Having a dog means having a schedule. You arrange work hours, social outings, and errands based on when you can get home. You might sometimes skip a night out because you feel guilty leaving your dog at home alone.
Dogs enjoy the company of their humans, but that doesn’t mean leaving them home alone is bad or dangerous. Read on to learn how long you can leave a dog alone, and tips to make their time at home safe and enriching.
Consider the bladder
The first question most people ask about leaving their dog home alone is: how long can my dog last without a bathroom break? According to experts, dogs generally need to pee between three to five times a day. But the timing of potty breaks varies from dog to dog, and puppies and older dogs need more frequent breaks.
How long can a dog “hold it” before needing a bathroom break? Here are common time limits for dogs of different life stages:
- Puppies: one hour per every month of age (so a three month old puppy can wait three hours to pee)
- Adult dogs age one year and up: up to ideally no more than six
- Senior dogs age eight and up: depending on size and health, anywhere from two to six hours
Of course, the above estimates vary depending on a dog’s size, health, and habits. But any dog forced to hold their urine for too long is at risk for urinary tract infection, stones, or crystals. Plus, holding urine for too long is just plain uncomfortable, and can lead to accidents in the house.
For safety and comfort’s sake, provide a bathroom break ever four to six hours. Standard work days are eight to ten hours long, so if you can’t swing home at lunch to take the dog out, hire a dog walker for worry-free care.
For safety and comfort’s sake, provide a pee break ever four to six hours
Beyond bathroom breaks, your dog needs physical activity during the day. Whatever your dog’s energy and fitness level, exercise helps them:
- Stay healthy
- Digest meals
- Stimulate their mind
- Burn calories
- Avoid boredom (and boredom-induced destructive behaviours)
Individual exercise needs vary depending on your dog’s age, breed, and health level. Herding and sporting dogs often require more intense and lengthy activity; lower-energy breeds and older dogs can do with significantly less (source). But every dog needs to stretch their legs a couple of times a day.
In general, healthy dogs need about 60 minutes of moderate activity every day, but it doesn’t have to be continuous. Before you leave your dog at home alone for a length of time, spend 20-30 minutes taking them for a brisk walk or play session. Tire them out so their alone time will be more relaxing.
Then, a midday romp (with you or a dog walker) will help break up the day, and of course, spend quality time together when you’re home for the night!
If your dog acts anxious or destructive after spending time alone, it’s possible they need more frequent and intense exercise. Speak to your vet to determine an ideal fitness routine for your pet.
In general, healthy dogs need about 60 minutes of moderate activity every day
Mental activity matters, too
Beyond how long a dog can hold it, or how much exercise a dog needs each day, mental activity is important to keep your best friend healthy, happy, and well-behaved. Puppies and young dogs need more enrichment than adults, but all dogs need a certain amount of mental simulation throughout the day. Without it, they may become bored, and even destructive when left alone.
Whether it’s a training session, exciting walk around the neighbourhood, puzzle feeder, or a round of indoor games, enrichment activities help keep your dog healthy, and balance out the time she spends alone.
To keep your dog busy:
- KONG toys are a classic and approved by the RSPCA: fill them with treats or peanut butter. Freeze for a challenge!
- The treat-dispensing Bob-A-Lot goes a long way towards engaging your dog’s brain while you are away.
- There are so many types of puzzle toys to choose from and they’re fantastic for antsy dogs.
- Safe chews are a must-have, try the Nylabone puppy bone or a naturally-shed antler for a bit of variety.
- iFetch is a range of interactive tennis ball launchers designed so that dogs can load the balls themselves, and they’re suitable for indoor and outdoor use.
- Some new toys even allow you to periodically interact with your pup while you are away. If your dog doesn’t suffer from isolation distress or separation anxiety try the Petcube which lets you watch and communicate with your puppy from afar with camera and 2-way audio. The Furbo is another fun pet cam option that even dispenses treats. If your dog does suffer from severe panic while you’re away, these products, unfortunately, are likely to make your problem worse.
- Create a secure, comfy zone for your dog with a crate, bed, toys, and even a jumper that smells like you (if they’re prone to separation anxiety.)
Can I leave my dog alone overnight?
If you’re dog’s used to being left alone and does not suffer from any form of separation anxiety you should be able to leave them for up to 8 hours (max) but as we mentioned earlier, any dog forced to hold their urine for too long is at risk for urinary tract infection, stones, or crystals, plus holding urine for too long is uncomfortable, and can lead to accidents in the house. Adult dogs typically need to go out to pee every 6 to 8 hours at a minimum so for safety and comfort’s sake, have someone check in on them to give them a bathroom break. Try booking a drop-in visit from a Rover.com sitter for worry-free care or consider booking a trustworthy sitter to keep your dog company in your own house and provide pee breaks overnight so that you’re not worried about your little pal while you’re gone. There’s also the option of dog boarding in the sitter’s home, which is often preferable if you don’t want someone staying at your place. However, just as with a kennel, be sure to ask the sitter about other pets in the home and what your dog’s indoor and outdoor environment will be like. Take advantage of the “Meet & Greet” before a stay so that you feel comfortable about working with the particular sitter you’ve chosen, and don’t hesitate to contact another sitter in order to compare fit.
All dogs are different, and some can handle more alone time than others. But every dog needs periodic pee breaks, exercise, and mental simulation. If your work schedule means your dog spends most of the day home alone, consider booking a sitter to stop by and give your dog a break.
A dog walker or sitter can give your dog the activity she needs during the day, and help you feel better about being gone—and make your return all the more sweet!