After watching The Secret Life of Pets 2, I couldn’t help but wonder what my dogs do to occupy themselves when they’re home alone. Some video recording showed that they tend to sleep on the couch for most of the day, only getting up to stretch and bark at squirrels out the window. Still, it’s fun to imagine them throwing lavish parties, playing in a rock band, and even speaking English when they have the house to themselves.
Before looking at how we can keep our dogs happy while we’re not at home, it’s important to ask how long is too long to leave a dog home alone. In terms of a dog’s basic needs, the general consensus is that most dogs can’t “hold it” for more than four to six hours without experiencing discomfort. A bathroom break around that four-hour mark is important. While some dogs tolerate being alone better than others, ten to twelve hours is too long to leave a dog home alone. 
If your dogs are like mine, you don’t need to worry too much about them getting into trouble when you’re not at home. Even so, there are some things you can do to keep them happy and occupied during those long days.
Providing safe toys like a frozen peanut butter stuffed KONG or a Nylabone can keep your pet busy and entertained. Of course, if your dog is prone to shredding her toys, be sure to avoid anything that could pose a choking hazard.
Technology can also enrich your pet’s day-to-day life. There are several devices on the market that can be used to talk to and treat your pet via a smartphone app. These devices also allow you to view live video of your home so you can check on your pets while you’re away. In addition, soothing music or the TV can provide comforting background noise. These days, there are even special TV programs created just for dogs.
Is your pet the type to get into mischief the second you look away? In this case, you may need to take a more proactive approach to ensure she and your home stay safe in your absence. If your dog likes to counter surf and chew furniture, using a crate or baby gates to keep them away from potential hazards may be necessary. Remember, crating should never be a punishment and crate training correctly can mean the difference between your dog yowling and trying to break free and your dog peacefully resting in the crate. It’s also worth noting that, while crating your dog is sometimes important to ensure their safety, no dog deserves to be in a crate all day every day.
Some dogs get into mischief simply because they are bored, and following the tips above, as well as providing adequate exercise and play time while you are at home, can sometimes be enough to prevent problem behaviors.
Chewing, barking, and accidental house soiling, while not ideal, are normal behaviors and don’t indicate a serious problem. However, if your dog exhibits whining and pacing as you prepare to leave, dilated pupils, panting and drooling, sweaty pads, non-stop barking or howling while you’re away, consistent house soiling, destructive chewing or digging (especially around doors and windows), appetite suppression, or desperate attempts to get out of the crate or house, it may be a sign that they suffer from separation anxiety. If you suspect this, it’s best to seek professional advice from a dog trainer who has experience with treating separation anxiety. 
For some pets, being left home alone for long periods of time simply isn’t an option. If you have a pet friendly workplace, you might consider bringing your pet to work a couple times a week. Doggy day care facilities are another great option, and your dog can even make new canine friends and play while you’re away. Or, if your pet is more comfortable at home, a pet sitter can keep your pet company and help by providing a bathroom break and playtime.
Whether your dog naps the day away or likes to party when you’re out and about, they sure appreciate all the time you get to spend together.
Jessica Gladkowski is the Director of Community Relations at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from The University of Vermont in 2013, and over the next several years she traveled around Asia where she taught English and immersed herself in different cultures. Jessica is inspired to combine her passion for helping animals, teaching, and serving a diverse community through a career in animal welfare. Jessica lives in Aiken with her husband David and their rescue dogs Django and Ollie.