Dogs are sociable animals and love company, but although it is good practice that they learn to be home alone for a period of time, it is not advisable to leave them alone for very long periods, like overnight.
Many dogs feel worried when they are left on their own, especially if they have been used to having company. There are also things that need to be considered when it comes to the length of time they can be left alone:
- Their age
- Their temperament
- How long they can wait to toilet
- Their routine
- Any health conditions
- Are they nervous about unusual noises
How long can you leave a dog alone?
With the above considerations in mind, generally:
- Young puppies can be left alone for up to 2 hours but this has to be built up gradually with the right training.
- Dogs over 18 months old can be left alone between 4-6 hours but this will vary from dog to dog.
- When your dog reaches its senior years the length of time they can be left alone will very much depend on their health but in general, it could be between 2-6 hours.
When you are planning to be away for any length of time, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise before you leave and that they have been to the toilet; this will help them to settle when you are not there.
Leave plenty of water for them, along with their favourite chews/toys/food puzzle to keep them occupied if they get bored.
Consider leaving the radio or TV on, and if your dog is prone to barking at people, or other dogs passing the window, it might be an idea to close the curtains on those windows.
If you would feel more comfortable, setting up a pet camera can allow you to check them when you are not there. Some systems allow you to talk to your dog and dispense treats/toys but some dogs may find hearing your voice confusing if they cannot see you.
Used regularly, an ADAPTIL Calm Diffuser can help your dog stay calm and adapt to situations like staying alone. It creates a reassuring environment at home and continuous use will provide constant comfort for your dog.
Alternatives to leaving your dog alone overnight
A dog sitter
If you are unable to take your dog with you overnight, consider engaging a dog sitter to look after them when you are away. This could be a friend, a neighbour or a family member but you should ensure that they meet a few times before you leave so that they can get to know each other, the sitter will learn your dog’s routine (including how to give them medication, if necessary) and you will be able to see how they interact.
Some sitters will offer to take your dog to their home, which can work very well once your dog gets used to a different environment.
Always leave them with a list of emergency contact numbers, including the vet.
A local dog kennel
Some dogs see their local kennel as a home-from-home and they know what to expect when visiting there. If your overnight absences are fairly frequent, it could be a good option to introduce your pooch to a local kennel when they are young so that they become familiar with it, and they will also learn that you will come and collect them when you return.
Signs that your dog is not coping with being left alone
Some dogs cope well with being left alone, but others might not. Always keep a watch out for signs of separation related problems in your dog, which could include:
- Panting and/or salivating
- Barking or whining when you leave
- Pacing, restlessness, chewing at door frames, scratching carpets or jumping up at windows looking for an exit
- Toileting in the home
When you return, signs that they have not been coping may include them becoming very excitable! They might also follow you wherever you go in the house. While it is tempting to make a fuss of them, try to remain passive when you return to reassure them that you leaving is normal and nothing to be concerned by. You can then reward them when they are calm.
With practice and training, it is possible to help your dog recognise that you will return home, and that a calm response to your return is ok!
To do this, start small. Start with leaving them in a room where they are relaxed for a short period of time. You can then increase this gradually to going out the fron
t door and then returning after a very short time, building the length of absence over time.
Make the most of practice runs which incorporate things you would do as part of your usual departure (eg. picking up your keys, putting on your coats and shoes etc). This can also help you determine which step is particularly worrying for your dog, so you can then adapt your training appropriately.
Remember to work at a pace that your dog is comfortable with during training, always rewarding them for staying calm, and gradually building up to a point where they are comfortable staying at home without you for a few hours at a time.
Remember to only reward a calm response in training, and if your dog becomes overexcited or anxious, stop the session. You can always try again with an earlier step when they are happy and calm!