Is it ok to leave your dog home alone? In this article we look at the realities of leaving a dog alone while you go out to work. We’ll discuss how long a dog be left on their own for, whether it’s realistic to get a Labrador if you work full time, and whether any other breeds are more or less suited to staying home alone.
Dog Home Alone
The problem of leaving a dog home alone has become an increasingly common topic for discussion and debate because lifestyles have changed immensely in the last few decades. When I was a child, many women gave up work when their first child arrived. And many never returned to work, even when the children were grown up.
Dogs grew up as part of domestic life. They were often free to wander the street and visit neighbours during the day, returning home as intervals. But it was unusual to find dogs home alone for long periods of time. Things are very different now. Yet, the urge to bring a beautiful puppy into our lives is just as strong as ever.
Leaving a dog home alone while you work
In most modern families, all the adults work full-time. Both up to and after the births of their children. In the UK, many ordinary family homes are locked up, quiet, and empty, from around eight in the morning, until after four in the afternoon when children start trickling home from school. In residential areas whole streets may be eerily empty during the working week. Yet in many of these streets, behind each front door, lies a dog. If you listen carefully outside the window, you may hear him snoring quietly, or pacing up and down.
Of course, not all dogs accept their solitude in relative silence. Some home alone dogs can be heard howling from several streets away. But are these noisy dogs, or indeed the quiet ones, suffering? Is it wrong to get a dog and then leave it alone all day?
A social animal
We know that dogs are very social animals. They prefer to live, eat and sleep alongside members of their family. Their ancestors, wolves, live in family units. It only makes sense that not being around the people who raised them might make them anxious.
Arguably there are few breeds is more sociable than the Labrador Retriever. Bred for generations to have a close relationship with his human family, there is no doubt that some Labradors become very distressed when left alone for long periods of time. They may bark and howl. They may chew up the fixtures and fittings in their home. And they may make a mess in the house within minutes of the owner’s departure. These behaviors have been filmed and recorded in homes where dogs are left alone by their owners.
So if leaving dogs alone can cause this kind of stress and upset, is dog ownership a pleasure that should be restricted to the unemployed? Or to the few people that are supported financially by a partner so that they can stay at home? Some people certainly think so.
Or are there ways to combine a full-time job, with the ownership of a healthy and contented Labrador? Well, it would seem that up and down the country, lots of people are doing just that. It is clear that some dogs belonging to full time workers, are happy and contented dogs.
What makes a contented home alone dog?
Some dogs, left home alone, sleep contentedly until the owner returns By contrast dogs with separation anxiety will have a bad time of it. Not only this, they’re also prone to making a lot of noise. Dogs suffering in this way might destroy your furniture out of frustration.
What are those with happy home alone dogs doing, to make it work for them? Well it seems that contentment in dogs left home alone is partly down to the temperament of the dog and partly down to the way that the dog is raised. Sadly this is not always something we have complete control over.
Are there dog breeds that can be left home alone? Studies have shown that some dogs are naturally more prone to seperation anxiety. These dogs have a pessimistic outlook on life. They’re just more likely to worry about whether you’re coming back. While this isn’t necessarily breed specific, some very sociable dog breeds, and Labs are one of them, are more prone to being distressed by separation. Some of the hound breeds are less dependent on human company than sporting or herding type dogs which form very intense bonds with people.
So how do we raise a Lab that is contented to be left alone for a while, without feeling lonely. And without tearing his home apart or leaving unpleasant mess to greet the returning family? Helping dogs to grow up without separation anxiety.
We can reduce the likelihood of a dog suffering from separation anxiety by introducing short periods of separation into a dog’s life at an early age. And by increasing the length of time that a dog is isolated in small increments. And of course, by ensuring that a dog is never left for unreasonably long periods of time on a regular basis. So does that prohibit working couples becoming pet parents? The answer is no, you can still have a dog if you work. Let’s find out how!
Advice from working pet parents
There is no doubt that some working men and women seem to be making a success of raising a dog that is happy, whilst holding down a full-time job. And I wanted to find out what it is that these people do, to keep their dogs happy. What makes it a success for them. So I started a thread in the forum, asking for people’s thoughts on this often contentious topic. I wanted to find out what how pet parents with happy dogs managed their days. And how long they actually left their dogs alone.
It seems that the answer lies partly in the way in which the dog is introduced to being alone, and partly in the length of the unbroken stretch of time that he is left alone for on a regular basis
Breaking up your dog’s day
It soon became clear that the happy dogs of working owners were not actually being left completely alone for very long periods of time at all. Most of their owners had gone to some lengths to ensure that doggy day care arrangements were in place. These dogs had company, and a chance to use a toileting area, at least once, and usually more, during the working day. These ‘home alone’ dogs weren’t actually home alone all day. They were being regularly visited, walked and interacted with, at intervals throughout the day.
It was obvious that the owners of these dogs had gone to a lot of effort and in many cases financial cost, to ensure their dog’s comfort and happiness whilst they worked. Some were using professional dog care services such as day care centres, and dog walkers. Others had support systems in place involving family members, neighbours or friends.
How long can you leave a dog alone
The sixty million dollar question is of course ‘how long can you leave a dog alone’. No-one can tell you what you should do with your dog, but it seems reasonable to state that leaving a dog entirely alone for a full working day, is not at all ideal. Unless your dog has access to a secure and dog proof outdoor enclosure you need to think about his bladder capacity.
In an emergency some adult dogs will cope with being left for six to eight hours occasionally. This doesn’t mean this is nice for the dog, though. And dogs that are repeatedly left for this long may develop behavioral issues such as soiling in the house, destroying flooring or furniture, or barking incessantly.
The people I meet who work full-time and have happy dogs all seem to have some kind of arrangement in place to ensure that their dog is never alone for more than four or five hours. Of course this won’t be possible for all of us. And if it isn’t possible for you, then it may be that this isn’t the right point in your life for you to get a dog
Advice for those with young pups
Perhaps the part of this issue that is most contentious, is that of small puppies. I often get questions in the comments section on this website, from new puppy owners that are leaving a puppy alone for 8 hours whilst they are at work, and are not happy with the outcome. It seems that they have purchased a puppy without arranging any kind of day care at all. They can’t understand why the puppy is destructive or noisy whilst they are out.
Some people are successful in raising a puppy to cope with the working day. They all seemed to have made provision for a gradual introduction to the new routine. Many take several weeks off work when the puppy first arrives. This helps get house-training off to a good start. Some have relatives in to help for the first few weeks.
Leaving a puppy alone at home for the first time should only be very brief. You can gradually introduce the concept of being alone. Don’t forget, it isn’t just a question of making sure puppies have constant company. In fact, puppies need to be taught to cope with being left alone for short periods of time. This is best done at an early age, if they are to cope with spending time alone later. And this needs to be done in a gradual and structured way.
Dog home alone – making a decision
Whether or not you should get a dog will depend on many factors
But your full-time job need not be an impregnable obstacle if you are willing and able to arrange care for your dog in your absence. Working parents of young children have to make child care arrangements. Likewise, we need to take the responsibility of dog ownership seriously. And fulfil our obligations to make sure he is looked after properly and his needs met.
If you can do this, there is no reason why you should not have a dog. You may suffer and miss your dog terribly whilst you are at work. But, if he is regularly visited and exercised by a caring person whilst you toil at your office, he should come to no harm.
If you cannot afford day-care or a dog walker, and don’t have anyone to help you, then right now might not be the best time for you to bring a Labrador into your life. Leaving a highly social dog alone day in and day out is asking for trouble. The comments on this website clearly demonstrate this. It isn’t an easy decision, but it needs to be the right one. Check out this article for more information Combining a Labrador puppy with full-time work
How about you?
Do you work full-time? How do you ensure your dog is cared for in your absence – share your tips in the comments box below!
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More information on puppies
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy. The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience. You can buy The Happy Puppy Handbook from Amazon by following this link. If you do, The Labrador Site will receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated and won’t affect the cost to you!
References and further reading
- Families and the Labour Market, England: 2017 Office for national statistics
- McGrave E. A. Diagnostic Criteria for Separation Anxiety in the Dog
- Dogs showing separation-related behavior exhibit a ‘pessimistic’ cognitive bias
- Landsberg et al Social behavior in dogs
- Damkyer Lund J & Jorgensen M 1999. Behavior patterns and time course of activity in dogs with separation problems Applied Animal Behavior Science
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website