a cool breeze during warm months as they can’t move to a cooler location.
Keep the heat on in the winter and the air conditioning or a fan on in the summer. Water is important for your dog no matter the time of year. If you’re going to be gone a long time and you’re worried they will drink too much and have to go outdoors, do ask a friend or hire a pet sitter to walk them.
3. Show your dog that being home alone isn’t so bad. If you know that you will need to leave your dog home alone while you run errands or are at work for the day, you need to train them so being home alone isn’t so bad. Work with your dog on any potential separation anxiety issues by leaving for short periods, then longer periods until he or she knows even though you’re leaving, you will be back.
4. Leave some background noise. There are television stations and apps you can play to keep your dog company. DOGTV, for example, has scientifically-developed programming designed to help relax your dog while you’re away.
If you leave on a television or radio, the background noise will keep your dog company and may alleviate any stress they suffer if they hear a lot of outdoor noise (dogs barking, car noise, lawn mowing, etc.)
5. Give your dog a food toy or food puzzle. Keep your dog entertained by filling a Kong with treats that will keep them occupied. Find a food puzzle toy that will reward your dog with a treat when they work at the puzzle. Give your dog his or her favorite toy and consider swapping toys in and out of a toy box to keep them interested.
Don’ts for leaving dogs home alone:
1. Make a big fuss. If you act stressed and hug and kiss and baby-talk your dog before you walk out the door you will raise your dog’s stress level. They will feel your mood and it will make them anxious. They will then equate your leaving with an anxiety-inducing event and may start suffering separation anxiety.
2. Forget to arrange a visit for your dog to have a mid-day walk. Even if your dog is old enough to go the entire day without needing to go to the bathroom, having a bit of company and a short walk will help prevent accidents in the house. And hiring a daytime dog walker will ensure they're getting some physical activity.
3. Leave chewable items within reach. Yes, you can, and will want to, leave your dog their favorite toys to play with when you’re away. Just don’t leave your favorite shoes or books or trash can in reach. If you don’t want to come home to trash in the house or chewed possessions, don’t leave them where your dog can get to them.
4. Forget to exercise your dog before you leave. A tired dog is a happy dog, and a mentally stimulated dog is more likely to sleep the day away. Schedule in a long walk before you leave or play a rousing game of fetch. Mental and physical activity is necessary for a happy, healthy pup.
5. Leave them alone too long. Most dogs can be left alone for hours at a time (there are those exceptions to the rule), but if you’re going to be away for too many hours, you do need to invest in a pet sitter or dog walker. “Too many hours” is different for each dog; you know your dog best and know what their limits are for being home alone.
It is sometimes as difficult to leave your soulful sidekick home alone as it is to leave your human baby with a sitter, but there are times when there is no way around it. Know that if you plan and prepare before your dog is home alone, it will be all right. When you return you can lavish them with love, give them some praise, then spend quality time together for the rest of the day!
Editor’s Note: Bringing a puppy into your home is exciting! Be sure to keep your new arrive safe by puppy-proofing your home ahead of time.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.