Leaving Your Pet Home Alone: A Guide to Pets On Their Own

A French Bull dog sitting on a dark hardwood floor looks forlorne and alone in the late afternoon light.

As much as you might like to take your dog with you everywhere, it’s just not possible. Going to work, the gym, social gatherings, and even certain restaurants makes leaving your pet home alone a necessity. 

Leaving your pet home alone doesn’t make you a bad pet owner. But it’s important to think about any limits and considerations to make your pet more comfortable when they are on their own. 

Harpeth Hills Animal Hospital is here to help navigate the issue of your pet home alone, with some ideas for how to make this experience better for everyone! 

Leaving Your Pet Home Alone

The question most pet owners ask when figuring out how long is too long to leave your pet home alone is, how long can my pet go without a bathroom break? 

The answer depends on several factors. In general, adult dogs can go from 4 to 6 hours in between outside time. Older dogs and puppies will need to go out much more often. Every dog is different, so there may be some trial and error before you know how long your dog can go. 

House Training

In addition to the bathroom question, you’ll want to teach your dog that spending quality time by themselves is safe and okay. Your dog should be able to stay home alone without falling apart or becoming destructive. If this is the case, you may be dealing with separation anxiety, and behavioral training may be needed. Separation anxiety rarely gets better on its own. Give us a call so we can get you on the right path.

For dogs without separation anxiety, start by leaving your pet home alone for short periods of time at first. Gradually lengthen your time away. Praise and pet your dog before you leave (and not immediately when you return) so they learn that something good happens as you’re leaving. 

A Good Start

All pets need exercise, and getting in a workout before you leave your pet home alone can really make a difference in their day. Start with a 20-30 minute walk before you go. Benefits of exercise include:

  • Expels excess energy
  • Maintains weight
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • Aids digestion
  • Lubricates the joints

Consider your dog’s breed, age, and fitness level. Some dogs need more exercise during the day. Others will be satisfied with another 30 minute walk or park play when you get home to give them the recommended minimum of 60 minutes per day.

Hot Button Question

Your dog may be able to last longer than 4 to 6 hours at home alone, but does that mean they should? 

Pets are social creatures, and are hard wired to want to be with us. Pets can feel isolated and unhappy if left at home alone for long stretches of time and everyone has a different idea of “long” stretches of time. They need to interact with people at least several times per day. 

To answer this question, dig deep and get creative! Here are some ideas. 

  • Doggy day care can be a great option for dogs who enjoy other dog company
  • Hire a pet sitter or dog walking service to come in at midday and give your pet a walk and some TLC
  • Board your pet with us! They’ll get exercise, interaction, and plenty of attention!
  • Work from home on occasion
  • Take your dog to work with you
  • Arrange for a friend or neighbor to visit your pet during the day
  • Come home for lunch

A Busy Pet is a Happy Pet

More than physical exercise, pets also need mental stimulation. Without it, they can become bored and even destructive. 

Here are some ideas for keeping your pet home alone entertained.

  • Give your pet’s breakfast in a Kong, to keep them engaged while you are leaving
  • Try a puzzle feeder with varying levels of difficulty
  • Create a safe and secure space with your pet’s bed, toys, and a t-shirt that smells like you
  • Invest in a game such as a Bob a Lot or the Furbo
  • Try a pet drinking fountain
  • Leave the radio on

Leaving a dog outside all day can also be problematic, especially in inclement weather. Dogs can overheat easily and there is a risk of exposure and heat stroke in that situation. Similarly, never leave a dog tied up outside. Escape is always a risk and strangulation happens so much more often than people think. 

Some people like the idea of crating their dog during the day. A crate may be a safe and secure place for your dog, but crates are generally too confining to leave a dog indoors all day. Your dog needs to be able to stretch, move around, and change positions more easily than a crate allows. By all means, leave the crate door open for your dog so they can choose to relax inside if they want to. 

Give us a call if you have any questions about leaving your pet home alone. And of course we’d be happy to discuss boarding options!