Dogs are fast becoming the household pet of choice. Statista published a record high of 471 million pet dogs globally in 2018, although it is believed that this number is far higher as not all dogs are registered. Certainly, since starting my work with dogs, I have seen increases in pet ownership, especially in the Eastern world where typical households did not keep pets.
Dogs are more popular than cats, rodents and even fish when it comes to keeping an animal. For a dog lover like myself, it is easy to see why. They fit easily into our lifestyles, bring joy and happiness with their goofy antics, and are loving soulmates.
However, this surge in ownership is coupled with a more modern approach to living. Singles have their own homes, entire households go out to work, and dogs are less likely to be put to work in some capacity. This means that dogs are being left home alone for long periods more regularly than ever before.
How Long Can a Dog Be Left Alone For?
Dogs are social pack animals at their core. They have an essential need to be part of a family unit. Like humans, they need love, interaction and activity to be healthy.
Although shelter, food and water are important, dog ownership should go beyond that. Physical and mental stimulation are both essential for a dog’s well-being. They need to regularly be in the company of others.
Historically, it wasn’t unheard of to leave a dog at home alone if a family needed to be away for a day or two. The thought was that if they had enough food and water, they would be fine. Maybe a neighbour would stop in twice a day to let them into the back yard to relieve themselves but otherwise, it would be complete isolation.
In today’s world, it is quite common for dogs to be left alone for 10-12 hours a day. If an owner works 8 hours a day, add a commute on top of that, plus the need to pop into the shops or drop into a friends house, it can easily see a dog left alone for long stretches at a time. But is this too long?
The simple answer is Yes, 10-12 hours is too long for a dog to be left home alone. This is contended by some, who say things like “I’ve always left my dog alone for this long and they are fine”. It’s true, some dogs do learn to cope without being disruptive or destructive but it is far from ideal.
So, how long can a dog be left alone for? Not all dogs are the same so there is no conclusive answer to this. Most dogs can learn to manage forced isolation as they have no choice but it will not be an enjoyable way of life for them.
How Often Do Dogs Urinate?
Let’s start by considering a dog’s basic need to relieve themselves. Adult dogs can hold their bladder for an impressive amount of time but they really shouldn’t have to.
Adult dogs should be able to empty their bladder every 6 hours with a slightly longer stretch overnight of 8-10 hours. As overnight is also when they sleep the most, their water consumption is considerably less.
As with all things dog-related, many factors come into play when we consider how often they need to urinate. Age, size, weight, diet, illness and how much water they typically drink will all affect this.
It is well worth making a note of how many times your dog urinates. Do they urinate more frequently on weekends when given the chance to?
Puppies need more toilet breaks than adults while their bladder capacity grows and they build up the muscles needed to ‘hold it’ for longer. Dogs that are reaching their mature years will start to lose the ability to hold it as long as they used to and will also need more frequent trips to urinate.
Medical conditions and illness can affect the number of times a dog needs to go out to use the bathroom. Dogs generally do not like to urinate in their living quarters and will avoid it whenever possible. So, if you find you are coming home to puddles of wee, I suggest you need to increase the frequency of bathroom breaks.
How Much Does Isolation Affect Dogs?
Dogs have descended from wolves. Wolves are a species that live in large family units, which their lives revolve around. The only time most adult wolves are ever alone is when they leave their parents and siblings to find a mate and start a family of their own.
Dogs inherently seek out a pack. Their desire to belong to a group, to feel loved and be included can be as strong as the need to eat. I have seen dogs come into the shelter after being separated from their family (through unavoidable circumstances) that were so depressed they stopped eating altogether.
Long stretches of isolation can bring about several consequences ranging from destroying the furniture to becoming completely disengaged with the world. These types of extreme scenarios usually bring about the need for a dog behaviourist or trainer, like myself.
It becomes clear that there are behavioural problems that owners can’t overlook and they seek out our help. It is only then that they realise that the root of the problems all come from their dog being left alone for longer than they can cope with.
Some dogs have learnt to cope in ways which means they are not openly displaying the effects of boredom, frustration, sadness and discontent. However, this does not mean that they are not suffering, they are just suffering in silence.
Ideas to Reduce How Long Your Dog Is Left Alone
Providing dogs with multiple opportunities throughout the day to engage with their families, other dogs or other people is key to ensuring a dog has a happy and enriched life.
There are many ways to accomplish this without placing too much pressure onto owners to complete this themselves. Doggy daycares, home-from-homes, dog walkers and sitters, doggy communal groups, dog-loving volunteers, and dog companion-shares are all great options to allow a dog to get much-needed interaction and activity when their owners are not around.
Looking into a regular dog walker can make a huge difference to your dog’s daily routine. In almost all cases they will be out with other dogs and visiting different parks or woodlands.
Our first dog walker not only relieved the boredom for our first greyhound, Tipps, but she also developed his socialisation skills with other dogs. I myself have walked multiple dogs together but also catered for dogs that needed to be walked alone due to varying reasons.
Good doggy daycares are excellent places for dogs that are super social and have lots of energy. Many have communal areas for play and interaction, and the staff are skilled at recognising which dogs best match based on their personalities and energy levels.
Facebook has doggy communities groups that are focussed on supporting dog owners in the local area. Joining these groups allows dog owners to connect to others sharing the same dog owner needs and concerns. Owners can arrange doggy play dates, ad hoc dog-sitting, and dog-related boredom busters.
Are Some Breeds Better at being Left Alone?
As I have already established, dogs should not be left alone for longer than 6 hours. This amount of time is still too long for some dogs.
Whilst every dog is different, some breeds are characteristically better suited to cope with a lifestyle that may include regular periods of solitude.
Breeds that are typically lower on the energy scales, are not admired for their intelligence and prefer quiet environments are dogs that can tolerate being left alone better. This includes:
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Lhaso Apso
- Shar Pei
I welcome any comments or feedback on this article. Alternatively, if you have any questions or concerns about separation anxiety or leaving your dog alone, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always happy to answer any doggy-related questions.