What do dogs do when left alone at home?

Dogs are highly social animals that crave companionship and interaction. However, many dog owners have busy work and social lives that require them to leave their canine companions at home alone for hours at a time. This can lead to concerns about separation anxiety and destructive behavior in dogs. When left to their own devices, what exactly do dogs get up to while their humans are away? Here is a quick overview of some common doggie behaviors when home alone.

Sleep and Rest

One of the most common activities for dogs when left home alone is simply to sleep and rest. The average dog sleeps 12-14 hours per day, and many dogs will take the opportunity to nap and relax when they don’t have any humans around to interact with. Quiet time alone while their owners are away provides dogs with a chance to engage in some undisturbed sleeping and dozing.

Senior dogs and puppies may spend even more time napping and resting while alone than adult dogs. Puppies need plenty of sleep as they grow and develop. Senior dogs tend to become less active as they age. So, both puppies and senior dogs are likely to pass most of the day sleeping when left at home alone.

Playing with Toys

Another thing many dogs will do when left unattended is play with their toys. Chewing, fetching, and playing with toys provides dogs with mental stimulation and physical exercise. Rotating special toys that are only available when the dog is home alone can provide longer lasting engagement and prevent boredom. Food puzzle toys and chews can keep dogs occupied and provide mental challenges. Providing a variety of interactive toys can make alone time more enjoyable and prevent destructive behaviors in dogs.

Looking Out Windows

One of the most common activities dogs engage in when left home alone is spending time looking out windows. Keeping watch out windows allows dogs to observe happenings outside, including people, other animals, and vehicles going by. Looking out windows can help relieve boredom by providing mental stimulation. It also allows dogs to engage in their natural instinct to observe their surroundings and environment. Placing dog beds or perches near windows allows dogs to comfortably look outside when home alone.

Barking at Noises

Many dogs will bark when they hear unusual or interesting noises while home alone. Things like the mail truck, neighbors’ voices, or strange sounds can prompt excited barking. Dogs may feel the need to sound an alarm at unusual noises when their owners are away. However, excessive barking can be disruptive for neighbors and a sign of anxiety issues. Providing distraction toys and activities can help limit barking, as can training a dog to relax when hearing certain sounds. Consulting with a trainer or behaviorist may be necessary for dogs with separation anxiety.

Chewing and Destructive Behaviors

While most dogs will simply sleep and play when alone, some dogs engage in destructive chewing and other behaviors out of boredom, anxiety, or pent-up energy. Chewing items like furniture, shoes, and valuables can cause costly property damage. Urinating, defecating, or tearing up household items can also occur if a dog becomes very anxious when alone. These destructive behaviors often indicate separation anxiety but can also result from simple boredom. Providing interactive puzzle toys, preventing access to tempting items, and scheduling breaks can help prevent destruction. In severe cases, treatment from a veterinary behaviorist may be needed.

Escaping the Yard or House

For some Houdini hounds, being left alone presents an opportunity for escape. Dogs may attempt to dig under or jump over fences to roam the neighborhood. Sneakier dogs may learn to open doors or gates to let themselves out of the house or yard. This can create dangerous situations for dogs running loose. Ensuring doors and gates are securely latched and fences are tightly secured can help prevent escape artist dogs from sneaking out. Providing enrichment activities can also help reduce escape attempts due to boredom. Consulting a trainer to correct escape behaviors may be necessary in difficult cases.

Anxious behaviors

Dogs with separation anxiety often engage in behaviors like pacing, whining, and trembling when left alone. They may pace around the house or yard looking for their owners. Continued whining or barking when alone can indicate anxiety. Shaking, drooling, and vomiting can also occur in some extremely anxious dogs home alone. Separation anxiety behaviors are signs of serious stress in dogs and need to be addressed by a veterinarian or professional trainer. Short-term intervention with training, enrichment, and anti-anxiety medications may be required.

Waiting by doors

Many dogs will wait patiently by doors when left home alone in anticipation of their owner’s return. Sitting or laying by the door where the owner typically enters is a common behavior, as most dogs associate doors with people arriving and leaving. Some dogs may pace, whine, or bark by the door as well. Waiting by the door demonstrates a dog’s attachment to their owner and eagerness to reunite. While harmless in most cases, it can be a sign of separation anxiety if the door waiting behavior seems anxious. Providing toys and beds away from doors can help ease anxious waiting behaviors.

Factors influencing dog behaviors when alone

Several factors influence how individual dogs behave when left home alone including:

– Breed characteristics – Some breeds like huskies have more energy and are more prone to destructive behaviors if under-exercised. Livestock guardian breeds like Great Pyrenees are more likely to demonstrate territorial barking when alone.

– Age – Puppies and senior dogs tend to sleep more when alone while adolescent and adult dogs are more energetic. Puppies also engage in more destructive chewing behaviors while learning appropriate items to chew on. Senior dogs may demonstrate signs of anxiety like pacing when alone due to cognitive decline.

– Training – Well-trained dogs are less likely to have anxious or destructive behaviors when alone. Obedience training and proper socialization helps dogs learn how to relax and settle when alone. Dogs without training are more likely to demonstrate inappropriate behaviors.

– Exercise – Dogs left alone without adequate exercise outlets are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors due to pent-up energy. Making sure dogs are well exercised helps prevent inappropriate chewing, digging, barking, and escape attempts when alone.

– Environmental enrichment – Providing boredom busting toys and activities tailored to the individual dog’s needs can prevent inappropriate behaviors. Food puzzles, chews, play toys, and other enrichment help meet a dog’s needs when alone. Lack of enrichment often leads to destruction and anxiety.

– Confinement – Utilizing crates, dog-proof rooms, and outdoor kennels when leaving dogs home alone provides a safe, controlled space and prevents access to inappropriate items. Unconfined dogs are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors around the house.

– Separation anxiety – Dogs suffering from separation distress and anxiety engage in extreme behaviors like frantic attempts to escape, urinating/defecating, pacing, barking, and destruction which necessitate professional intervention. Separation anxiety is not influenced by normal alone training and enrichment.

– Dog personality and temperament – Independent, anxious, energetic, destructive, or territorial personality traits contribute to how likely a dog is to engage in undesirable behaviors when home alone. Matching training and enrichment to personality is important.

Conclusion

Dogs engage in a wide variety of different behaviors when left home alone depending on breed tendencies, age, training, exercise, enrichment, confinement, and underlying temperament. Most dogs simply sleep, play, look out windows, or wait by the door for their owners to return. Providing adequate physical and mental stimulation is important to limit inappropriate behaviors like destruction, barking, or escaping. Consulting a trainer or veterinary behaviorist can help address separation anxiety, escape behaviors, and destruction issues in dogs who do not respond to management and enrichment when left alone. While humans are gone, most dogs simply putter around resting and amuse themselves until they can happily greet their returning companion.

Breed Group Common Behaviors When Home Alone
Herding Dogs
  • Chewing and nipping at belongings
  • Chasing lights and shadows
  • Barking at outdoor noises
Hunting Dogs
  • Following scents around home
  • Howling
  • Digging holes in yard
Sporting Dogs
  • Playing fetch alone
  • Circling and pacing rooms
  • Chewing on furniture and toys
Working Dogs
  • Guarding territory by barking
  • Chewing wood and metal items
  • Digging up and rearranging yard
Terriers
  • Hunting/attacking insects and rodents
  • Digging at carpets and upholstery
  • Barking frequently

Signs of problematic behaviors when home alone

  • Destroying furniture, carpets, and belongings
  • Urinating or defecating in non-designated areas
  • Excessive vocalization like barking, whining, or howling
  • Aggressive digging or scratching at doors and walls
  • Self-injury behaviors like licking, biting, or over-grooming
  • Depression or lethargy when owner departs or returns
  • Anorexia or loss of appetite when alone

If a dog is engaging in destructive, anxious, or unsafe behavior when left alone at home, it’s important to address the underlying cause through training, enrichment, exercise, confinement, anxiety medication, and behavior modification. Consulting a veterinarian and animal behaviorist can help develop an appropriate treatment plan for dogs with problematic home alone behaviors. Most concerning behaviors when a dog is left alone stem from improper training, lack of stimulation, separation anxiety, over-attachment, or underlying medical conditions requiring professional intervention.

Maintaining a dog’s well-being when home alone

Meeting a dog’s needs

To keep dogs happy, healthy, and avoid problematic behaviors when home alone, owners should focus on meeting their canine companion’s basic needs including:

  • Physical exercise – Providing daily walks, play time, and opportunities to run prior to being left alone. Pent up energy often leads to undesirable behaviors.
  • Mental enrichment – Rotating toys, puzzles, and chews to prevent boredom and stimulate dogs mentally when alone at home.
  • Comfort and security – Designating a safe space, crate, or room helps dogs feel less anxious when alone. Providing blankets, bedding and familiar scents can also provide comfort.
  • Environmental control – Dog-proofing areas and limiting access helps avoid destructive behaviors. Confinement may be necessary for some dogs prone to inappropriate behaviors when alone loose in the house.

Meeting these core needs helps fulfill a dog’s natural instincts and prevents problem behaviors rooted in stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness and excess energy when left home alone.

Preventing separation anxiety

For dogs prone to separation anxiety when left alone, the following tips can help prevent the development of separation-based behavioral issues:

  • Avoid prolonged isolation during the first few weeks after adoption/bringing puppy home
  • Crate train and gradually increase time left alone in crate
  • Provide stimulating toys and treats when departing
  • Keep arrivals/departures low key to avoid stimulating anxiety
  • Allow access to outside potty breaks before and after absences
  • Create positive associations with being alone through reward-based training
  • Use calming supplements when introducing absences to decrease stress
  • Consult trainer/behaviorist if early symptoms of separation anxiety emerge

Dogs bond closely with owners and social isolation can be challenging. Carefully managing a dog’s early experiences when left alone helps prevent intense separation anxiety from developing. Medical intervention may still be necessary in some cases of severe separation distress.

Providing interactive toys and puzzles

Preventing boredom is key to minimizing inappropriate chewing, vocalization, and other destructive behaviors in dogs home alone. Interactive toys and puzzle feeders that dispense treats or kibble provide mental stimulation and enrichment for dogs when left alone, including options such as:

  • Chew toys and frozen Kongs
  • Treat dispensing balls
  • Snuffle mats
  • Rotating toy bins
  • Food puzzle toys
  • Automatic ball launchers

Owners should experiment to identify high-value, long-lasting enrichment options tailored for their individual dog. Providing a few interactive toys daily maintains novelty and prevents boredom when owners are away at work or errands.

Creating a safe confinement area

Using crates, exercise pens, walled rooms, or garages to confine dogs when home alone prevents access to off-limit items and provides a cozy, den-like area. Confinement areas should include:

  • Comfortable, washable bedding
  • Non-spill food and water bowls
  • Safe chew toys
  • Indoor potty option if confined for extended times

Confinement spaces prevent destructive behaviors, contain messes, and help dogs feel secure when owners are away. Dogs anxious when left unconfined often benefit greatly from having a small, comfortable area to relax in when alone at home.

Seeking help for severe behavioral issues

For dogs with severe destructive, noisy, or anxious behaviors when left alone that do not respond to training and environmental management, seeking help is recommended, including:

  • Veterinary health exam – Physical issues may contribute to behaviors
  • Dog trainers and behaviorists – Can assess behavior and design modification plans
  • Prescription anti-anxiety medications – Help reduce separation distress
  • Doggie daycare – Provides socialization and supervision when apart

While most dogs learn to adapt to time alone, some severe cases need professional intervention. Management steps can keep the dog and home safe in the short term. Long term treatment focuses on addressing the underlying cause of the problematic separation behaviors.

Conclusion

Dogs engage in a variety of behaviors when left home alone, with most dogs simply sleeping, playing with toys, looking out windows, or waiting calmly for their owner’s return. Providing adequate physical and mental stimulation for a dog’s needs is key to minimizing undesirable behaviors. Confinement, environmental management, and professional help for anxiety may be needed in some cases. While humans are gone, most dogs just relax and amuse themselves until their favorite person returns for a warm, waggy tailed greeting and some shared affection. With care and preparation, dogs can adapt to the routine of spending some parts of the day alone, allowing owners to fulfill work and life obligations without worry. The human-canine bond remains secure and loving despite necessary daily periods of separation.

Leave a Comment