How long should I leave my dog alone?

30 November 2023 - 4 min read
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Most pet parents never want to leave their dogs alone. After all, there’s nothing better than spending time with your four-legged friend – and chances are your dog feels the same way. But even if dogs live in a household where they’re rarely left alone, they should still learn to be on their own.

“Dogs, by nature, are social creatures, so they do better when they’re with their humans,” says Joan Hunter Mayer, a certified professional canine behaviour consultant, certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT), and owner of The Inquisitive Canine. “Still, dogs also need the opportunity to relax in a quiet environment and learn how to entertain themselves, regardless of other animals or humans being around.”

“You need to plan for situations where you’d have to leave your dog for a few hours,” explains Hunter Mayer. But how exactly do you figure out how long to leave your dog alone and how to keep him safe when you do?

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How long should I leave a puppy alone?

30 minutes? Two hours? The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer because every puppy is different.

“It will depend on the puppy as an individual and their needs, including bathroom breaks, energy level, and lifestyle,” says Hunter Mayer.

Rather than focusing on a specific time, Hunter says it makes more sense to look at what your puppy is getting, or not getting, in a day. “Pet parents will want to set their puppy up for success by satisfying their biological, physical, and emotional needs.”

So if you’re spending time playing, training, and offering enough outdoor time daily, leaving your puppy alone for a few hours should not be a significant issue.

If you want to ensure your puppy enjoys their time alone, make sure they’re getting enough stimulation. Hunter says some of the most important stimuli for puppies are:

  • Exposure to new and exciting places and things

  • Scheduled socialisation and playdates

  • Frequent opportunities to learn things and solve problems

  • Rotation of new and old toys

Without any of the above, your puppy is likely to get bored sitting around the house all day.

How much alone time is too much?

Understanding your dog’s physical and emotional needs will go a long way to answer this question. A social, high-energy adolescent dog may be able to hold their bladder for hours on end.

According to Hunter Mayer, they might also have enough energy to rewire the house, so leaving them alone for long periods might not be the best idea.

“With our dog, we keep it to four hours max before we consider asking for help, but that’s just us,” Hunter Mayer explains. “Would our dog be fine if left alone longer? Probably, but I know he enjoys going out, getting some fresh air, and running around, so we feel better knowing he’s having fun and being taken care of.”

Age also plays a role – a young puppy will need more attention, care and bathroom breaks than an adult dog. “Dogs can hold their bladder for no longer than one hour per month of age,” says Hunter Mayer. “This means that at two months of age, puppies will need to be allowed to relieve themselves at least every two hours.” If you are leaving your dog alone for longer than that, you can expect accidents to happen, making house-training harder.

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What is separation anxiety in dogs?

There’s a big difference between a bored dog who doesn’t want to be alone and one with separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety manifests as a more panicky response. These behaviours include:

  • Shadowing, or always following their human around

  • Howling, barking, or whining to excess

  • Having indoor "accidents" even though they’re house-trained

  • Chewing things up, digging holes, scratching at windows and doors

  • Drooling, panting, or salivating way more than usual

  • Pacing, often in obsessive patterns

  • Trying to escape

Once alone, dogs with separation anxiety tend to panic. “They stress pant, chew at and destroy escape routes such as doors, window frames, window coverings, even walls,” Hunter Mayer explains.

Many dogs with separation anxiety will pee in the house even if house-trained, while others will bark and howl for hours. “It’s usually continuous howling, often escalating, working themselves into a frenzy, screaming for their human to come home,” says Hunter Mayer.

While boredom is easier to address than anxiety, it can also lead to problems, including household damage. According to Hunter Mayer, bored dogs don’t fall victim to panic when their human leaves — but they often seek out destructive forms of entertainment.

“They’ll wander around and look for something to do, such as empty the rubbish bin, surf the kitchen work-tops, dive into the laundry basket or decide that the big fluffy pillows make better dog toys than they do pillows,” she explains.

How to prevent separation anxiety and boredom

A dog exhibiting signs of separation anxiety should be seen by a veterinarian to help rule out medical issues and to discuss medications, training, or behavioural treatment that might help.

For busy/working pet parents, there are options to fight puppy boredom. Dogs who are social and good with other dogs may benefit from doggy daycare. More independent dogs might do better with a professional dog walker or pet sitter. “Make sure they are a good match for your dog,” Hunter Mayer says.

Help your dog get used to being alone by varying how long you’re out of the house. “When starting, you might want to leave in shorter increments, building up duration as the dog becomes more comfortable,” Hunter Mayer recommends. “But even then, continue to vary the amount of time, weaving in shorter times or even just leaving the room.”

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Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.