Nearly every single person reading this article has to leave their home for some portion of the day. Most people work outside the home. Even people who set their own schedule or work from home have to run errands and socialize with other humans. If you are also a dog lover, this normal behavior sometimes causes you to question, is it OK to leave my dog alone during the day?
Of course it’s OK to leave your dog alone during the day. It’s necessity. Until society accepts everyone milling about with a dog at their side, you have to leave your dog alone sometimes. Your dog will be fine if you take a few steps to set him up for success.
The truth is, however, it’s not ideal to leave your dog home alone for hours every day. In order to compromise, you and your dog both have to make some concessions. They have to learn how to occupy themselves and behave according to the rules while you’re gone. You spend as much quality time as you can with them when you’re home and ensure they have enriching things to do while home alone.
In essence, it’s a simple compromise but there are many tips and tricks to successfully leaving your dog home alone during the day. We might as well put our heads together and talk about them!
Instinctive Canine Behavior
Have you ever wondered what your dog would do if he escaped with reckless abandon one day and went on a canine equivalent of a joy ride through the neighborhood? I often wonder how my pets would act if they had to fend for themselves.
It isn’t that I want my pets to suffer, of course. I’m just very curious about what makes them really tick. How much of the behavior that I see is the real them and how much of it is something they are conditioned to do because I’m around.
What really is instinctive canine behavior?
Dogs As Wolves
Wolves are obviously pack animals. Knowing this gives us a basis to understand some of their social preferences. Scientists and naturalists have studied wolves in the wild and drawn some conclusions about their nature.
Although wolves are the ancestors of dogs, the two animals don’t live the same way. A tremendous amount of social and behavioral conditioning occurred between the first ‘dog’ and the furry thing snoring next to you on the sofa right now.
Things like epigenetics and the very process of domestication results in changes to a species over time.
National Geographic was nice enough to boil this down for us in a few sentences.
Throughout history, people have bred domesticated animals to promote certain traits. Domestic animals are chosen for their ability to breed in captivity and for their calm temperament. Their ability to resist disease and survive in difficult climates is also valuable.
Over time, these traits make domestic animals different from their wild ancestors. Dogs were probably domesticated from gray wolves. Today, dogs are a distinct species from gray wolves.
Taking this into consideration, it’s possible that to understand natural dog behavior, we really must study dogs instead of wolves. So, hopefully we can conclude from all of this that while it is interesting and good to understand wolf behavior to understand dog behavior, there is a significant separation genetically and behaviorally between your dog and a wolf.
Dogs As Dogs
Quick- let’s name some things about your dog that are different from a wolf, but totally a dog thing. This isn’t a scientific study, it’s just some anecdotal evidence. I think it’s valuable to consider, however.
Some of these behaviors may give us clues to how a dog really feels about being left alone while you go to work.
Dogs get excited to see you.
They get really excited. Some of them bounce, some of them pee, but your dog probably goes slightly ballistic when it sees you. Maybe you’re one of the lucky gurus who’ve figured out how to train a dog to stop doing this.
If so, feel free to help me out in the comments section.
Honestly, I’m sure I am subtly reinforcing this behavior in dogs because I’m happy to see them too! At any rate, most dogs I know at least greet new people and get even more excited when they see their own family.
Dogs like food.
Again, the overwhelming majority of dogs I know appear to enjoy food. I’m suggesting that they like it a little more than simply for biological function reasons. Even dogs who are perfectly well fed can still get excited by the smell of a cheeseburger.
In fact, many dogs simply want to eat when you’re eating, even if it isn’t what you’re eating. A great tip I have for owners of dogs who beg is to feed all or a portion of the dog’s evening meal when you’re eating yours.
It seems to me, therefore, that dogs both like food and the act of eating as a socially triggered behavior. They like to eat and they like eating with you even more. And not just in case you look away from that cheeseburger.
Dogs like to be close to humans.
Does your dog sometimes settle down next to you wherever you are and take a nap? Perhaps he sits quietly basking in the glow of how wonderful you are? Maybe you can’t keep him out of the bed.
Somehow, your dog probably follows you around. Well adjusted dogs will also spend some time occupying themselves. If you gave your dog a choice, which do you think he would make?
Dogs like to play.
Most dogs like to play with humans as well as each other. To me, this signifies that this isn’t just about play in general. This is about a certain type of play or about interacting with humans.
Many dogs will play by themselves sometimes and seek out humans for play other times. They seem to make a distinction between the two types of playing. Sometimes they just need a buddy with thumbs.
Your Dog Would Probably Rather Hang Out With You
I’ve obviously picked a few things in my list above that specifically relate to our question about leaving a dog alone during the day. It’s not a comprehensive list of dog-centric behavior.
I think it’s safe to say that dogs also enjoy smells, having a task to complete, and small, safe environmental changes for instance.
I also understand that some of the traits I just rattled off are similar to traits of wolves, but they’re not the same. They’re dog traits, through and through. Wolves are not always happy to see each other, for example. Neither are dogs always happy to see other dogs.
At the very least, your dog behaves a certain way toward you and other humans that is significantly different than even a domesticated wolf might. Many of those behaviors appear to have a common thread that involves spending time with you.
So in the interest of keeping it real, your dog would probably rather hang out with you all day. Wolves are pack animals and dogs exhibit many traits that are even more social than wolves.
Accepting this hypothesis doesn’t mean you have to riddle yourself with guilt, however. You can simply keep it in mind as you make your choices surrounding your dog.
Approaching the situation that way, you can choose to set your dog up with entertaining things to do and proper guidelines to not destroy your home while you’re out. You’ll also be more motivated to connect with your dog while you are home.
Pet Sitters And Doggie Daycare
I love doggie daycare! Enrolling your dog in doggie daycare really helps keep your dog occupied during the day. Your dog will probably be so busy playing with his friends he won’t even miss you.
In addition to easing your guilt and stimulating your dog, doggie daycares offer constant socialization reinforcement. Just make sure your dog is comfortable with other dogs before you bring them to class.
A pet sitter or dog walker is another situation you can engage to break up the lonely day for your dog. The best way to choose a dog walker is by referral from a person you know. If you can’t get digits that way, you can try websites like Angie’s List or Pet Sitter’s International.
PSI has a certification process that includes a background check. If you are hiring a pet sitter or dog walker on your own, running your own background check is a good idea. Ask for references, too.
Some pet caretakers are bonded and insured. Favor those over unbonded candidates. This protects you if something goes wrong, because the caretaker is insured against certain circumstances and you’ll be financially compensated. The downside is you won’t know what kind of policy the caretaker has unless you ask.
Don’t be shy. Ask tough questions of your potential pet sitter or dog walker.
What If You Leave Your Dogs All Day
Once you get a routine established for your dog while you’re away, both of you will relax into it. Most dogs get with the program and nap, play, and occupy themselves with no problem.
You can do a few things to grease the wheels, however, and I’ve gathered some tips and tricks for you.
Leaving Dogs During Day, Night Periods Alone
If a dog walker situation isn’t for you and there’s no doggie daycare nearby, you can certainly leave your dog home alone during the day. If your dog is well behaved, he can roam the house. If you’re worried about chewing, anxiety, or potty issues, a crate will help.
If you are interested in crate training your dog, read our recent article for step-by-step instructions.
Similarly, you can confine your dog to an area of your home with a pet gate or puppy pen. In this way, you can give your dog some space but isolate problem areas like the window sill he can’t resist eating.
10 Tips To Entertain Dogs During The Day
Dog enrichment is attainable. Let these ideas to keep your dog occupied help you.
- Get a Kong type toy – anything that lets you hide food inside of it is a good candidate. Your dog will stay busy trying to get the food out. You can freeze the toy overnight to give it even more staying power.
- Indestructible toys – a truly indestructible toy doesn’t exist, but use diligence when selecting toys to leave your dog alone with. It should be sturdy, with no loose parts, threads, or pieces.
- A radio or television – leave a little white noise on for your dog. Just understand that your dog is stuck with this all day. Pick a talk radio station or soothing television show that won’t hype or upset your dog. Remember that emergency alerts could broadcast, so an actual white noise machine might be best for dogs with anxiety.
- Windows – some dogs love to look outside at the world going by. Others long to eat the postal carrier. If your dog enjoys but doesn’t overreact to outside activity, a window can keep boredom at bay.
- Foraging – let your dog work for its breakfast. Use puzzle toys and interactive toys that give treats. It will take your dog some time to get them all and give him a job to do while you’re doing yours.
- Pupsicle – freeze a toy or treat in a plastic container filled with water and let your dog wait and lick it out. Any food storage container will do.
- Use new toys to your advantage. Rotate new toys in and out and reserve some for times when your dog is alone. You should always spend time supervising your dog with a new toy, however, so don’t just drop and leave. Let your dog get used to the toy, pick it up, and give it to your dog when you leave.
- Avoid toys with squeakers. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Dogs can choke on the inner mechanism.
- Let your dog drink from a fountain. Dog drinking fountains are fun, promote increased water consumption, and are something your dog can interact with.
- The Furbo fuses dog surveillance with interaction. Through the device and an app on your phone, you can watch, communicate with, and feed your dog treats from afar. This idea is a bit over the top, but pretty awesome. Please test it out when you are nearby so you are sure your dog won’t become upset when he hears your voice but can’t find you.
These are just a few ideas I’ve used or found in my research that sound like great ideas. There are many other ways to give your dog something to do. Feel free to get creative and tailor your choices to what your dog enjoys.
House Training A Dog
House training a puppy or new adult dog is necessary before you leave them alone for the day. You can crate train your dog or potty train your dog without a crate. Either way, potty training is the first boundary you’re probably setting.
With a few puppy pads and some patience, you’ll master this essential early training technique. Keep reinforcing good behavior, take your dog outside regularly, and establish a phrase you repeat whenever you take the dog out to relieve himself.
Move the puppy pad progressively closer to the door, or pick a spot near the door to start with. You can also incorporate something like bells or a rattle that hangs from the doorknob. This way, your dog can indicate he needs to go out and you’ll hear him. It discourages barking.
In fact, bring the puppy pad right outside with you. This can help young puppies understand what you want from them. Although most dogs don’t need much encouragement to pee outside, some small dogs are nervous at first.
Take extra caution with potty training small breeds with puppy pads. It is too easy to get lazy and let the dog use the pad all of the time. This can quickly turn into a lifelong relationship between you, the puppy pads, and your small dog.
Three is definitely a crowd in that scenario.
The Verdict: Is It Ok To Leave My Dog Alone During The Day?
You can ethically leave your dog alone while you are at work provided you follow certain guidelines to keep your dog safe. You also want to protect your valuables from a curious or destructive dog.
Keeping your dog occupied is the key. You can provide enrichment in your home while you’re away through smart toy selections. You can also enroll your dog in daycare a few days a week if there is one where you live. Dog walkers are another excellent way to break up the lonely routine during a long day for your dog.
If you do invite someone into your home to look after your dog, be sure to be cautious! This person will have access to all of your personal information and valuables. It’s worth running a background check and investigating references.
You know how much I love to hear your tips. Let me know what you do to keep your dog stimulated while you’re at work! If anyone uses The Furbo, I’m particularly interested in your story. I think it seems like a really fun way to satisfy my healthy curiosity about what dogs do when they’re by themselves.
Until next time, enjoy your dog!