As loving dog owners, we never want to be apart from our dogs, but sometimes we have to leave them home alone. Whether it’s for work, shopping, chores, emergencies etc., you get it. Life happens.
You shouldn’t be leaving your dog alone for days at a time, but depending on the breed, age, and training, they can be left alone for a couple of hours or more. If you haven’t prepared them to be alone, it can lead to multiple behavioural issues such as Separation anxiety, barking, chewing household items, etc. So it is extremely important to prepare yourself and your pup ahead of time. Here’s how we prepared our pups, our home and most importantly, ourselves to leave our dogs at home.
Please note that this is our personal experience and may not be applicable to everyone based on individual circumstances. Always refer to your vet or dog behaviour specialist.
Training the dog early on
Starting early from puppy days or if you are adopting an older dog from the time you bring them home will help them to understand that it’s okay to be home by themselves. Here are few things you can do to help with the training process
- Leave them in a safe area – a pet-proof area with a playpen can help. We had a playpen set up with access to the backyard, floor cover, water etc. You can read about our puppy set up here.
- Do not let them be associated with signs of leaving home. Saying “bye”, taking keys, putting on shoes etc. Do not make it a big deal before leaving home. Instead, just leave.
- Start with short time intervals of 5-10 min. You can use a dog camera to monitor how your pup is behaving while you are away. They may cry and whine a little, but they will settle down over time.
- Wait for them to settle down before greeting them. Just like leaving home, coming home shouldn’t be a big deal either.
Prepare before leaving the dog alone
If you are going to be away for a couple of hours, it is important to prepare your home and your dog. Here are a few ways you can do that
- Exercise – A tired dog is a happy dog. So give them a short walk, play fetch or other games with them, and let them sniff around and exercise their brains. Most likely, your dog is going to sleep when you aren’t around. Whenever we watch Ollie and Winks on camera, we catch them taking a long nap.
- Dog door – This is a great option if you have a fenced backyard. We have a dog door to the backyard, so Ollie and Winks can use it whenever they want to relieve themselves. If you don’t have one, then make sure to take your pup for a walk before and after leaving them alone so you won’t come home for surprises.
- Basic training – Crate training can help your dog feel calm and safe. Every dog has different needs, so it’s important to know what works for them. Ollie is great at being alone at home or on rentals when we are holidaying. So he is free to be anywhere, but he’ll settle down in one place and sleep. Winky feels safer in her crate, especially if it’s a new environment. Commands such as “leave it” can also save your dog’s life. We often use “leave it” and “uh uh” (say no command) over the dog camera if they are barking or doing something they shouldn’t be.
- Dog camera – Apart from our home monitoring system, we have specific dog cameras in the living room and upstairs. We love this because it lets us interact with Ollie and Winky.
Improve your dog’s alone time
Once you’ve got your basics, you can further enhance their experience of staying alone, so you can come home to a happy and fulfilled puppy. Here are a few things you can do.
- Consider getting your dog a sibling – Getting a second dog is a huge responsibility. It depends on your personal circumstance and, most importantly, your first dog. However, there are many benefits to having a sibling, such as providing much-needed companionship and exercise, amongst other things. You can read here how and why we decided to add a second dog.
- Enrichment toys – if your dog is food motivated, this is a wonderful way to stimulate their brains. These can be simple homemade enrichment activities or commercially available equipment such as slow feeders, burrow toys, food puzzles etc.
If your dog has food aggression, work on that before leaving any food around the house. This is especially important if you are a multi-dog household. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Long chews – Chews that take a while to finish can be great to keep your food-motivated dog entertained for a long time, even when you are home. Ollie is not at all food-motivated, but Winky is, so we sometimes give her a chew to distract her before leaving home. Chews can also be good for dental health purposes.
However, please be careful when leaving your pup unsupervised with chews.
- Type of dog – Observe how your pup is chewing on the treat before leaving them unsupervised. If your dog is a strong chewer – eats too fast, does not chew on their treats etc., they should not be left alone with chews.
- Type of chews – We use chews such as Shark skin, Kangaroo ears, knee tendons etc. All ethically sourced single-ingredient products with no preservatives. Any chews or food items that pose a choking hazard should not be given to your dog unsupervised (or even supervised). This could be cooked bones, chews that break into shards and chews such as raw hides that can break into large chunks and pose a choking hazard.
- Entertainment – Your dog might like to watch tv (did you know that there is dog-specific TV, too?), and classical music can help them to keep calm. So you can leave your TV or the radio on to keep them entertained.
- The smell of you – Your dog can find comfort in things that smell like you. For the longest time, Winky used to sleep on my partner’s UGG home slippers. So clothes or items that smell like you can make them feel safe and calm.
What to do if you have to leave your dog for longer
While it is completely ok to leave your pup home alone for a couple of hours if you are going to be longer than that, make sure that your pup’s basic needs, such as food, water, exercise and relief requirements, are satisfied. Here are a couple of things you can consider if you are going to be away for a while.
- Dog sitter
- Dog day care
- Your friendly neighbour
- Coming home in the mid day
Do let us know whether this is useful or if you have any tips to share with us; we’d love to hear from you. Comment below to share your experience.