How Long is Too Long to Leave A Dog Home Alone?

How much isolation a dog can and should endure are two different things. How much time does your dog spend home alone? Is your dog experiencing isolation distress?

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We know it’s okay to be apart from our dogs and to leave them home alone, but for how long, exactly? Is there a limit to the amount of time our dogs should spend alone? How should you deal with separation anxiety in dogs?

A lot of dogs might spend most of their waking hours home alone and seem to do just fine, but is it okay? Are they really fine? I sometimes wonder if, instead, this is something we say to ourselves to assuage our guilt, or to avoid taking a harder look at a cultural norm that could use an update.

Let’s look at how social isolation may affect dogs, and what we can do to minimize negative effects and maximize their well-being.

dog in the window

Being Alone All Day is Stressful for Many Dogs

Let’s start with the most basic of truths: Most dogs will spend time home alone on a daily basis. How long depends on the owners’ lifestyle and schedule. Someone who works an eight-hour day and has a commute, followed by errands and evening activities, could conceivably leave their dog home alone for 10 to 12 hours in a single day and on a regular basis.

Dogs have historically been left alone for long stretches without a second thought. As recently as a couple of decades ago, if a family needed to be away from home for a day or two, how the dog felt about being left behind – whether indoors or outdoors – was not an important consideration. As long as he had enough food and water, most owners felt secure in the knowledge that he was all set.

Few people today would admit to leaving their dogs home alone for 24 or 48 hours or more, but leaving the dog home for 10 to 12 hours is not at all uncommon – and questioning this practice can sometimes lead to social ridicule. If an owner decides that after being gone all day, she’d rather not confine her dog or leave him alone for an additional few hours in the evening, she might be met with less-than-understanding responses. “You’re not coming out because you want to be home with your dog? That’s crazy! You’re letting your dog control your life!”

Here’s the thing, and I won’t pull any punches: 10 to 12 hours is too long for a dog to be alone in a single stretch.

I know, I know. It’s a very broad statement and there is always the argument that, “We’ve always done it this way and our dogs have always been fine!” What this means, though, is that the dogs who appear to be fine have simply learned to cope with something that is entirely out of their control. Being left alone for long stretches of time is not a likely choice that they would make if it was up to them. They’ve adapted to our routines, but it’s far from ideal for them.

We count on our dogs to be there for us when we’re ready to interact with them, but in between those moments, we expect them to do nothing and wait. It’s a tall order, but lucky for us, most dogs adapt incredibly well to anything we ask them to.

People whose dogs have difficulty adapting are the ones who come to us trainers, asking for help with behavior problems such as barking and destructive chewing, or emotional issues such as fear, anxiety, aggression, or over-excitement, to name a few. In fact, many of us trainers and behavior consultants are kept very busy as a result of the lifestyle to which many dogs are subjected!

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Some home-alone dogs may experience separation anxiety. For more information about this extreme form of isolation distress in dogs, see Training Editor Pat Miller’s article on separation anxiety.

So How Long Can You Leave A Dog Alone?

Trainers are often asked, “What’s the maximum amount of time a dog can be left alone in a single stretch?” There’s no simple answer to this. We know that in most cases, a dog will manage if he has no choice, but we shouldn’t push the envelope just because we can.

Let’s consider the dog’s basic needs. While not all dogs are alike, most adult dogs should be able to go outside to relieve themselves about three to five times a day (more often if they are sick or elderly) and shouldn’t be forced to “hold it” for more than four to six hours at a time, on average. We know most adult dogs can hold their bladders for more than six hours, but they really shouldn’t have to.

Granted, this is relative. Some dogs, if given the opportunity, will go outside to eliminate every couple of hours, while others – even with the freedom to do so – might still only eliminate three times a day.

You know your dog best and are in a unique position to figure out what his individual needs are. When you’re home during the weekend, does you dog stick to his usual weekday elimination schedule, or does he tend to go out more often?

Puppies need to eliminate way more often than adults, and although we can set up their “home alone” environment to include a space where they can eliminate indoors, there is still the question of how long they should be left alone without human company.

Yes, Dogs Get Lonely

Dogs are social animals and should have the opportunity to interact with people at least several times a day, and with other dogs on occasion, if this is something they enjoy.

It’s even more important to not leave puppies home alone all day. Puppies younger than 14 weeks of age are in a sensitive socialization period and benefit from lots of social interaction. They should be in the company of their family for significantly more time than an adult dog.

Again, for emphasis: Leaving a puppy home alone all day is a waste of valuable – crucial – socialization time that can confer lifelong benefits.

Crating A Dog While At Work

I have a number of clients who, prior to consulting with me, had resorted to using crates in an effort to prevent their dogs from doing further damage to their homes through destructive chewing or soiling, or to curb barking at the windows. The irony is that the behavior issues were actually created by too-long stretches of isolation. Crating the dogs only made bad situations worse by increasing the dogs’ level of stress and further limiting their ability to interact with their surroundings.

crating dog during the day

A crate is no place for a dog to spend an entire day. If necessary, confinement in a small space should be temporary and for short periods of time, say, a couple of hours, tops.

There’s often a comparison drawn between crates and “dens” – that somehow a small enclosed space should instinctively make a dog feel relaxed and safe because it resembles a den. However, dogs are not “den animals” at all. And even if they were, they would be able to leave their dens whenever they please, which isn’t the case with crates.

And if your dog actually seeks out his crate to nap? Does that mean he loves it so much that he’d be okay in it for an entire day? Well, I have a favorite chair in the living room where I sometimes like to curl up and take a nap. My choosing to spend time relaxed in a space without budging for sometimes an entire hour is a far cry from being physically confined to that chair, unable to leave it to stretch, eat, drink, relieve myself, or just plain do something else. It’s time we rethink the use of crates and our dependence on them.

If the principal reason for using a crate to confine a dog during our absence is to avoid destructive or nuisance behavior, a better approach would be to address those behaviors through training, or through management that involves meeting the dog’s physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.

How to Minimize Your Dog’s Time Alone

Following are a few ways you can avoid leaving your dog alone for too long. It can be hard to make this work, but if you dig deep and get creative, you’ll find there are actually more solutions available than you might have thought:

Doggie Daycare

Even if your dog is enrolled for just one day a week, that leaves you with only four more to go to cover an average work week! Of course, not every dog is a good fit for daycare, but for dogs who enjoy other dogs’ company, even just one day a week is a good step toward meeting his social and physical needs.

Keep in mind that not all doggie daycare operations are alike. Look for clean, well-designed locations with qualified staff who will manage interactions between the dogs and provide necessary rest periods. Also note that doggie daycare is not the right environment for young puppies.

Come Home for Lunch

If not every day, then as often as you can during the work week. If there are several family members in the household, consider taking turns coming home in the middle of the day to let the dog out to relieve himself and enjoy a short visit.

Hire A Dog-Walking Service

Dog walkers have been around for ages, but in the last decade this industry has seen a surge in numbers, possibly because more people who work outside the home are recognizing the importance of addressing their dog’s needs.

The types of services offered by professional dog-walkers can range from a quick home visit to a neighborhood walk, or even day training (when a trainer trains the dog in your home while you’re at work). Again, a caveat is needed here; there are some horrible dog-walking services out there.

Work From Home On Occasion

Telecommuting is more popular than ever as technology makes it easy for folks to perform their professional tasks from a home office.

Bring Your Dog to Work with You

Obviously, not everyone is in a position to do this. I frequently work with clients to treat their dog’s separation anxiety, and this suggestion is almost always met with an immediate negative response, “No way, I can’t do that.” However, it turns out that sometimes, it is possible.

Unless you’ve actually looked into it by communicating directly with the person who’s in the position to say yes or no, hold off before crossing the idea off your list of possible solutions. It may seem unlikely, but you may be very pleasantly surprised!

Arrange for Someone to Visit Your House and Let Your Dog Out

Ask a neighbor, or your co-worker’s teenage niece who loves dogs, or that kid down the street who does odd jobs. Not everyone is comfortable with the possible liabilities a scenario like this can present, but you may already have someone you trust to handle this type of task.

Naturally, your dog needs to be comfortable with someone walking into his home while you’re out, and in the best of cases, he’ll be thrilled to receive a midday visit!

Solutions Have Higher Cost, But Worthwhile Benefits

While some of these solutions involve an additional expense, consider it a normal part of owning a dog. When calculating a budget for expenses related to caring for a dog, owners may figure in the expenses for food, toys, maybe some grooming, and the occasional vet visit. All too often, though, money for training and other services like daycare, boarding, or dog walking tend to fall erroneously into the “luxury” category. In reality, these are essential services that contribute to meeting a dog’s needs more completely.

Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong question all along. Rather than trying to figure out how to best stretch the amount of time we can leave our dogs alone, we should be trying to help our dogs get more out of every day. This idea might take some getting used to, especially since it suggests that our dogs aren’t happy. Sometimes, though, it’s good to question the status quo and ask ourselves if we can do better.

Nancy Tucker, CPDT-KA, is a full-time trainer, behavior consultant, and seminar presenter in Quebec, Canada.

178 COMMENTS

  1. I have neighbours who own a Great Pyrenees. They go away for four or five days and leave the dog inside. Someone comes in once a day to feed the dog and let it out for 15 minutes. The poor dog is never walked. I own a dog myself and would NEVER do this. But maybe this is considered okay? Is this common? I just feel for the dog.

      • I understand that part my friend just told me she’s leaving tomorrow and coming back Wednesday and leaving her dog outside.😡😡😡 she was gone for the weekend so I’m wondering if he left the dog by itself .. then she threw it up in my face with he knew where I lived that you would call the Humane Society if she wasn’t guilty she wouldn’t brought that up..I would too never share secrets with me about your animal I will turn people in.

    • America has become terrible. In most European countries the dog will be taken away from its “people”. How can anyone of sane mind assume it is okay to leave a dog ALL DAY while they go to work. In that scenario YOU CANNOT HAVE A DOG, end of story

      • Marijke what a ridiculous statement to make. Your saying people who work should not have a dog? Would you get a grip. The means the majority of the population would not be allowed to have a dog. Don’t make stupid comments like this that have no logic at all. You can still work and look after your dog very well. Leave the radio on, keep the dog occupied with sensory boards, sniff mats, lick mats and favorite toys. Hide treats in the garden for them to sniff and find and occupy the dogs day. Using these senses will tire dogs out alone. Walks before work and after and I’ve a very happy dog. The weekend my dog comes with me on long walks and adventures lots of quality time spent. Yes it’s not ideal to not be with my dog while I work but I certainly don’t think the option is give up work?? Or wait until I retire to own one! What would happen to all the dogs then if you couldn’t own one due to working? Comments like this piss me off

        • Oh please, got your knickers all in a twist over her comment did you not?She is not saying that ALL Americans do this, but too many do. You apparently think you are the perfect dog owner but how many others care as much as you do? Not that many. How many think it’s OK to chain a dog outside 24/7, with no regulation from the authorities.

          • I have a neighbor that owns a little terrier mix breed this lady takes off and leaves this poor dog alone for a month sometimes longer at a time…her dad comes over once a day to feed him but he never goes outside when she gone plus dad only stays long enough to feed and water him no longer than 10 minutes a day one time a day…is there a law that she’s breaking? He cries 24 7

      • My dogs were never alone when my wife was still living. Now they are alone for maybe two hours a week while I go to the store. We never created our pomeranians ever they have to run of the house and a half acre fenced yard to play in.

    • How would you even know when they are coming and going if you had a life and weren’t a creep? Although I would never do this.
      Some creeps
      Get away with living on welfare, having no lives and obsessing with other neighbors… then lie about them and don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t be a creep. How the hell would you know what they are doing creep?

  2. Thank you for bringing up the difference between crates & this inane idea so many people have of dogs being “den” animals. As if that’s what Den animals experience, if dogs even are “den animals” at all. I don’t care if they call it a crate, a townhouse, or the Ritz Carlton. A cage is a cage is a cage.

    • I have a puppy mill survivor. She came to us in a crate (for safe transportation). When we brought her home, it was extremely difficult to get her out of the crate. That crate was her “safe zone”. Nobody could hurt her in that crate (and people had hurt her a lot). It took weeks for her to feel comfortable enough to begin to stick her head out of the crate. It was very difficult to get her outside to go to the bathroom (it took a long time with lots and lots of highly yummy treats to lure her out of the crate and outside). She’s been with us for 4 years now and still loves her crate and will go in there of her own accord. She will particularly go into her crate if something frightens her (and she is an extremely fearful dog). Even when she isn’t in her crate, she loves to sleep and rest in closed-in areas. They make her feel safe (even though she knows nothing bad will happen to her here). My non-fearful dog will also seek out her crate to rest (but prefers the couch with her extra-large Wolfhound head on my lap). I would never take our puppy mill rescue’s crate away from her. It isn’t a cage to her–it’s a “safe zone” where she feels safe and secure. It would be cruel to take away that source of comfort for her.

          • Puppy mill dogs can bring a totally different (and often extreme) set of ABNORMAL responses. What they have been through cannot be compared to dogs with so-called “normal” beginnings in life. Just as with deeply traumatized children (Adverse Childhood Experiences–ACE), puppy mill dog responses are coping responses–the best they can do.

      • I adopted a puppy mill dog too. Patches is a mini Australian Shepard and quite the handsome fellow. He spent his first year of life in a small crate. Now he has an extra-large crate, which is only locked for feeding time (he”s food aggressive with our other dog). When he gets scared, he finds his own hiding places. He seems to have different areas for his level of fright, such as if the noise is outside, he’ll run inside and make his small stature even smaller to tuck himself into the corner of the couch. If it’s the vacuum, he’ll go behind a chair. If it’s a thunder and lightning storm, he hides in my closet. I like to think the different areas are his way of working through his fright. But then who knows?
        We don’t know if we’re doing helpful things for our dogs. So if you’re asking if you’re using the crate the correct way and it isn’t locked, I would say see if your dog is improving. I was told to act like the noise is normal. If we pet and baby the dog for being afraid, then the dog is getting rewarded for being afraid and will keep on; the vacuuming wouldn’t get done because I would be petting the dog.
        Daily walks are how I help my dogs. To teach Patches to walk outdoors was an ordeal. He was quite proud of himself once he learned. Running at the dog park is more his speed, but we can’t get there every day. He also likes to swim as long as no boats are on the lake, and perform dog tricks where he learns to sit, shake, come, stop, etc.
        Some of the other comments seem to complain that your reply didn’t match the article. I think it did, even more than mine, because it showed a different way to use a crate. Supporting each other is a way to get the knowledge we need to be a responsible dog owner. Kudo’s to you for adopting a puppy mill dog. Talking about the outcome for the dog after being a puppy locked in a cage for too long proves the line, “Puppies younger than 14 weeks of age are in a sensitive socialization period and benefit from lots of social interaction.”
        Keep on spreading the word to end puppy mills.

      • Excellent example! Thank you. It’s hilarious how some people think they know the inner-workings of every dog’s psyche 😂 My dog loves his crate too. Even when he has full run of the house and courtyard, sometimes he just prefers to crawl up in there.

  3. This article actually really hit home for me. I have a 1 year and 7 month old Aussiedoodle whom has severe isolation anxiety. I recently moved from a house to an apartment complex and was unaware for a long time as to how much she would yelp and cry as if she was being hit when I would leave for work (gone for 10 hours a day). Since moving into the apartment complex I realized this due to my neighbors now bringing it to my attention so I have hired a trainer to help me out to put together a training plan along with a dog walker who comes middle of the day for a 15 minute walk while I am gone.

    She still has the isolation anxiety but it seems to be getting better and now only goes around 4 hours without human interaction!

      • Agreed. My dogs, now just dog, get walked every day that it is not raining hard for 30 minutes (half mile) to one and a half hours (two miles plus). People do not see the importance of the dog and being outside and walking for a distance. It is so sad.

    • Doodle are highly intelligent and highly active dogs. They need LOTS of exercise, mental stimulation and companionship. They don’t nap all the time like other dogs – even at 7 years old. Leaving your dog along for so long will be very stressful on the dog and likely create much anxiety, frustration, insecurity. Could you get a second dog so they could play and keep each other company?

      • i have a doodle dog and we walk her once a day for 30 min then she plays with our neighbors dog and we throw a ball around with her for at 15 min

        overall she gets about 2 hours of exercise a day! she doesn’t get hyper at night so i would suggest give your dog AT THE VERY LEAST 30 minuetes of exercise. if you can’t do that. find someone who can!!

  4. My neighbour’s cat died, so she has bought a dog. It’s kept alone most of the time and never walked. Its a puppy and it barks constantly to seek attention. I have complained but with minor success on the noise front. Don’t think the dog’s life has improved.

  5. I think it will depend on the dog breed and personality. I leave my dog alone every day for 8h because of work. But I usually exercise him before leaving to make sure he hasn’t any pent up energy left. Also, what helps me to keep an eye at him is watching him online to see what he is doing, and I see that he usually sleeps the entire time when left alone. I also like to interact with him from time to time when I’m away so he doesn’t feel so alone. After a lot of trials, I found a camera device that is perfect for me to watch him on my phone and also talk to him and even throw some treats. I bought it over amazon and it made me so more relieved to leave him alone at home. This is the product that I bought:

    https://amzn.to/2N202s0

    Have any of you guys tried it before?

  6. I just hope your article doesn’t deter someone who has a full-time job but still can’t afford doggie daycare not to adopt a dog. I would rather see a dog adopted and left home for 8-9 hours while people work then to not get adopted at all and eventually euthanized. They now have so many creative ways to take care of a dog even when you’re not home…
    cameras that let you talk to them, feeding timers, treat toys, continuous water dispensers, etc.
    I don’t believe in crating a dog but maybe making a larger area THEIR space where they can’t get into trouble. Whether its a spare room or just a quarantined area designated where they have access to their bed, toys and water.