Dogs are, instinctively and inherently, social animals. They fundamentally aren’t hardwired to cope with being left alone for long periods. They are biologically programmed to be most at ease in company. Most animal charities and organisations, such as the PDSA, don’t recommend that you leave a dog home alone for more than 4 hours. However, this does vary somewhat according to breed and age. Nonetheless, this fundamental fact is why many working owners will look to a dog day crèche or doggy day care to ensure companionship, regular toileting opportunities, and exercise for their dog.
What Happens When a Dog is Left Home Alone?
The reality is that you may not be fully aware of exactly what goes on when you shut the door on your dog. Yes, sometimes the barking starts immediately but you may think this stops quickly. Alternatively, it may start once you’re out of ear-shot. Signs of distress may also not be so vocal, but including trembling or pacing. It’s certainly not true that they will just snuggle on down and go to sleep ready to be bright eyed and bushy tailed when you return, or at least not for several hours on end.
How well your dog tolerates being left home alone will depend on a number of different factors. For example, a dog which can get out to meet their toileting needs will of course be physically more comfortable than one without this set-up. A puppy will find four hours far too long, whereas an older dog may be perfectly content with this time limit.
The National Geographic explains that dogs can only be relied on to not need to urinate or defecate for one hour for every month of their age, up to a maximum of 8 hours. However, it’s not just about coming home to find an unpleasant puddle. It’s also about social needs and companionship too. For example, guard dog breeds are much more suited to being left alone, than others.
The biggest concern comes in the form of separation-related behaviour, which is far from uncommon. This type of behaviour is the unwanted behaviour, such as chewing and barking, which happens only when the dog is separated from their owner. However, signs of separation-related behaviour can be harder to spot such as repetitive behaviour or excessive salivation. As the RSPCA points out, this behaviour doesn’t always start immediately when you leave, but will “normally commence within 30 minutes”.
In many situations, prevention is more appropriate than cure when it comes to treating separation-related behaviours. You need to be thinking how you can actively ensure your dog isn’t left at home alone for long unattended periods. This isn’t just important in terms of your dog’s stress levels and the state of your home. In the RSPCA guide ‘Learning to be left alone’ they state: “Separation-related behaviour is a common reason for dogs to be handed over to rescue organisations.”
So How Do You Prevent Your Dog Getting Separation Anxiety?
There are a number of strategies you can use firstly to prevent separation-related stress and behaviours, and to alleviate them. You can ensure your dog has been well trained from puppyhood in a planned and thoughtful approach. You can ensure they have a ‘dog door’ or someone popping in to let them out into the garden to relieve themselves. You can make sure you have interactive toys.
However, the single biggest thing you can do is ensure that your dog isn’t left home alone for long periods. This is a major reason for dog owners turning to a dog crèche or doggy day care. This removes the need for your dog to be left home alone in routine circumstances, for example, when you go to work.
Doggy day care or a dog crèche will ensure that your dog’s needs are being met completely, from toileting to exercise and companionship. The PDSA recommends such services for exactly this reason. We know from our own experience running a dog day crèche in London that dogs in our day care are happier and less anxious dogs than dogs left home alone for an entire working day. Of course, much of it also comes down to the quality of the doggy day care, so check them out, do your research, and do what’s right for your much-loved four-legged friend.