How long can you leave a dog alone?

Two dogs in an open crate
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How long can you leave a dog alone? If you're a dog parent, you know that you can't be with your dog 24/7 (sadly), especially if you work outside your home or have other responsibilities that take you away from your furbaby. But you may be wondering how long is too long to leave your precious canine companion unattended.

Dogs are companion animals, which means they thrive when they're around humans and other dogs. Leaving your dog alone for too long can cause them behavioral issues or health problems due to stress, anxiety, or even boredom. Most experts agree that adult dogs can be left home alone for between four and six hours a day, while puppies shouldn't be left for more than an hour or so - but there isn't a tried and true answer. Those numbers are primarily based on how long a dog can hold its bladder, with puppies and senior dogs needing to pee more often than adult dogs, but it can vary depending on your dog's health, behavior, and more.

But it's not just about how long you leave your dog alone - it's also important that you prep your dog to be alone for a few hours and train them to make the transition easier, whether that's getting them one of the best dog playpens, crate training them (check out the best dog crates), or using other methods to keep them happy and safe when home alone. You don't want to come home to ripped-up furniture or pee on the carpet, and you also don't want your dog to get unnecessarily stressed out whenever you leave the house. 

Read on, because here we'll answer all your questions about how long you can leave a dog alone, as well as give you tips on how to ensure their time alone is safe for them and your home.

How long can you legally leave a dog alone?

How long can you legally leave a dog alone?

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Animal cruelty laws differ from state-to-state and across various different countries, so there isn't a clear-cut answer to this. If you repeatedly leave your dog without food, water, or shelter, then you could very well be breaking animal cruelty laws in your area. But if your dog is inside, with food and water, you're likely not. So, while it may be unlikely that leaving your dog home alone for a long day is illegal, it's more about whether or not you're being cruel to your pet. Use your discretion and speak to your vet about how long it's safe/healthy to leave your dog alone, keeping in mind that it varies based on age and health status. 

How long is too long when leaving a dog home alone?

This is, again, up for debate. Many experts say that puppies shouldn't be left alone for more than two hours, while adult dogs shouldn't be alone past six hours, but this also varies depending on your dog's health, behavior, and age. 

According to the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals via PureWow (opens in new tab), dogs "dogs shouldn’t be left alone on a regular basis for more than four hours", while non-profit shelter PAWS Chicago suggests (opens in new tab) "five to six hours" maximum for adult dogs. 

Dogs are not cats - they are often not grazers, so leaving them alone with a ton of food likely means they'll just binge-eat it all. They also need a certain amount of exercise every day, and if they're home alone for hours upon hours, they aren't getting it. If you have to be gone all day for work, you should consider getting a dog walker or sitter who can come check on your pup and give them the attention, exercise, and bathroom break they need. 

Leaving a puppy home alone for the first time 

Leaving a puppy home alone for the first time

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The AKC (opens in new tab) has some great guidelines for how to prep for leaving your puppy alone for the first time. You'll want to build up to this moment by practicing: "begin by closing your puppy in the confinement area with a chew toy or other constructive activity, then quietly walk out of the room. Return immediately and reward them with praise and a treat." You should repeat this process, slowly increasing how long you are away from your puppy every time you do so, eventually building up to a somewhat lengthy period of time after starting with just a few minutes away.  

You'll also want to make sure you're not leaving your puppy alone without any safe distractions/toys, as they can easily get destructive. This could be dangerous for them, as they could chew on or swallow things that can harm them. You may also want to put on a noise machine to help calm them or consider a puppy sitter if you think your furbaby won't handle the time away.

Investing in the best pet camera is a great idea to keep an eye on your dog when you're away.

Dealing with separation anxiety in dogs 

separation anxiety in dogs

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When it comes to how to reduce separation anxiety in dogs, dog owners can do things like increasing their pup's confidence by maintaining a consistent schedule, as a predictable life is one with very little anxiety. You can also ensure to give your dog plenty of physical and mental exercise so that they're tired and happy when you leave - it's hard to be anxious when you're sleepy. 

You can also work on getting your dog used to your absence by taking steps similar to the ones we outlined above when training a puppy to be home alone for the firs time. Entering and leaving your house as calm as possible is a great trick as well, so your dog doesn't get all riled up by your comings and goings. 

How long you can leave a dog home alone is a somewhat complicated question, as it's entirely dependent on your dog's training, health, age, and behavior. Talk to your vet and trainers if you're unsure of what to do, and consider a sitter if need be. You can do this!