There are times when leaving a dog home alone while at work is necessary. With our modern busy lives with work, family and other commitments this cannot be avoided.
A bored or lonely dog will find ways to keep themselves busy. Sometimes this can be in destructive or unwanted ways. This can include destructive behavior such as chewing or nuisance behavior such as barking all day.
The last thing you want after a hard day at work is to come home to a demolition site or unhappy neighbors.
So you need to find ways of how to keep a dog happy when home alone. Here are some ideas and tips to keep your dog entertained and busy when you are not there.
For many dogs being left alone is something that they simply accept. For other dogs who suffer from isolation stress, some separation conditioning may be necessary. This is best done when you first bring them into your home whether a puppy or adult dog. If this is not the case with your dog, they can still be conditioned to be home alone. However, it may take more time and require more effort and patience.
Separation conditioning is achieved by leaving your dog home alone starting with a short period of time and gradually increase the duration of your absence. Start with around twenty to thirty minutes. Follow the routine you would normally when going out. If you normally leave in your car, do the same. When you leave and return don’t make a big fuss of your dog. Come in and do what you would normally do such as making a coffee. Once your dog is calm and settled you can then acknowledge them.
If your dog does have anxiety I recommend using a calming vest. These calming vests work by wrapping around your dog’s torso giving constant gentle pressure. This has been proven to give a dog comfort and helps them to remain calm.
Containment for dog home alone
One of the first considerations when leaving your dog home alone is where they are going to be kept. Do you want them to be inside, outside or be able to come in and out?
Are they to have full run of the house or be confined to certain areas? Alternatively, do you want to have them in a playpen, crate or confined to one room? We will look at each of these options so you can decide what is the best option for you and your dog.
Many people feel that putting a puppy or dog in a crate is cruel. However, to your dog or puppy, the crate acts like a den similar to a dog in the wild. It gives them a safe space where they can feel secure and relaxed.
A crate is only really suitable for a short period of time. If you are going to be out for an hour or two putting your puppy or dog in a crate is fine. I do not recommend leaving a puppy or dog in a crate all day such as while you are at work.
A puppy can not hold their bladder for the 8 plus hours you will be out of the home at work. This would defeat the purpose of crate training which is to aid in toilet training. A puppy generally will not want to toilet in their den. An adult dog can hold their bladder for up to 24 hours, but still leaving them in a crate all day would not be fair on them.
How long a puppy can be left in a crate is dependent upon their age. As a general guideline here is the recommended lengths of time.
8-10 weeks up to 1 hour
11-12 weeks up to 2 hours
13-16 weeks up to 3 hours
Over 4 months up to 4 hours
For an adult dog, being in a crate for 4 hours at most is recommended.
The advantages of putting your puppy or dog in a crate when you are out are that it will prevent any destructive behavior or damage to your property. It is also a good way to prevent nuisance barking as with correct crate training they will learn that they are not released from the crate when barking.
A further advantage of a crate over a playpen is that your puppy or small breed dog can’t escape from a crate. With a basic puppy pen, many puppies are able to climb up the side and escape over the top. Off course this can be dangerous to your puppy falling to the ground.
Puppy or playpen
This option will allow your puppy or small breed dog space to play. You can set up their bed in one corner and a toileting area in the opposite. For toileting, you can provide your puppy with either potty pads or an artificial grass toilet. You can even set up their crate in the playpen or attach to the outside of the puppy pen so they have a safe area if they are feeling anxious.
For leaving your puppy or small breed dog in a playpen for long periods of time such as while you are at work or when home alone I would recommend having a roof on the puppy pen to prevent any escape attempts.
Also, if you don’t have an easy clean floor area in which to set up your playpen I would recommend a playpen with a floor.
For more information about confining a puppy or small breed dog in a playpen see here.
You can confine your dog or puppy to a small pet-proof room with easy-to-clean floors. The advantage of confining your dog or puppy to one area of the house is that it will prevent unwanted behaviors such as chewing, barking, and toileting. The room doesn’t have to be huge. Your dog probably doesn’t need that much space and in fact, they will feel more secure in a smaller space.
Obviously, you will need a room that is safe from hazards such as electrical wires they could chew on. This room would also need to be free of any of your possessions they could do damage to such as furniture they could chew. If you have such a space in your home it would be ideal for confining your dog while at work. The best places for a confinement area are the kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, or an empty spare room. If the selected room doesn’t have a door that can be closed you can use a pet gate to keep your dog in.
It is important to make the room dog safe by
- Storing any cleaning products, detergents, fabric softeners, bleach, medications, vitamins, and even dental floss food items in another room or up high in cupboards.
- Ensure there are no electrical cords, phone or computer cables that they are likely to chew.
- Put away anything your dog may want to chew or have such as shoes or children’s toys.
- Remove any trash cans or use a dog proof trash can.
- Make the room a comfortable temperature for your dog. The recommended room temperature for a puppy is 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) in the summer and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) in the winter. If you have air conditioning or a heat pump you can set the thermostat to these settings.
Keeping your dog in the garage or basement
A garage or basement can be a good space to confine your dog when home alone, but ensure that you remove any potential hazards that may be toxic or cause harm to your dog. These may include:
- any sharp or potentially dangerous tools.
- keep things like pesticides, gasoline, solvents, antifreeze, coolants and oils, slug or rat poisons either high up or in a closed cabinet.
- ensure there are not small items they could swallow such as screws, bolts, and nails.
- beware of the temperature in these types of areas. In the hot weather, a closed up garage or basement may get extremely hot. Leave a window open for air circulation or provide a fan for them. In cold weather ensure that your dog is able to stay warm.
- remove any electrical cords that your dog could potentially chew.
Keeping your dog outside
If you have a fully fenced secure backyard you can keep your dog outside while at work. Obviously, it depends upon the individual dog whether or not this is a good option. The last you want is your dog causing trouble with the neighbors by barking and howling or day. Other things to take into consideration are your dog escaping if they are bored and looking for adventure, ensuring they have shelter from the weather, either hot or cold and the potential of your dog being stolen.
To learn more about keeping a dog outside when home alone see here.
Giving a dog run of the house while home alone
If your dog is well behaved and doesn’t get into any trouble they should be fine having the run of the whole house. For a dog that is confident being alone they will probably find it more enriching to have the option to be in whatever room they like. For dogs that have separation or isolation stress issues, they would feel more secure and relaxed in a more confined area.
Allowing dog indoor and outdoor access while home alone
If you have a secure yard and you have no concerns about your dog being inside you can allow them access to come in and out as they please. A dog door is probably the simplest way to achieve this.
Things to do before leaving home
Give your dog some physical activity such as a quick walk or a game with their favorite toy. If you don’t have time for a walk at least give them the opportunity to go toilet. If they do tend to chew shoes or anything remove them from places they can go. You may wish to reduce the places in the house they can go by shutting doors or putting dog gates in place.
Anxiety in dogs left alone
The term separation anxiety is a way overused phrase. Actual separation anxiety is a severe situation and is not as common as many people may think. This is when a dog has extreme anxiety when they are away from a certain person or people. What many dogs suffer from is separation stress which is a much milder condition. The good news is that this can be dealt with and your dog can learn to cope with this relatively easy as compared to separation anxiety.
The other distinction that needs to be made is between a separation-related issue and an isolation issue. A dog with a separation issue is caused by them being away from a particular person or people. Simply leaving them with another carer or person will not stop them stressing and threating. A dog with an isolation issue means that being with another person other than their owner will help relieve the stress or anxiety.
Then there is the difference between stress and anxiety. This tends to be on a scale with mild stress being at the low end with extreme anxiety being at the high end. High-end anxiety is extremely serious and it will need to be dealt with by a professional. This is where a dog may really hurt themselves trying to escape or working themselves into a state of extreme panic and fear.
If you have a dog that has an issue when being left alone you need to figure out which of these categories your dog fits in to, a Separation or Isolation related issue. You then need to objectively analyze where they fit on the scale of low-level stress up to extreme level anxiety. Even though each dog is different it will give you a starting point to finding a solution and beginning to help your dog cope and adjust. Separation problems are in general more difficult to fix than isolation problems.
To learn more about anxiety in dogs left alone see here
What your dog will need when home alone
Provide your dog with an area that they can go to sleep or feel safe and secure if they are anxious. This ideally will be their kennel or shelter if they are to be kept outside. If they are inside when home alone this can be a corner of the room or a crate with the door left open. In this comfort zone should be their bed and blankets and favorite toys.
For a dog that is outside, you need to provide for your dog shelter where they can go to sleep and get protection from the weather. This may be access to a garage or a kennel. The ideal size for a dog kennel is high enough for them to be able to stand and wide enough for them to be able to turn around comfortably. If a kennel is too big a dog is less likely to use it as it doesn’t give them a feeling of being snug and secure.
If confining your dog to the garage make sure they don’t have access to areas in your garage where there may be toxic chemicals for your car such as antifreeze, gasoline, or sharp tools that could seriously injure or kill your dog. Also, be aware if the temperature in your garage gets high on hot days.
Ensure that you leave food for your dog especially if you are not going to be home at their meal time. It is a good idea to have food available even if you are likely to be back in time just in case you are held up. Dogs like routine and structure to make them feel secure. It is best not to just leave their food in a bowl for them to eat whenever they want. Most dogs will just eat it all up at the beginning of the day even if they are full. Many dogs simply don’t know when to stop until all the food is gone. If you have a puppy they are probably being feed three or four times a day.
Free feeding is generally not a good practice to get your dog into for a number of reasons
- it puts your dog at risk of becoming overweight.
- free feeding can make it difficult to monitor your dog’s appetite and eating habits.
- having access to food whenever they want can lead to resource guarding and food aggressive behavior.
- if they are eating just as much as they want they are likely to produce more pooh.
It is best to use an automatic dog feeder with a timer so their meals can be available at the right time.
View automatic dog feeders on Amazon
It is important to ensure that your dog has access to fresh drinking water at all times. A standard bowl can accidentally be spilled or run dry.
This is a problem as you don’t want your dog not to have access to water all day leaving them dehydrated, especially in hot weather. It is important to use a non-spill water bowl for your dog. My personal recommendation and the bowl I use for my own dog is the Torus water bowl.
See automatic dog feeders on Amazon
The Torus bowl stores up to 2L of water in its reservoir walls and filters it to remove any contaminants. Each time your puppy takes a drink, replacement water automatically flows from the storage area into the drinking well. The enclosed water storage area also aids to keep the water cool. There is no power or batteries required.
If you are leaving a puppy home alone for eight or more hours while you are a work they will need to go toilet. An adult dog can hold its bladder for up to 24 hours, but this is not possible for a young puppy. The best options for a toilet area is to use either puppy pads or an artificial grass puppy toilet.
Grass pad potties may be a good option if your puppy goes to the bathroom outside sometimes, or if they will be doing so in the future. These are trays containing a layer of removable fake turf. Since they resemble the grass your puppy relieves themselves on outdoors, it helps reinforce the appropriate potty surface. They are usually on a plastic tray base that does also help with misses and spillage.
See options for grass pad potties on Amazon
Puppy pads are absorbent and usually lined to protect your floors. But they do have some shortcomings. The underside lining makes them slide across surfaces however some types do come with adhesive tape on the bottom to prevent this. They are also easily shredded which may be a fun game for your puppy but does defeat the purpose. They lack raised edges to prevent misses and spillover. You can get a plastic tray to put them on much like the fake grass potties.
See options for puppy pads on Amazon
How to keep a dog happy when home alone
Here are some ideas of ways how to keep a dog happy when home alone
Provide ambient noise – Leave the television or radio on to provide background sound for your dog. Alternatively, you can get “Music for dogs” which is calming music, especially for pets.
Allow them a view – Open the curtains or blinds to a back window in your home so that your dog can see anything going on outside your back door. If you have a small dog you may need to place a chair or similar for them to be able to see.
Create a safe place – Provide your dog with somewhere that feels safe when you’re not at home. Set up a dog bed, crate or room so that they can feel more comfortable and relaxed while you are away
Recruit some help – have a friend or neighbor pop in to check how your dog is doing and perhaps spend some time with them. Alternatively, you can hire a pet sitter to visit who will check up on them and provide some play. You can even hire a dog walker to take them out for a walk either one on one or with a group of dogs.
Hide treats around the house – hide piles of their kibble or some treats hidden in places they would be likely to go for them to find. Obviously, if your dog is a shoe chewer, don’t hide them in shoes.
How to keep a dog entertained while home alone
Dog enrichment box
To make an enrichment box you simply need a larger cardboard box, some smaller boxes, empty toilet rolls, and newspaper. Put treats the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also put in a chew toy or stuffed Kong so they have something to settle done with when they are finished.
You may have a mess of shredded paper to clean up. But what are a few minutes of tidying for hours of fun and enrichment for your dog?
Watch the video to see how to make an enrichment box for your dog
A Snuffe Mat is another great way to provide for your dog’s natural digging instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. A Snuffe mat is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it.
If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon.
Treat dispensing dog camera
Use a pet monitor with automatic a treat dispenser. These are an amazing invention for the home alone dog. These enable you to see what your dog is doing with a wide-angle camera and take a photo if you wish. You can speak to your dog and even give them a treat with the built-in treat launcher. This is all done on your smartphone, tablet or computer. What will they think of next?
To learn more read “Treat Dispensing Dog Cameras”
Automatic Ball Launchers
Ball Launchers are a battery or power operated machine that shoots balls across the yard or the house (generally 10-30 feet) so that your dog can chase and fetch them. they can be used indoors or outside.
Your dog can be trained to return the balls to the funnel-shaped opening in the machine and enjoy hours of entertainment fetching balls without any involvement from you at all. Read “Automatic Ball Launchers for dogs” to learn more.
Dog toys that move on their own
An ideal way to stimulate and engage your dog is to use self-moving dog toys. This type of toy works with your dog’s natural prey drive and chase instinct. To learn move about these, check out “Dog toys that move on their own”
Provide toys to keep your dog busy while at work
Ensure your dog has plenty of toys to occupy themselves. You can place all their toys in a box or basket so they can rummage through and select their favorite. You could also hide some of their toys so they can seek them out.
There is also a good selection of self entertaining dog toys available. See “Self playing dog toys” for ideas.
Chew toys and chew treats are ideal. Firstly, they will discourage your dog from chewing what they are not supposed to. Secondly, dogs can hold a lot of stress in their jaw. Chewing is very therapeutic for dogs and makes them calm and relaxed. They also have the added bonus of being great for your dog’s dental health, especially dental chew toys. To learn more about the benefits of and the best chew toys read “Best chew toys for dogs”
Puzzle and food stuffing toys.
Puzzle toys are great for challenging your dog’s brain. Mental exercise can burn as much energy as physical exercise. With my little Yorkie, Asia, I have two Kongs that I stuff for her and two other puzzle toys. I hide these around the house so she can search for them. Once she locates them they keep her busy for a little while. The first time you do this show your dog where you are putting them until they get the idea of the game.
For more on this read “Top 7 dog puzzle toys” and “How to use a Kong for dogs”
For more ideas to keep your dog entertained when they are home alone see here.
Leaving a dog alone while you are at work doesn’t need to be stressful for you or your dog. Give them plenty to keep themselves busy such as toys, puzzles and a view out the back. Provide background noise by putting the television or radio on or even calming music. You can even arrange for visitors or a pet sitter to check up on them or treat dispensing dog camera to do it yourself from where ever you are.
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