As much as you might like to take your dog with you everywhere you go, sometimes this is just not possible. Going to work, social functions, even certain restaurants, means that you will have to leave your dog home alone.
So what’s an owner to do?
Let’s take a look at the best ways to leave your furry friend home alone without having to worry about chewed-up shoes, stains on your carpet, or howling that will likely annoy your neighbors.
3 Steps to Learn How to Leave a Dog Home Alone
1. Determine the Location
The first step is to decide on the optimum location for your dog. Your options are:
- inside/roaming free
- outside/roaming free
Determining factors include:
- length of time you’ll be gone
- their bladder capacity
- weather conditions
- availability of a yard
- whether or not they are destructive
There are advantages and disadvantages to all three locations.
Having your dog inside and roaming free—or even confined to one or two rooms—means they are protected from the elements, possible predators, and are less likely to escape. On the other hand, it will require a good bladder or litter training so that you don’t come home to urine-soaked carpeting and piles of poop everywhere. It is best suited for dogs who are not destructive.
Crates can be both confining and comforting to a dog. Keeping your dog in a crate when left home alone requires a comfy bed and access to water. They will spend much of their time sleeping, so it tends to be better for less active dogs, or you’ll need to make it up to them when you return. Crates also protect your home from damage and accidents. Again, you may need to do some bladder training to keep them comfortable.
Leaving your dog home alone in the backyard means that they can roam free, do their business without impunity, and get plenty of fresh air and roaming time. The downside is foul weather (a good dog house helps), additional exposure to fleas and ticks, predators, and the possibility of escape.
You’ll need to be the judge as to which situation will work best for your animal.
2. Train Your Dog to Be Alone
Once you’ve determined the location that you will leave your dog in, it’s time to get them used to spending quality time…alone.
Yes, there’s usually some training involved so that you can comfortably leave your dog home alone. In fact, they need to be just as comfortable about it as you are. The gentlest way to ease them into this is to gradually increase their alone time in the location of your choice.
Leave your dog alone for longer periods of time each day. Maybe you are in another part of the house, maybe you are outside while they are in, or vice versa, or maybe you just leave altogether. Give them a treat before you leave, and do not, I repeat do not, rush to them when they begin whining, barking or howling, which can reinforce the behavior. Let them work it out on their own. Take note of any potty habits, so that you can gauge how long they can be alone without going outside.
It’s wise to give your dog a familiar and comfortable place to sleep and any balls or chew toys that they like when you leave them home alone. Make sure these are tested and safe and that they won’t tear them apart and ingest any parts. Leave fresh water for them as well. If they are used to having music on while you are home, you can leave the radio on while you are out to maintain consistency.
3. Provide Regular Activity for Your Dog
Dogs are very social animals and, consequently, really don’t like being alone. They also aren’t self-motivated to get exercise by themselves. (Sounds like some people I know!) This means that you need to spend time on physical activity and social interaction with your pet when you are home.
Dogs tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, so ideally you should provide some exercise before departing in the morning and when you return in the evening. The exercise could be a run or walk in the neighborhood, throwing a ball repeatedly at the park or in the backyard, or taking them to a dog park.
Additionally, you should spend a bit of quality time with them—talking to them, petting or brushing them, and generally showing interest in them. You will be rewarded handsomely for doing so, and a happy dog is a good dog!
Tips for Leaving A Dog Home Alone
- If you find that your dog does fine for 6 hours but melts down or has bladder control issues at the 8-hour mark, consider having a dog walker come mid-day to take them out for 20-30 minutes on those long days. It’s a small price to pay for a happy dog, and certainly cheaper than doggie daycare.
- If you need to feed your dog prior to leaving, consider giving him food in a Kong or other food-dispensing toy. You can mix kibble with wet food or a bit of peanut butter. This keeps the dog occupied for a period of time and then has the empty Kong to chew on and play with later in the day.
- If you find that a crate is too confining but don’t want to give your dog the run of the house, you can invest in a dog pen. Dog pens can be attached to crates to create a play yard of sorts or be used on their own with a simple pet bed inside.
- Another alternative to the inside/outside dilemma is the garage. If you find that your dog cannot maintain bladder or bowel control for extended periods of time, this is a happy medium. They are protected from the elements and accidents won’t ruin a carpet or stink up the house.