- Puppies can be left alone for about one hour for every month they’ve been alive, plus one hour.
- Adult dogs can be alone for a maximum of eight hours, but every dog is different.
- You can make it easier for your pup to be alone by walking them before you leave the house.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 1 in 5 American households got a new cat or dog. Many were suddenly drawn to pet ownership due to social isolation, which worked out well as people began working from home.
However, some are now returning to offices full-time, which means they’ll likely need to leave their pets alone at home. This major shift can be a big adjustment for pets.
Here’s what dog owners should know about leaving a dog alone at home.
How long can you leave a dog alone?
Puppies require you to be home a lot more often, but adult dogs’ tolerance to being alone is mostly dependent on their personality.
How long your puppy can be left alone is mostly dependent on how long they can go without needing to be let out to poop or pee.
Generally, puppies can hold their bladder for about one hour for every month they’ve been alive, plus one more hour, says Kristi Flynn, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
This means that a four-month-old puppy can be left alone for around five hours before they need to go to the bathroom.
This rule of thumb applies to puppies up to seven months, which means a max of eight hours left alone, Flynn says.
You shouldn’t leave your adult dog alone for more than six to eight hours, because they can’t hold their bladder for much longer.
However, certain dogs may experience emotional distress when their owners are away for even a few hours, while others are very independent and can be alone for much longer if they have a way to relieve themselves on their own, like a doggy door to the yard or pee pads.
Every dog is different, so observe them and take their habits into consideration to gauge how long you can leave them alone. Some indications that your dog is unhappy with how long they’ve been alone are:
- Destructive behavior
Once you know how long your dog is comfortable being left alone, you should honor this time limit. Otherwise, you may come home to a mess, says Liz Stelow, chief of behavior service at the UC Davis William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
“The dog may not have been able to hold its bladder or bowels. It may have panicked, as its emotional tolerance for being left was exceeded. It may have become creative about entertaining itself,” she adds.
How to make it easier for your dog to be alone
As long as you are able to meet your pet’s needs, spending some time away is OK, Flynn says.
There are several ways to make your dog feel more comfortable when they’re alone.
1. Determine where your dog is most comfortable.
The location where you leave your dog is important to consider. For maximum comfort, dogs should ideally have access to their favorite spaces or the areas they find safest and most relaxing, Stelow says.
If you let them roam in your house, you should “puppy-proof” the house before leaving, she adds. Empty the garbage cans, tidy up the space, and lock certain rooms to keep your dog from getting into anything they’re not supposed to.
2. Walk your dog beforehand.
If you know you’re going to be gone for a while, make sure your dog gets some exercise beforehand. Burning off some energy may keep them more behaved at home.
When you walk your dog, allow them to sniff along the way since it helps tire them out both physically and mentally, Flynn says.
Dogs have varying energy needs, so one dog may be fine with a leisurely stroll while another may require a long, quick-paced walk in addition to playing fetch, she adds.
3. Put some background noise.
Sounds from outside the house — such as delivery trucks or other animals — might be distressing or disturbing for jumpy dogs, so don’t leave your dog in complete silence.
“The dog is more likely to relax during its alone time if it is not startled by outside noises or triggered into territorial barking by passersby,” Stelow says.
Try playing some music or leaving the television or radio turned on to drown outside noises, Flynn says.
4. Keep them entertained.
Giving your dog a special treat right before you leave can occupy them for a while, Flynn says.
A stuffed toy may also help your dog relieve boredom and very mild anxiety when you’re gone, Stelow says.
Puzzle toys, aka food-dispensing toys that require dogs to solve puzzles, will also keep your dog occupied for a while. Make sure to experiment with different toys and puzzles before leaving your dog alone to know which ones they love and enjoy.
Dogs can be safely left alone at home, but how long they’ll remain comfortable generally varies.
You can make it easier for your dog to be alone if you walk them beforehand, play some background noise, and keep them entertained.
Make sure they remain in a location where they feel safe, whether that’s inside a crate or a certain room or area of the house.