How long can you leave a dog alone?

December 24, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
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Can you leave your dog at home alone?

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 behavior 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.”

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'll 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?

Puppy laying on top of a teddy

How long can a dog be left home alone?

Understanding your dog’s physical and emotional needs will go a long way toward answering 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.”

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How long can a new dog be left home alone for the first time?

30 minutes? Two hours?

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer because every dog is different.

“It will depend on the dog 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 dog is getting (or not getting) in a day. “Pet parents will want to set their dog up for success by satisfying their biological, physical, and emotional needs.”

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

But if your dog's fresh out of the shelter, it's a good idea to give your dog time to settle in before you take off for hours at a time.

Can you leave a puppy home alone?

A young puppy will need more attention and 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 leave your dog alone for longer than that, you can expect accidents to happen, making housebreaking harder.

If you want to ensure your puppy enjoys their time alone, make sure they’re getting enough stimulation when you're home.

Hunter says some of the most important stimuli for puppies are:

Without any of the above, your puppy is likely to get bored sitting around the house all day. And that can result in some unwanted redecorating or endless barking sessions.

Can a dog be left alone overnight?

This is a tricky question! Not to be repetitive, but again, it depends on the dog and how long you've had a chance to get to know them.

Here's what to consider before you leave your dog home alone overnight:

  1. Does your dog have pre-existing conditions that might rear their heads (seizures, etc.)?

  2. Is the space where your dog will be pup-proofed?

  3. Are you concerned about the interactions between your pup and other pets in the household?

  4. Will your pup have adequate access to a potty pad or outdoors to relieve themselves (especially for puppies)?

  5. If you are using a crate, will your dog be in there for too long to hold their bladder?

  6. If you just adopted this dog, are you sure they've had enough time to settle in?

  7. Will you be able to relax knowing your dog is alone for that long?

It's important to discuss this with your vet, especially if #1 is a possibility. If there is any question in your mind, it's probably a good idea to look into boarding or dog sitters you trust.

How to tell if your dog has separation anxiety

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 behaviors include:

  • Shadowing, or always following their human around

  • Howling, barking, or whining to excess

  • Having indoor "accidents" even though they’re housebroken

  • 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, and 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 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 trash can, counter-surf in the kitchen, dive into the laundry hamper, or decide that the big fluffy pillows make better dog toys than they do pillows,” she explains.

(This is also why it's important to dog-proof your house before you get your dog.)

How to prevent separation anxiety and boredom when your dog's alone

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 behavioral treatment that might help.

For busy or 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 the 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.”

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer, photographer and avid adventurer. Diana's work has been published on the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, Marie Claire magazine, National Geographic, and more.