No matter how much we love dogs, spending every waking moment together is impossible. We've all got work, school, friends, and a whole bunch of responsibilities to attend to, and unfortunately, we don't get to bring our pets with us all the time. Like any conscientious pet owner, you may be wondering whether leaving your furry friend alone is going to cause them any harm. Luckily, with the right information, you'll be well equipped to ensure that you're only leaving your dog alone for the appropriate time.
Let's get straight to the figures! As long as your dog is at least six months old, you can leave them alone at home for a maximum of 6 to 8 hours. However, this should only happen in exceptional circumstances and not on a daily basis. Avoid making it a habit to leave them alone for any longer than 4 hours. However, these rough estimates can look different depending on other factors, such as breed, health issues, personality, etc.
It's key to slowly, cautiously prepare your dog for spending a long time on their own —don't just leave them alone for 4 hours all of a sudden. It's not uncommon for pets to experience anxiety, especially if they're quite young and haven't really been left alone for long. If you haven't yet, start training them slowly — maybe leave them on their own for 20 minutes at first, then double and triple that when they get used to it. Easing your dog into independence is the most gentle and helpful way to go about it.
It goes without saying that dogs are most vulnerable during their youth. Broadly speaking, you need to be the most cautious about leaving them alone during the first nine months of their life. You've got to make sure that your puppy is getting all the bathroom breaks they need. As a rule of thumb, puppies shouldn't be left alone for more than an hour until they're ten weeks old, and then they can be left their age in months (ex. 5-month puppies can be left for 5 hours).
Smaller breeds are often a bit more fragile than average, and this applies to leaving them alone at home. Naturally, a tiny dog has a tiny bladder, so having them go a full 4 hours without a bathroom break may not be possible. If you do, you run the risk of them involuntarily making a mess at home. Start with a couple of hours of alone time, and see how it goes.
An important question to ask is, is your dog an active breed. Energetic and active dogs such as huskies, border collies, or Jack Russell terriers can quickly get restless at home. Understimulation is bad for their mental health, and it makes them more likely to act out. Avoid leaving these breeds alone for more than two hours to avoid disaster.
Like us humans, dogs have their own temperaments and personalities; they can be introverted or extroverted. Partially, this can be due to breed specifics — basset hounds or pugs, for instance, are known for their laid-back attitude. However, individual personality also plays a huge role regardless of breed. If your dog seems to enjoy their own company and isn't particularly clingy, you might experiment with slowly extending the time they spend alone.
Of course, your dog's medical history plays a huge role in how long they can and should stay alone. Common diseases such as diabetes and Cushing's, for example, may mean that you need to take them on frequent bathroom breaks. Other illnesses may mean that you should entirely avoid leaving your dog alone. If you're in doubt, talk to your vet for guidance.
Separation anxiety is common among dogs. Make sure you recognize the signs and don't incorrectly assume that your dog is acting out or being naughty when they're being anxious. If your dog is showing distress by unusual behaviors such as excessive barking and whining, chewing, trying to escape, or pacing, this might be a sign of separation anxiety. If that's the case, see a dog behavior specialist or a vet and avoid leaving them on their own until their issues are resolved.
You can slightly extend alone time by making it fun and stimulating for your pooch. Leave them some interactive toys, chewies, or treats to keep them engaged at home. Alternatively, if you consistently have to leave them alone, consider if you can afford dog daycare. There, they'll get to interact with other dogs and receive supervision, both of which are positively correlated with dog happiness.
Just like their human owners, dogs need companionship and affection. However, while you might have a network of relatives, friends, and loved ones, your pet only has you! Research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected dogs' behavior. Dogs are becoming clingier, and they're suffering mental health difficulties when their owners go from working at home back to the office. So, be patient with your furry friend and always try to spend as much time together as possible!
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