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Home alone: how long is too long?

As pet owners, we often hear the phrase ‘I wish I could have a dog’. What with work, home duties and holidays, people wonder how we can fit a furry friend in our life. And while it’s true our lives can revolve a little around our four-legged friends, having a dog is a two-way street, as they also adapt to our routines. An easy example is work.

So if you’re one of the many pet parents juggling pets and being away from home for several hours a day, we have some tips to make things work for you. With a little planning, your pet won’t have to end up fighting off burglars, rigging the house with booby traps and buying groceries while you’re gone.

Train your dog to spend time alone

Learning to be alone is part of life, whether you’re a human or a pooch. So it’s essential to teach our pets that being alone is actually okay. We’d suggest starting gradually and building up the time that you are away from them, beginning with a few minutes at a time until they’re comfortable on their own for one or two hours.

Before you set off for work, it can be useful to tire your dog out. Take them out for a nice walk and a quick game of throw in the morning, followed by a satisfying meal. You can also give your friend a tasty treat before you leave, for positive reinforcement. Upon your return, be warm and affectionate (we know how much they’ve earned it!) but try to wait until they’ve calmed down. Remember, we’re trying to avoid making a fuss over them being alone.

Keep them busy

Like us, dogs enjoy a good snooze but often they’ll do this when there isn’t anything better to do. Ensure your pooch stays occupied with enough toys and chews. It’s important that they stay mentally stimulated too; this is not only healthy but it’ll make time go faster for them. One of our favourite things to leave with our dogs is a KONG toy stuffed with their favourite treats. They’ll be chewing at it for hours. Puzzle feeders are also great as your pet will have to ‘work’ for their treat or portion of food.

Having some kind of background noise, like a radio playing, can also help our friends feel less lonely. Be sure to select soothing music or quiet dialogue, as anything too stimulating may have the opposite effect.

Have someone check on them

We won’t lie: the ideal scenario for a dog owner is to be able to bring their buddy along to work – or at the very least, to be able to work from home several times a week. But if this isn’t possible, there are other ways around a busy schedule. Like popping in during lunch, asking a trusted neighbour to take them out for a walk or hiring a dog walker.

Your pooch shouldn’t be left alone for periods longer than 4-5 hours at a time (2 hours if they are a puppy or senior dog). Like us, they need frequent toilet breaks and daily social interaction in order to feel fulfilled.

Leaving them on their own for longer periods will force them to hold their urine, which not only is uncomfortable but can also lead to urinary tract infections. Psychologically, they may grow distressed, destructive or anxious. And let’s not forget the importance of regular exercise: our canine friends need at least a couple of sessions a day for a minimum of 30 minutes each.

Conclusion

Each dog is different and some will cope better with being alone than others. But with gradual house training and careful consideration of their individual needs (toilet breaks, socialisation, mental activity and exercise), you can design a routine that works for them. Let’s face it, no dog wants to be away from their beloved owner, but it’s in our hands to make their time (whether away or together) really count.