Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stay home with our dogs instead of going to work? Or if we could take them with us when we go out? Unfortunately, most of us just aren’t able to do that. We have jobs to go to, errands to run.
When you first adopt a puppy or adult dog, leaving them alone can be heartbreaking and stressful. What’s going to happen when you’re not there?
Last year I brought home this cute little girl. Her name is Koa.
My family has dogs, but Koa was my first puppy of my own. Koa is a Goldendoodle and she was a very active puppy, getting into anything and everything she possibly could! I was constantly pulling things out of her mouth and trying to keep her out of trouble.
Unfortunately you don’t get maternity leave when you bring home a puppy. I had a weekend to get her used to my house and to start crate training and potty training.
Luckily, my dad was willing to come over during the day to let her out often and I live close enough to work that I can go home to her during my lunch hour. Even then, I needed to make sure that she would be okay during the times she was alone.
With research and experience with my family’s dogs, I have been able to keep Koa safe and she has done excellent since day one.
I hope these simple tips for keeping your dog safe when they are home alone will help you keep your dogs safe too.
How Long Can You Leave Your Dog Home Alone?
There is a general rule of how long you can safely leave your dog alone at home. As a puppy up to six months, for every one month of age, they should be able to hold their bladder for approximately one hour. By four months old, they should be able to hold their bladder for four hours. Of course, this depends on the individual puppy and potty training.
From six months and onward, dogs should only be left alone for up to four to six hours at a time. Dogs are social animals and need interaction, mental stimulation, exercise, and care. They should not be left alone for too long or too frequently.
When you leave your dog or puppy alone for the first time, you will want to make a plan. Where will they be? What will they have access to? Will you give them a calm, dark space or will you leave the TV on for them? Different dogs may do better with entertainment, while some may do better in a more calm environment. Some dogs may destroy their toys and some will ignore their toys if you’re not there to play with them.
If you are crate training, it’s important to introduce them to their crate for short periods of time while you are home. You want them to be used to their crates before you leave the house. If they are not, you can expect destructive behavior and excessive barking or howling while you are gone. Sometimes a blanket draped over the top of the crate can help create a dark, calm place for your pup. Treats and praise go a long way with crate training.
If you are using a bigger section of the house or a whole room, you can use baby gates or doors to keep them contained in a safe space. Some things that you can put into their space are a dog bed, safe toys like treat dispensing toys and dog puzzle toys, and a blanket or one of your old shirts with your scent on it.
It’s important to know your dog’s habits. Are they toy or furniture destroyers? Do you need to use potty training pads on the floor? Use your best judgement based on your knowledge and experience with your dog.
What Can Happen While They’re Home Alone?
Choking via Collars
You may be surprised to hear that collars are a hidden danger to your dog. Most dog owners are not aware that a collar could hurt a dog. We keep collars on our dogs for identification, to hold important tags like registration and rabies vaccine verification, and to attach leashes to. Did you know a collar could actually kill your dog?
Several pet owners have had scary experiences with dog collars. When you have two or more dogs who like to play rough, for instance, it’s very easy for one dog to get their teeth caught under the other dog’s collar. Once they realize they are caught, both dogs start panicking and trying to free themselves, which only makes things worse.
The dog with its teeth caught is strangling the dog with the collar and badly injuring its own jaw at the same time. Sometimes you are able to save both dogs before anything too bad happens and sometimes you aren’t able to break them free, especially if it happens while you’re not home.
Even if you only have one dog, the collar can still be a choking hazard. The tags or the collar itself can get caught on things like your dog’s crate, your air register vents, or other household objects. Again, when the dog realizes they’re caught, they start flailing around trying to free themselves and end up getting strangled.
There are a couple of ways to completely free your dogs of the risk of getting injured or killed by its collar inside the home. Your first option is to remove their collar whenever they are inside your home. The second option is to use a breakaway collar.
Breakaway collars will break apart with a tug, making them much safer for your dog when they get caught on anything. When they are not tugged, they stay around the neck and you are able to keep your dog with tags on at all times.
When I first heard of breakaway collars, I wondered how you would walk your dog on a leash if the collar just pops open with a tug. You might be wondering the same thing. After looking into it, I found that breakaway collars have a D-ring on each end, so if you want to attach a leash, you simply hook the leash to both D-rings and the collar cannot breakaway while the leash is on.
Altercations with Other Animals
It goes without saying that if you can’t trust all of your pets around each other when you’re not in the room, don’t leave them alone with each other. You can separate pets by using crates, gates, or putting them in separate rooms with closed doors.
If they have shown you that they can be trusted to be out to roam the house together, you can just make places where they can go to hide if they want some alone time away from their furry siblings.
House Fires & Other Emergencies
There are several emergency situations that could occur while you are away from the house and your pets are home alone. Your house could catch on fire, there could be a sudden weather catastrophe like a tornado or a flash flood, you could get in a car accident or have a medical emergency.
Have you ever thought of what would happen to your pets in the case of an emergency? Who will take care of them? Will they be trapped in the house alone with no way of getting out? This is a grim topic, but it’s an important one. Planning ahead can save your pet’s life during an emergency situation.
In Case of Emergency Stickers
If your house is in a state of emergency and you aren’t there to let your pets out, there’s still hope. It can be as easy as a simple sticker. You can put stickers on your windows or doors to let firefighters know that there are pets in the house that need rescuing in the case of a fire or other emergency.
Firefighters will do a sweep of the house looking for life regardless of the sticker, but seeing the sticker can help identify what life to look for if conditions allow them to enter the home without great risk to their own lives. Placing them at the entry points of the house can let them know exactly how many pets to look for so they can attempt to rescue them.
When choosing which sticker to get, think about where it will be, how visible it will be from that location, if you want it to be permanently fixed or removable/replaceable, and if it will be exposed to the elements. For instance, I prefer having the sticker inside rather than outside, but my front door has beveled glass, so if I put a sticker on the inside, it would not be easily visible from the outside.
I have a bay window next to my front door, so this was a good option for my sticker placement. I knew that I would need to get my windows replaced fairly soon, so I decided to get static cling stickers instead of adhesive stickers. When my windows were replaced, I was able to easily peel off the sticker from the old window and place it onto the new window.
These are things to think about when you are choosing your sticker type, but since they are stickers, it’s not a huge deal to just buy a new one if needed. The most important thing is to make sure that the stickers are visible from any points of the home that firefighters might enter through and that they are eye-catching. Bold colors and emergency symbol shapes are sure to attract their attention.
It is also important to properly fill out how many of each animal species are in the home. Don’t leave them guessing in an emergency situation. If you have one cat and one dog, clearly mark that on the stickers with permanent marker.
Pets may look for hiding spots or get trapped in a fire, so firefighters need to know how many to look for. It is also important to keep them up to date and remove them if you move or update them if the number of pets changes.
In Case of Emergency Cards
In addition to the emergency stickers on your doors and windows, it’s a good idea to carry a card in your wallet in case you are in an emergency situation while you are out. If you are involved in an accident or have a medical event while you are away from the house, you can let people know that you have pets at home that need care, even if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate.
These cards simply say “I have a pet at home that needs help” and space on the back to write in the contact information of someone who can take care of your pets if needed. You don’t necessarily need to use your main medical contacts. If you have a neighbor with a key, a dog walker, pet sitter, or close friend that you can trust to care for your pets while you are unable to, those would be good names and numbers to write on the back of your emergency card.
Just be sure to make the card easily visible to whoever may look through your wallet for information. The static cling stickers I purchased above came with a wallet card, but you can also buy them separately or even make your own. Once again, bold colors like red are key to grabbing attention.
A lot of people bring dogs into their families to protect their homes. Criminals are less likely to break into a house if they know there’s a dog inside, so having a “Beware of Dog” sign, or even that rescue sticker can deter a burglar, but a break in could still happen.
If you’d like to go further in protecting your home from a break in, you can consider a home security system.
A home security alarm being triggered could scare off your intruder, but in the process, could he run off with the door left open? Could the alarm scare your dog or cat right out the door too? Or maybe you have a brave dog that chases down the intruder. Either way, you never know when your pet could get loose and potentially lost. Microchipping your pet gives you much better chances of reuniting with your precious family member.
A microchip is about the same size as a grain of rice and it contains your contact information. It can be scanned at nearly any vet office of animal shelter, so if your dog (or cat) gets lost and his or her microchip is scanned, they will be able to contact you and reunite you with your pet.
The major advantage of a microchip is that even if your pet loses its collar and tags, it can still be identified. This gives you a 90% better chance of finding your lost pet than if it has no identification.
Microchipping can be done by your vet, your local animal rescue, and some pet stores. Pricing depends on where you get it done, but generally range from $25 to $70, which includes a one time registration fee.
What Can Your Dog Get Into?
Let’s hope that the fires, emergencies, and break-ins we talked about never happen. There are still a lot of hazards to pets in the average home that we all need to be aware of. This is especially true for when we aren’t home to constantly have an eye (or ear) on what they’re getting into.
Dogs discover the world through their mouths. They get their mouths on a lot of things. Sometimes they swallow those things, even if they shouldn’t. Measures should be put in place to help prevent them from swallowing or chewing on anything that can harm them.
There are so many household items that can be dangerous to our pets that we wouldn’t even think about as being dangerous. It’s a lot like baby-proofing your home. Look around at their level and see what they can reach.
What are we looking for?
- Human food and drinks
- Toxic houseplants
- Frayed (or chewed) electrical cables
- Chemicals and poisons
- Alcohol and cigarettes
- Small objects
Food and Drink
Most of us know that chocolate is poisonous for dogs, but did you know that grapes, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, xylitol (a sweetener used in some peanut butter, candy, and gum) and coffee (or caffeine in general) are all poisonous too?
Grapes can cause kidney failure, onions and garlic can cause red blood cell damage, xylitol can cause liver failure. Keep all of these human foods and drinks out of reach, in cupboards or refrigerators. Don’t forget that your countertops aren’t always out of their reach!
Some of the most popular houseplants that are poisonous are: the polly plant, aloe vera, lillies, English ivy, and amaryllis.
If you have these plants in your house, you can simply move them higher to keep them out of reach. Clean up any leaves or petals that may drop from your plants before your dog can get to them, especially if your dog is known to munch on plants.
It’s important to have medication put away in a safe place that your pets cannot reach. It might be convenient to sit the bottle down on the counter, but cats and large dogs can go counter-surfing, and we know how cats enjoy pushing things off the edge, leaving it for your dog to find on the floor.
There have been several cases of dogs chewing completely through pill bottles and overdosing. To be safe, let’s put our medicine in a medicine cabinet that our dogs (and cats) can’t get into.
Frayed (or Chewed) Electrical Cables
Puppies need to be monitored and taught right away to stay away from electrical cables. If a dog chews on an electrical cable that is plugged in, it can be electrocuted. This can cause burns, fluid in the lungs, high blood pressure in the arteries near the lungs, and they can even develop cataracts from it.
Stronger electric shocks can cause seizures or cause the dog’s heart to stop beating altogether. Hide and cover any electrical cables that you can and train your dog to leave the others alone.
Chemicals and Poisons
There are an incredible amount of chemicals and poisons in the home. You may not realize it until you stop and look around. Cleaning chemicals, bug spray/killer, rodent traps, dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, the list goes on. There are even certain essential oils that are toxic to dogs.
Just like your medication, all of these items need to be locked away where your dog cannot get into them.
Alcohol and Cigarettes
Alcohol causes liver, kidney, and nervous system damage in dogs. Alcohol exposure can come from alcoholic drinks, mouthwash, cleaning products, and cough syrup.
Cigarettes are also toxic to dogs. A half milligram of nicotine per pound of the dog’s body weight is considered toxic, while 4 mg per pound is lethal. Nicotine gums and patches cause the same toxicity as cigarettes do. Never leave alcohol or nicotine products within your dog’s reach.
Some dogs are more likely than others to eat things they shouldn’t. Puppies need to be taught what they can and cannot have in their mouths. Even then, dogs will sometimes sneak something they shouldn’t have like socks, toilet paper, cat toys, and rocks.
Larger dogs are more likely to be able to pass small objects, but sometimes things get caught somewhere in the body. This can cause a blockage or obstruction and it can be deadly! If you see your dog has symptoms of an obstruction, it is important to get to a vet right away.
In the case of an intestinal blockage, the intestinal tissue can start dying (necrosis) and as it dies, it allows waste, bacteria, and stomach acids to spill out into the abdominal cavity.
Symptoms of an obstruction are:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
To prevent this potentially horrifying incident from happening, look around your house and pick up anything that could fit in your dog’s throat. Put it somewhere that your dog won’t be able to get it so they don’t have a chance to get themselves into trouble.
If all else fails and you come home to find that your pet is in need of medical attention for an injury, obstruction/blockage, poisoning from plants or chemicals, or for any other reason, it’s important to get them to your vet or a 24 hour emergency vet clinic right away.
Your vet bills can be a big hit in these situations. You can start a savings account for emergencies, but you never know when your pet might need emergency surgery costing thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. This is where pet insurance comes into play.
There are several pet insurance companies with different coverage plans to choose from. These plans are paid as a monthly premium just like your health insurance, but are much less expensive. You choose your co-pay and deductible and your premium is adjusted accordingly. Your pet’s breed, size, and age may also factor into the price.
I personally chose to sign up for pet insurance through Healthy Paws because of the coverage that they provide for both injuries and illnesses (including hereditary and cancer) with no annual or lifetime caps on coverage. Their pricing is right in line with, if not better than their competitors as well. My one year old dog is covered for about $35 a month. If you would like to sign your pets up for Healthy Paws pet insurance, feel free to use my Friends & Family Discount.
I enjoy the peace of mind that comes along with knowing that if something happens to one of my fur babies, I can go to the vet and get their treatment without having to worry about the financial burden that could come with it.
Regardless of which company you may choose, pet insurance is worth looking into. We never want to be put in the situation of having to say “I can’t afford this procedure that could save my pet’s life.”
How to Monitor Your Dog When You’re Not Home
A great way to really know what your dogs are doing while you’re not at home is to monitor them on camera. There are various ways you can do this. You could mount a basic baby monitor in your home to check in on your dogs or you could use a security camera.
Another option is to get a camera made specifically for watching your dogs. The Furbo Dog Camera, for instance, has a camera and microphone built in and it can send text alerts to your phone when it hears your dog start barking. This allows you to check on your dog by watching the video stream right on your phone and lets you see what they are barking at.
It also has a speaker so you can talk to your dog through the device. What’s cooler than that? It has a built in treat dispenser! You can talk to your dogs and toss treats to them while you’re away. How cool!
How to Keep Them Happy and Occupied While You’re Away
Aside from using a dog camera to toss treats at your pup, how can you keep them happy and occupied while you are out of the house? There can be a different answer to this question for each dog’s personality, but here are some ideas.
- Fill a Kong with peanut butter and freeze it to keep your pup entertained for hours
- Turn on the TV or radio to your dog’s favorite channel
- Leave them with a Snuggle Puppy to cuddle with
- Hire a dog walker to pick up your dog mid-day
- Drop off your dog at doggy daycare once or twice a week to let them play with other dogs, they may be so worn out they’ll nap through the other days
With these tips, you should be able to make some small changes to your house and your habits that will take big leaps forward in keeping your dog safe and happy when they are home alone.