Recently I had to return to the UK for a couple of weeks. This put us in a tricky situation because my partner had just started a new job and couldn’t get time off to stay at home and look after the dog. So, we were more than a little worried about leaving our galgo, Noodle, home alone for potentially up to 8 hours a day.
We adopted Noodle in March, literally a week before the world went into lockdown. For us this was a positive because we were able to really get to know him during those weeks cooped up in the house. Likewise, Noodle was able to get to know his immediate surroundings without the threat of strange visitors or changes in routine. As lockdown eased he gently became accustomed to going out and exploring our local town.
We were concerned about leaving Noodle on his own initially because he had been at home with us pretty much 24 hours a day. During lockdown my boyfriend and I would begin to leave him alone in the house for increasing periods. We would go and quietly sit in the car outside; first 5 minutes, then 10… until we were able to be away for an hour. I’m sure the neighbours must have thought we were bonkers…sat on the drive in the car, going nowhere! But we were close enough to be able to hear the dog if he should start to become upset.
As things gradually began to return to the “new normal” we were able to go to appointments and visit stores for up to 3 or 4 hours. We always left Noodle in his favourite place, on the sofa, well fed, with his toys, with access to water and an outside patio. We were relieved each time to come home and find him half-asleep, blinking at us through sleepy eyes. Clearly he had snoozed the whole time we were away. There was none of the anticipated destruction, no puddles of pee on the floor… he seemed to have coped really well with being left.
But leaving him for more than eight hours a day was taking things to a new level and certainly not an ideal situation. I was really worried about how this would impact him psychologically, more than anything. Would he feel abandoned, bored, distressed, destructive? We didn’t really have any alternative solutions. New to the town, we had no friends we could rely on to come and take him out during the day. Nor did we want to hand over our keys to a stranger. Having both been out of work for seven months we weren’t in a position to pay for him to stay in kennels for two weeks. So, we bit the bullet, decided to leave him where he was most comfortable and hoped for the best. Find out at the end how he got on….
Can a Dog Be Left Alone For 8 Hours?
According to the RSPCA (Royal Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours as they can become prone to separation anxiety.
However, when we look at UK law, there are no clear guidelines. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, pet owners must provide for all their pet’s basic needs. This includes food, water, veterinary treatment, shelter, and a safe living environment. The law does not state how many hours an animal can be left alone for. If there were a complaint the circumstances surrounding it would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, in most extreme cases, such as ones of abandonment, a dog being left to fend for itself for a week without access to food, or a dog left permanently in a cage, there would be a serious case to answer.
In the USA, again, there are no clear guidelines on how long an animal can be left for. Almost all states have laws covering animal neglect. They state that owners must provide necessary food, water, and shelter. Several states specify that owners also give their animals needed veterinary care, exercise, sanitary conditions, and protection from the weather.
Some states can prosecute when when dogs are left outside in certain conditions, whether chained up or in fenced yards. For instance, Pennsylvania law states that dogs can’t be tied up outdoors for than 30 minutes in freezing or very hot weather. New Jersey also prohibits leaving animals outside in bad weather for more than a half hour, and its law gives details about the types of shelter that must be provided.
Leaving a Dog Home Alone
When dogs are left alone there are certain factors to consider:
- Toileting: How will you dog be able to relieve itself? Does it have access to outside space or has it been trained to go in a particular place? A dog may develop problems if it has to wait more than 8 hours to relieve itself.
- Loneliness and lack of social contact: Dogs are generally social beings what love contact with animals and people. How will being alone for hours affect your dog?
- Lack of exercise: Will you be able to provide adequate exercise before and after you leave? Will they be able to exercise in their current space?
- Stress: Dogs may show stress when being left alone by barking, whining, toilet accidents, destructive behaviour, pacing and lip-licking. Some dogs may not show any signs of distress but this doesn’t mean that they are content to be left alone. How does your dog cope when you leave him for short periods of time? Does he display any of these symptoms?
- Lack of stimulation: Will your dog sleep the whole time you are away or will you provide activities and puzzle toys (such as a Kong or lick mat) that will keep him entertained?
I attach here a useful leaflet created by the RSPCA, which shows you how to train your dog to be left alone for increasing amounts of time.
What can I do so my dog doesn’t feel lonely?
Taking your dog to day care may be one solution. Here are some of the advantages:
- Socialization: Your dog will be able to mix with other dogs and learn social skills.
- Interest: There will be lots for your dog to do and to keep his mind active.
- Exercise: Your dog will be getting plenty of physical activity
Some things to consider:
- If you have very anxious, fearful or reactive dog then day care could end up being a stressful experience for him/her. Perhaps arrange a couple of visits to see how your dog copes and talk to the owners about your concerns.
- Check the space is safe and free from clutter or objects which may cause injury.
- Do they have a good outside space where your dog can run around? Additionally, do they provide quiet areas for downtime?
- Are the staff trained, experienced and communicative? Do they provide feedback and advice?
- Can you afford to send your dog to day-care? Shop around and seek recommendations… don’t just look for the cheapest option.
Working From Home
If your job allows it, you may be able to negotiate working from home. This has become an obvious solution during the pandemic and more and more employers are opening up to the idea of teleworking. This has been of great benefit to pet owners who can provide their furry friends with company during the day.
- Your dog will feel relaxed and happy to have your company. This could result in a reduction in levels of stress and destructive behaviours.
- Depending on your dog’s behaviour, he may provide a distraction to your work.
- Not all jobs can be carried out at home.
Use a Dog Walker
A dog walker is a popular choice for those working long hours away from home. They will usually come to your home and take your dog out for an hour or more. I have friends who cannot speak highly enough of their dog walkers, who have formed a great bond with their dogs. There are some things to consider though:
- You will be trusting them with your beloved dog and with the keys to your home. Make sure you have 100 per cent confidence in this person and that they come with strong reference and recommendations from other pet owners. Check out their credentials. They should be insured, well experienced, have basic pet first-aid training and the relevant licence and skills.
- Check whether your dog will be walked alone or in a pack. If your dog suffers from anxiety or is reactive your may wish to arrange solo walks.
- Ask your dog walker to keep you regularly updated with your dog’s progress.
Have Lunch at Home
If you can’t work from home, one possibility might be to pop back for lunch. That way you will be able to reduce the time your dog spends without contact. This should give you enough time to take him outside for a toilet break and give him the reassurance and attention he needs. This option is only possible, however, if you work within a reasonable distance of your home.
So, what happened with Noodle?
For two weeks Noodle was left on his own from 6.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday; a total of 9 hours a day. I’m not proud of that and it’s not something I wanted to do in the first place. I felt terribly guilty every day I was away. However, Noodle seemed to cope with it really well. He wasn’t destructive and was always sound asleep when my boyfriend arrived home from work each day. He would receive loads of attention and play time in the evenings to compensate for being left alone.
Noodle’s behaviour didn’t change during this time, however, he did become a bit fussy with his food and started to leave some of his dinner – maybe a small sign of his confusion about what was happening. I have since returned home and we have gone back to our usual routine. Noodle’s appetite has thankfully returned to normal too.
A survey by the RSPCA in the UK showed that shocking 21 per cent of dog owners felt it was acceptable to occasionally leave a dog alone for more than 24 hours – while 39 per cent said their dog was home alone for seven or more hours on an average day. What is your opinion on the matter? Do you think it’s okay to leave a dog for 7 hours or more? Is it something you do regularly or have you found an alternative solution?
Please leave a comment in the box below. I would love to hear about your experiences.