A friend of mine recently adopted his first dog. He asked me a few questions about what to expect. One of those questions was what should he do to make his dog comfortable when the dog is home alone for the first time?
I thought this was a good question because this is often a stressful time for the new dog and the new owner. I thought some of you might have some good advice.
It’s not just new dog owners that face this dilemma. I know every time I have a new foster dog, I worry about leaving that dog alone for the first time. And then of course, there are new puppies. When can a puppy be left home alone?
Here are my tips for leaving a dog home alone for the first time
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1. Lots of exercise beforehand.
Whenever anyone adopts a new dog, I recommend a long walk at least once a day, every day. Assuming the dog and owner are healthy and capable, this walk should be at least 45 minutes and preferably more than an hour.
Walking is a bonding ritual. It is something most dogs enjoy, and it helps them get comfortable with the new owner and a new routine.
It also helps the dog get rid of any pent-up physical, mental and emotional energy. The calmer you can get your new dog, the better.
2. Take a day or two off from work when you adopt a new dog.
Most people know ahead of time if they will be adopting a dog. If at all possible, I recommend you adopt the dog when you can take at least two days off from work.
That will give you some time to help the dog adjust to your routine before you have to leave for eight hours. If you can take a week off, even better.
During your days off from work, you should start leaving your dog home alone for short periods so he starts to get used to being alone in the new environment.
3. Begin leaving the dog alone for short periods.
It’s not a good idea to just leave the dog for eight hours right off the bat. Start with just five minutes while you step outside to get the mail. Then try 10 minutes later that day. Then 20. And so on. Work up to 45 minutes. Then an hour.
Even if your puppy is only 8 weeks old, it’s important to start training her to being left alone. Start by leaving her alone even for 5 minutes the first day while you head into another room.
You should also try leaving the house for short periods, even if it’s just 20-30 mins to go check the mail and run a short errand.
4. Use a kennel or block off a small area of the house.
I prefer to leave most dogs in a kennel or crate. A kennel keeps the dog safe, and it also keeps my property safe. I do not feel sorry about leaving a dog in a kennel, not even if it’s for hours at a time.
I prefer a fold-up wire crate because their easy to travel with or store when not in use.
If leaving your dog in a kennel is not an option for whatever reason, I would recommend you leave the dog in a small area of the house. Maybe a bedroom with the door shut or a baby gate in the doorway. Maybe a bathroom or a kitchen area.
With time, you can always give the dog more freedom as she shows she is trustworthy. Most people rush this process. It’s better to give your dog freedom very slowly so you’re setting good habits and limiting mistakes.
5. Use puzzle-type toys such as Kongs.
When you leaver your dog home for the first time, make sure she has plenty of tempting chew toys.
Most new dog owners have been told about how helpful Kong-type toys can be, but here are some tips to make the Kong more interesting to the dog:
- Cut back on the dog’s meals (or feed the meals in the Kong) so the dog will be more interested in it.
- Use something really smelly and tempting to stuff the Kong such as cooked hamburger, canned dog food or peanut butter.
- Freeze the Kong over night so the dog has to work harder to get the food out. If your dog destroys the standard red Kongs, get a black Kong in the XL size.
- Leave two or three Kongs to keep the dog entertained longer. Make one with food that’s really easy to get out and make the other two more difficult but with more tempting goodies (hot dogs, pieces of chicken, etc., with frozen peanut butter)
6. Hire a dog walker or friend when you leave your dog home alone for the first time.
A reliable support system can be super helpful if you don’t have time to come back home at lunchtime to check in on your pup and give him a potty/walk break.
You could ask a friend to come by or hire a professional dog walker. Schedule a meet and greet with either to introduce them to your dog so he’s met them before they come into your home while you’re gone.
Places to find a professional dog walker are platforms like Rover or Care.com, or a simple internet search.
7. Consider daycare once a week.
Another alternative is a doggie daycare place. Make sure to visit and tour the place before you drop your dog off for the first time. This isn’t an inexpensive option so you may not be able to afford it every day, but it can be helpful for your extra long days at work.
See That Mutt’s article Pros and Cons of Dog Daycare for more information on this topic.
8. Use a Nest Cam or other camera when you leave your dog home alone.
When you leave your dog home alone for the first time, an indoor camera gives so much peace of mind! You’re able to check in on your pups when they’re home alone.
One option is a Nest Cam, but there are a variety of indoor cameras you can install or have installed.
Cameras don’t replace human-pet interaction, so this might work better as an additional layer of virtual support on top of a friend or professional dog walker.
9. Keep other pets separated at first.
If your new dog isn’t your only pet in your home, it may be a good idea to keep them separated while you’re gone at first. That’s especially true if you haven’t had enough time to experience them interact with one-another.
You could keep them crated in their respective kennels, or you could physically separate them in different rooms with closed doors.
Is it OK to leave a dog home alone for 8 hours?
It’s not a great idea to leave a dog alone for 8 hours. That’s a really long stretch of time without the opportunity for a potty break. It’s also too long to stay crated without getting to stretch those doggie legs.
Sure, some dogs tolerate it OK but it’s not an ideal situation, day after day. I would not recommend this for a puppy or young dog.
Dogs who stay alone for that long will find a way to entertain themselves, and it’s usually not an activity that humans are going to appreciate … you know, like:
- Excessive barking
- Chewing on furniture or shoes
- Inappropriate urinating or pooping
- Figuring out ways to escape from the crate
- Chewing on the crate
If you have a senior dog, you might find that leaving him alone for 8 hours seems to be OK.
Some will literally sleep the whole time. But some senior dogs will have trouble holding it and may actually need more potty breaks than a younger dog.
What about a doggie door when a dog is left home alone?
Dogs who have access to their fenced-in backyard through a doggie door are technically OK as far as potty breaks are concerned.
However, they’re also prone to being bored and are likely to start digging in the yard, underneath the fence, through flower beds, jump the fence … you get the idea.
Once you know your dog’s personality, energy and comfort level with being alone all day, that will help you decide if a doggy door is right for you. Be extra careful about this with newly adopted dogs as you don’t know if the dog might dig out of the yard or climb a fence.
If you decide to use a dog door, make sure to:
- Exercise your dog before you leave and when you come back home
- Leave mentally stimulating toys like dog food puzzles or safe doggie chews (no chew is 100% safe)
Another danger of unsupervised access to the backyard is that someone could steal the dog, so that’s something to be aware of.
There’s also the risk of unwanted interaction with wildlife such as poisonous snakes or spiders, or even harmful vegetation.
How long can a dog be left alone?
Assuming that the dog is healthy and housebroken, I’d say it’s OK to leave a dog alone for about 6 hours. 5 would be better.
If he’s been properly exercised/walked before staying home alone, he can easily fill those 6 hours with activities such as:
- Looking out the window
- Listening to some relaxing doggie music
- Entertaining himself with a dog toy/chew like a Kong
After those 6 hours, he’ll at least need a potty break and some TLC. Better yet, a walk and/or some playtime with a favorite human!
Leaving your puppy home alone for the first time
Once your puppy is 5 months old, you can leave him home alone for about 5 hours as well. Before that, take your puppy’s age in months and add 1. That’ll give you a general idea of how long he can approximately hold it.
- If the puppy is 2 months old, he’ll be able to hold it for about 3 hours.
- If he’s 3 months old, he’ll be able to go 4 hours.
Of course, every puppy is different and I understand you may have no choice but to be gone for 5 hours when your puppy is still young.
It’s important to understand that puppies need to go for a potty break when they wake up from a nap, within about 20 to 30 minutes after meals and drinking, and right after playtime if they play hard for a while.
That being said, it’s a good idea to either crate your puppy while you’re gone, or to keep him in a playpen. You could also gate off an area in your home like a bathroom or laundry room and keep your puppy in there while you’re gone.
For example, a kitchen, laundry room or bathroom is usually tiled or hardwood floors. That’ll make cleanup super easy if there are any accidents!
- Stay calm yourself when you leave your dog home alone for the first time. If you are anxious, your dog will also feel anxious.
- Don’t feel sorry for the dog. This dog is lucky to have a safe, warm place to stay.
- Leave music or TV on for some background noise.
- Stick to a routine. Leave the dog in the same place every time.
- Don’t say “goodbye, Buddy!” Instead, ignore your dog and just leave.
- Don’t expect perfection when you leave your dog home alone for the first time. There’s always an adjustment period that could take a few weeks.
- Likewise, don’t assume your dog has separation anxiety if he cries or whines. He may just be testing you or he may just be a little anxious in the new place. Ignore the whining and he’ll most likely adjust.
How about the rest of you?
What are some tips that worked for your dog?
Our favorite products when dogs are home alone
- Kong toy
Stuff a Kong toy with peanut butter or yogurt and freeze overnight. Should last your pup at least 30 minutes.
- Midwest Wire Crate
Many dogs feel more comfortable left alone at first if they are kennel trained and have their safe “place” to hang out.
- Pet Gates
Allows your dog more freedom than a crate but keeps him from entering certain areas or keeps him in one room such as a bedroom or your kitchen.
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.