Puppies and Time

Or NO, you REALLY can’t leave your puppy alone
By Emma Judson

For some reason, many people expect that a puppy can be left alone for an hour, two hours, sometimes significantly longer than that, after the first day or so. Some people are more realistic. They think that it’s going to be OK after the first week or two. The horrible, harsh reality is this – at eight weeks old, a puppy requires your attention about as much as an eight-week-old human baby would. It may be legal to leave your eight-week-old puppy for two hours while you do your Friday Big Shop, but it is as dangerous and as damaging to him as it would be to the human baby of the same age. Your puppy needs his primary caregiver’s supervision constantly – and since you took him away from Mum, that’s you.

If you want to raise a dog who is well behaved, has a normal temperament, is not predisposed to behavioural issues, such as separation anxiety, ingrained toilet training issues, or general anxiety, then this is as important as teaching him to sit or lie down, or feeding him the right food every day. What might happen if you leave a pup for just an hour and he can’t handle it? He might experience severe distress, fear that his world has just ended, and the sense that he will never be safe and secure again; the sort of fear that makes him urinate and defecate uncontrollably. That’s what is happening when you leave a pup and they are screaming for you to come back, messing in the house or their bed or your kitchen floor, shredding the doorways, or lifting the carpet. That’s upsetting for you, it’s expensive, as well, and will probably get you in trouble with your neighbours or even the environmental health
department, if the noise is too much.

But what about your puppy? What’s that doing to his developing brain? People will commonly tell you that ‘he’ll get over it’, or ‘he will quiet down eventually’, or ‘he needs to get used to it’. He won’t. He might collapse and sleep through sheer exhaustion or shut down mentally. And while yes, they do need to get used to being left, the way to do it is not to just leave him without any warning or preparation. The grim reality is that this severe distress is likely to negatively affect his brain development, predisposing him to being anxious, fearful, and sensitive to noises and movement. It is likely to negatively affect his ability to communicate well with other dogs, his ability to tolerate normal day to day stress and his ability to learn. All of which means he is less well equipped and less likely to be that steady companion dog you wanted. (And if you wanted a bundle of nerves and fear with behaviour problems, go ask any rescue for one, they will all be able to help you out there.)

What else can happen? Well, your pup could injure themselves badly. I know of one pup who broke his leg so severely at nine weeks when left alone for just 20 minutes that he had to have it amputated before he was 14 weeks old. He is also terrified of being left alone now, quite understandably. I have heard of pups getting stuck, caught by collars or just by their jaws, and suffocating, and pups who have fallen off or pulled furniture over and been severely injured or crushed to death.

But I Want a Puppy and I Work

Well, just because ‘you want’, doesn’t mean ‘you should have’, does it? I know that’s hard to hear; it’s not what anyone wants to hear, but we are all adults. We should know that sometimes, what we want is not what we can have. Sometimes, someone else’s needs and welfare will come before our own. That said, there are ways around it if you are willing to make compromises.

  • Hire a dog-sitter
  • Find a quality dog daycare
  • Consider taking on an older dog who is OK with being left
  • Change your employment for a job where you work from home
  • Go self-employed in a job where your dog can come too
  • Change shift patterns so there is always someone home
  • Take a long (six month) sabbatical so you can help your puppy settle in

Regardless of which option you decide to take, factor in at least two weeks to get a pup settled in and ideally a month. This may well mean two adults taking all their annual leave as two fortnights, one after the other. NOTE: this does not mean ‘two weeks before you can leave the puppy for hours on end’. It means ‘two weeks where you will do nothing but deal with the puppy’.

But, But, But!

… my friend/neighbour/relative had a puppy and they left their’s
1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8 hours a day from day one and it was fine!

Really? Was it really fine? Do they live somewhere remote or with thick walls so that the neighbours cannot hear the puppy? Did they put the puppy outdoors in a kennel to stop it wrecking the house? Is that dog a superb, well-balanced easy-going dog that is well trained and can go anywhere and do anything? If it is, that is lucky and rare. I can show you many thousands of dogs handed into rescues at eight or nine months old, because their owners tried this and were sick of the stress, the mess, and the complaints. Of course, the dog is now adolescent, doesn’t listen and is so stroppy that they have had enough. In most cases, if their owners had simply taken the time needed or waited until they had the time before getting a puppy at all, then the pups would not have landed in rescue. For every dog that ‘it worked’ for, I’ll show you a hundred it didn’t work for at all. That’s the truth, as unpleasant as it is.

But my Puppy is Fine when Left

Again, is he really? And how is his house-training? And does he chew on stuff? Does he like being crated or shut in the kitchen? How’s he doing at puppy class or training classes? Is he at the same stage as other dogs his age? Because all that time a puppy spends without you is time spent not only NOT learning how to be a nice, easy-to-live-with, adult dog, but also learning all the things you don’t want him to do. If you aren’t supervising, house training takes longer. Basic training takes longer. Forming a strong bond of trust takes longer. When you are not supervising, your puppy is learning to poo and pee where he likes, to chew what he wants, to bark at sounds he hears, to rip up your carpet and sofa cushions, shred his bedding inside his crate, or chew the crate bars. And that is, of course, even if he is genuinely fine. Many dogs are not fine at all; they just don’t display obvious symptoms like barking, crying or destroying things.

In Conclusion

I am certain that people reading this will be feeling upset and think that what I am saying is unfair. The reality is that this is written so that people do not make mistakes that lead to dogs suffering and end up being sold on or in rescue. You presumably want a dog because you love dogs. You want to enjoy dog ownership and have a happy, friendly dog who has a lovely life. Getting a puppy when you do not have the time is not the way forward, no matter how badly you want it. There are no easy, magic fixes to create more time or prevent the problems that will be caused by leaving a puppy unsupervised for prolonged periods. We really wish there were!