The answer depends on your dog. But these tips will help you figure out the right number for your pup—and keep him happy while you're away.
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If they could, our pooches would spend every moment of every day with us, and the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, we have to do things like go to work, run errands, and attend social functions where dogs just aren’t allowed. So, we give them a snuggle, say goodbye, and leave them for anywhere from a few minutes to more than a few hours. But how long is it OK to leave your dog home alone?
There’s no definitive answer to this question because each dog has its own individual needs. But your dog will give you plenty of clues as to what’s right for him. Age, health conditions, and anxiety issues will also factor into this equation and give you the “right” number. Whether you have a puppy graduating from the crate or one who gets stressed out during a sudden thunderstorm, these are the veterinarian-approved recommendations that you need to know.
The clock is ticking
Whether your dog is crated during the day or has free reign of the house, it’s OK for most dogs to be home alone for eight to 10 hours, according to veterinarian Peter Lands, DVM, Director of Emergency and Critical Care at Saint Francis Veterinary Center in New Jersey. However, all dogs need to empty their bladder and get exercise. If your furry friend is consistently having accidents before you make it home, you need to get home earlier or make other arrangements. Plus, dogs are pack animals; they thrive on human interaction and also get lonely. So even though your dog might be able to hold it for a long stretch, animal experts highly recommend breaking up the day at the midway point with a walk. And that’s even more essential for dogs who spend the day in a crate; they should be exercised after four to five hours. And by the way, dogs need this much exercise every day.
Puppy’s first day home alone
You wish you didn’t have to leave your new pup home alone, but somebody has to bring home the kibble! Dr. Lands says that most puppies can be in a crate for three to six hours at a time, about the length of time between walks (and potty breaks). “The goal is to create a safe and welcoming environment free of stress,” says Dr. Lands. To keep your puppy engaged for a long period of time, he suggests filling a Kong rubber chew toy with peanut butter. If you eventually want your pup to stay home alone without a crate, make sure he’s potty-trained first. Don’t make these otherpuppy-training mistakes you’ll regret later.
A newly adopted dog from a shelter
Given their circumstances, it’s no wonder that some shelter dogs get nervous about being locked up in a crate. Veterinarian Catherine Lenox, DVM, DACVN, at Royal Canin says a gradual acclimation is best. Start with the crate door open, then try closing it and leaving the room for short amounts of time. “If he seems OK, you can try leaving the house for short periods of time, up to one to two hours at first and then longer,” she says. “If he doesn’t tolerate the crate well, try dedicating an area of the house with a gate or closing a door for when you’re not home.” Don’t miss these things shelter dogs wish you knew.
Any dog’s first time in a crate
Whether you took in a stray or adopted a friend’s dog, how long is it OK to leave your new dog home alone in a crate for the first time? The main consideration here: You don’t want the crate to feel like a punishment. To make sure this doesn’t happen, introduce it as a fun and cozy retreat to hang out, even while you’re home. “Keep the door to the crate open at all times,” suggests Bernadine Cruz, DVM, a veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California. “Once the pet feels comfortable going in and out on its own (try using a key phrase like ‘kennel up’), start closing the door, leaving the room for a few minutes, and then letting the pet out.”
New addition to the pack
Most dogs welcome the company of another dog, but it might take a little time for your dog to adjust to a new furry sibling. Until they do, don’t leave them home alone together. Dr. Lenox suggests keeping your first pup’s routine the same at first. So, if he’s never been in a crate when home alone, don’t put him in one when the new pup arrives. “Crate the new dog until you have him house-trained and you’re positive the dogs are getting along,” she says. “Give it at least a week or two, and gradually work up to longer periods of time before leaving them alone together for a full workday.” You may also want to consider using a baby monitor or a pet cam to observe exactly how the new siblings interact. And hang onto that monitor if you want to add other animals to your pack: Some pet combos don’t make good roommates.
An important note about crates
Putting your dog in a crate while you’re away from home seems like the ideal way to keep your dog safe—and your house intact—until you return. But you should make it an attractive option for your pet. First, make sure you’re choosing one that’s the right size. “Your dog should be able to stand up and turn around comfortably,” says Angie Krause, DVM, a holistic veterinarian with the pet-food company I and love and you. On the other hand, if you’re using the crate to potty-train a puppy, don’t get one that’s too large. Why? Your little one may use the corner to pee or poop in, defeating the purpose. And once a dog is fully trained, Dr. Lands likes having an open-door policy “so dogs can come and go as they please.”
Another pro tip: Line the crate with thick, comfy bedding, and put high-worth treats in there as well. Mental stimulation is also key. Just like with puppies, Kongs and food puzzles can be helpful. And don’t forget to include a bowl of water or a water bottle. Still, don’t use all of that as license to leave your new dog in the crate for hours on end. “The maximum for a dog to be crated should be no longer than four to five hours,” says Dr. Cruz. Potty breaks, long walks, and lots of playtime are essential when you’re crating.
An older dog who’s never had accidents before certainly doesn’t want to have them now. But chronic illnesses or age-related difficulty holding their bladder can change all that, says Dr. Lenox. In those cases, you should change up the routine. That will lead to more success and less stress—for your dog and for you. “Try to come home to let your dog out in the middle of a workday or have someone come over to help,” she advises.
You might also want to gate your dog in an area without carpet. Just make sure to keep the area comfortable by including a bedding option. If you’re worried about messes, pet pads are OK as a backup but don’t rely on them. “If the dog has been house-trained for his entire life and then he has accidents in the house (even on a pet pad), it can be a source of stress,” says Dr. Lenox. If your aging dog has been experiencing discomfort, here’s what veterinarians say you can give your dog for pain.
The location of your house is another aspect to consider when determining how long it is OK to leave your dog home alone. “In cities like New York, some dogs strictly go to the bathroom on pee pads,” says Dr. Lands. In this situation, pee pads don’t stress out dogs. Why? Because they have been trained to go on them from day one, so it’s not an “accident.” Translation: From a gotta-go standpoint, these dogs can usually be left home alone longer.
The rules are a little different in the country. “In rural areas, many dogs have access to roam large yards or farms,” says Dr. Lands. They may have trouble adjusting to being inside more and being without regular access to their bathroom in the great outdoors. Plus, they can get lonely and bored when they’re on their own for extended amounts of time. Before letting your dog outside, make sure to clear your yard of these shockingly common pet dangers.
Anxious dogs in stormy weather
If your dog is normally skittish when it comes to loud noises, address this issue before it becomes an issue. Anxious dogs have been known to eat through doors, jump through screens, and even throw themselves at a plate-glass window in an effort to “escape” from a thunderstorm. “There are ways to desensitize your dog to noise, but it takes time, patience, and often the assistance of your veterinarian or board-certified veterinary behaviorist and medications,” says Dr. Cruz.
In the meantime, Dr. Cruz says to keep an eye on the weather and prepare as much as possible. If your dog uses a crate, make sure it’s placed in a room away from windows. And crate or not, some pet parents leave on a TV or radio for some soothing background sounds and distractions. Other options: asking a neighbor to come over during a storm, or enrolling your pup in doggy daycare. Here are some other ways to calm an anxious dog without medication.
Dogs whose routines are changing
When something in your life changes your daily routine, it can significantly disrupt your dog’s routine, too. For example, if you’d been working from home but take an office job, your dog will suddenly be home alone. This can also happen when the kids go back to school. How long is it OK to leave your dog home alone in this situation? Follow the previous advice and work up to a full day gradually. But if you have a “Velcro” dog—one that goes with you everywhere in the house or barks incessantly when you leave—the rules are slightly different. Dr. Cruz suggests consulting an animal behaviorist before negative behaviors pop up.
Whatever your situation, make sure to pet-proof your home
If your dog has full access to your home while you’re out, you should take a few precautions. “You may believe that your dog would never get into the trash, your cupboards, counter-surf, or sleep on your bed, but it probably will,” says Dr. Cruz. “Be sure that all medications are safely put away, secure trashcans, and make sure houseplants aren’t toxic to dogs.” Also, keep your trash can securely covered and kid toys safely locked away. Dogs can mistake children’s toys as their own and destroy them—or, worse, choke on them. Here are some smart ways to keep your pet happy while you’re at work all day.