How Long Can a Dog be Left Alone?

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It’s a pretty controversial subject. Almost every dog owner has their own opinions when it comes to leaving their dogs alone. While thousands of pet owners leave their dogs home alone for hours while they spend a day at work, the same situation unfortunately convinces millions of others not to adopt at all.

The fact is, dogs are pack animals, heavily reliant on social contact (not to mention the essentials, like food/water). Unlike cats, for example, dogs don’t often do well alone. Unfortunately, the average adult needs to leave their dogs alone for most of the day.

‘Self Feeders’

While you can purchase automatic (self) dog feeders, offering a constant supply of food for your dog while you leave for extended trips, many dogs will continue to eat more than they need to. These can cause excessive weight gain.

Potty Breaks

No dog owner is going to want their dogs pooping in their house. While a grown dog with a fully developed bladder can be trained to hold his/her ‘business’ for several hours while the owner is away, puppys certainly can’t. In fact, the rule of thumb for young puppies is:

1 hour per month of age’.

This means, for example, a three month old puppy should be able to hold his bladder for three hours. Of course, this rule doesn’t apply to older puppies or adults. Many experts recommend a maximum of eight hours here for the average dog breed, meaning your dog should be let out every eight hours at least.

Home Alone

Countless dogs spend most of their ‘waking’ daytime hours at home, but are they really ok? If you attach a camera (which some people have done) to your dog, you’ll probably notice he’ll likely take a long nap while you are gone. At least, this is the case for those dogs without any type of separation anxiety.

Dogs with Separation Anxiety

For dogs suffering from separation anxiety, the case can be drastically different. Though it depends how strong their condition is, even short durations alone can be stressful on these dogs. Long days along can seem like torture.

For these dogs, it’s all about training. A well trained dog with no separation anxiety can normally be left alone for the standard work day, as long as the owner returns home and the dog receives adequate exercise and attention.

If an owner adopts a dog used to being around others, and suddenly immerses him into extended durations of isolation (ex. 9 hour work day) without properly working up to it, that dog can easily develop a case of anxiety.

‘Can’ vs. ‘Should’

These days, it isn’t uncommon to leave a dog home alone for 10-12 hours while the owner is away. Several decades ago, these durations of isolation were much longer than this. Believe it or not, most dogs are fine being left alone for 10-12 hours, and have learned to cope well.

But really, should you leave a dog alone for that long? This is another question entirely, and the answer many trainers would give you is ‘no’. Ideally, no dog should be forced to hold their bladders longer than 6-8 hours, 6 hours at most in an ‘ideal’ situation. Many dogs can hold their bladders for this long, but shouldn’t have to.

Remember, dogs are social creatures, happiest when they are able to interact with other people or dogs several times on a daily basis.

Crating Your Dog During the Day

Because they may be destructive, are young, or to prevent accidents in the house, many owners will crate their dog while they are away. In the case of a young puppy, crating while the owner is away is an absolute must for safety reasons. When it comes to older dogs, a small cage isn’t a good place for a dog to spend a full day in isolation, even if he is crate trained well.

Many trainers will tell you where crating is important, ideally no dog should spend more than 4 hours crated without breaks. Of course this is nowhere near the reality of the situation.

Are Dogs Really Den Animals?

For many years, people will argue dogs are den animals, and for this reason, crates are natural and resemble dens. This is only partially true.

Where as dogs do use dens, wild dogs or wolves will spend the majority of their lives out in the open, as opposed to huddling in caves seeking comfort. That being said, crating a dog for 10-12, or even 6-8 hours a day is nothing like the limited amount of time that dog would spend in his wild den (not including sleeping hours).

A dog crate can be made to resemble a wild den if the dog is allowed to enter and leave freely whenever it wants, not where he is forced to remain much of the day.

Exceptions for the Shelter Dog

What you see above, 6-8 hours at most, is an ideal situation. Unfortunately, while large scale commercial breeders still operate legally, millions of puppies are bred in the United States alone every year. An estimated three million dogs enter animal shelters across the country each year, not including the countless ones who aren’t found or don’t survive long. This means many more animals are bred than there is a demand or homes for.

Countless potential dog owners never end up adopting because they believe it is cruel to leave a dog home alone or crated all day. This is unfortunately ironic, since the average shelter dog may spend 70-80% of its life in a crate just large enough to turn around in, and many dogs are still euthanized simply because there is no home for them.

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