When Can a Dog Be Left Loose in the House?

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Dog looking out windowIf you currently leave your dog in a crate when he’s home alone, you may be wondering when you can trust him to be left loose in the house.

This will depend on the dog, of course. Some dogs may never be able to be left loose in the house. If that’s the case with your dog, don’t feel bad. Crates are great tools to keep dogs safe and out of trouble. Or, you might be leaving your dog in a bedroom or in the kitchen with a pet gate, and that’s fine too.

The question is, when (if ever) should a dog be given more freedom?

The following are some tips to help you decide.

How to know when your dog can be left loose in the house

Is your dog well behaved while you’re home?

If your dog has access to all or part of the house while you’re home and doesn’t get into trouble, then he might be ready for more freedom when left alone, according to professional dog trainer Jennifer Mauger of L’Chaim Canine.

So, if your dog is still having accidents or if he’s chewing off-limit items, it may be too challenging for him to be left loose while home alone at this point. Just keep working on the basics and use a crate for now. There is no magic age that says dogs can suddenly be given more freedom. It all depends on your unique dog’s behavior, so just be patient.

It’s not “all or nothing.”

One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is they give their dogs too much freedom too quickly.

Mauger said it’s important to start out by leaving your dog home for just 15 or 20 minutes and then returning.

“If this goes well, increase your time away incrementally until they have built up to being out all the time,” she said. “If at any point you encounter a problem, just go back a step or two.”

For example, Mauger said if the dog does great for four hours but has trouble at five hours, go back to three or four hours. This may mean you need to go home during lunch or you may need to hire a dog walker to break up your dog’s day temporarily.

Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.

This goes without saying, but sometimes we need a reminder. Dogs that don’t get enough mental and physical exercise are naturally going to find ways to burn that energy. When you’re trying to train your dog to be left loose in the house, it won’t hurt if you find ways to increase his exercise during that time. A dog that gets a long walk in the morning will be more likely to remain calm when left alone.

Some dogs may always need to be crated.

Certain dogs will never do well when left alone, Mauger said.

“As long as they are happy being in their crate, then use it,” she said. “Currently, one of my personal dogs can not be left at home without getting into trouble. So to keep him safe and to keep my furniture safe, he is always crated.”

She also wanted to remind dog owners never to force a dog or puppy into a crate. Always keep the experience positive by using treats and giving the dog extra goodies such as bones or stuffed puzzle toys while you’re away.

“Never use a crate for punishment,” she said. “The crate needs to be a safe place for your dog.”

How about the rest of you? How did you transition your dog to be left out of the crate?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for dogIDs.com. She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ThatMutt.com. ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

    • Hi Sunny. Do you mean, what should you do with a puppy when you leave him home alone? Personally, I start leaving a puppy in a crate/kennel right away. Most adjust to it quickly. They might cry a bit at first, but if you just ignore the crying they learn to settle in. How old is your puppy? Depending on your pup’s age, you probably only want to leave him or her for 3 to 4 hours or so at a time to prevent accidents in the kennel.

      Another option is to set up an “ex pen” which is sort of like a play pen area for a puppy. Or, you could leave the puppy in a small puppy proof room like possibly a bathroom with a puppy gate blocking the door or in a kitchen or laundry room with a gate.

      dogIDs carries a couple of options for indoor gates: http://www.dogids.com/category/dog-containment/

      And here is a link to my post on kennel training tips: http://www.dogids.com/blog/should-you-kennel-train-your-dog/

      Hope that answers your question! Let us know if you have additional questions.

  1. I have a dog who is over a year old and very well behaved. We have him crate trained but he starts to shake and cries when we leave. I want to leave him loose and trust him but I am concerned his anxiety will increase. We follow the commons guidelines of exercising him and being calm when we leave and return but with no improvement over the last couple of months. Any advice?

    • Hi Shayna, sorry to hear your dog is anxious when home alone. I would definitely stick to leaving him in the crate for now unless the crate itself is what’s causing the anxiety (vs. being alone). Don’t feel bad about it as it’s safer for him. Does he bark and cry the whole time you’re gone, do you think? Most dogs that are anxious when left in the crate are even more anxious and destructive when left out of the crate. Do you have any puzzle-type toys you can leave for him filled with peanut butter or treats? When you exercise him, how much exercise are we talking about? You might want to consider a dog backpack to burn more energy and give him a “job” which can decrease anxiety. Also working on general obedience training and trick training can help. I’m sorry, I wish there was a quick fix!

  2. My dog hates being left alone and looks so sad when I leave him in his crate. Do you think he will be happier out of his crate? He is over all a very happy dog though (golden retriever).

  3. Hello. I just got a Dogo Argentino puppy. He is 9 weeks old. I work full time, as does my wife. She puts him in his crate when she leaves for work and comes home at lunch to let him out for a bit and then back in when she leaves. I am having a hard time with this because I feel like he feels abandoned. It tears my heart to pieces to hear him scream and cry, but I’m trying to be strong while he is in this crucial time. I want to get him to the point where he can relax in the house and sleep in his crate when he wants to. I know I’ve got a long and frustrating road ahead of me. I just want him to be a happy and healthy dog. Any advice would be great.

    • Since he is still so young we recommend keeping him in the crate. It will take time but the more you can make his crate a safe and happy place the more comfortable he will be. Practice crating him when you are at home so he can see it is a safe space. A few treats might help too 🙂

  4. My dog has a bad breakaway from me. She sleeps in the crate by my bed. I keep the crate in the livingrm open during day she is also free to roam when Im home. WHEN I go out She barks and cries really bad. I put her in her crate .she is 2 yrs old. I can never leave my house with family. Its cauzing friction at home

  5. Hi there,
    I rescued a dog from the Humane Society (2 years ago now; he is 3 years old currently) and when we first brought him home, we worked on crate training and it went well (with some persistence). At this time, he doesn’t mind going in his crate and will sleep in it even when we are home and he needs a nap. I would love to start leaving him out but I am hesitant that this change will make him think we aren’t coming home? He seems to know now that when he’s in his crate, it always means we are coming home so I don’t want to undo that by leaving him out and causing a repeat of anxiety. Any thoughts would be appreciated! 🙂

  6. Sophie rescued us four years ago when she was two. She was never crated. She was blocked from the hallway leading to a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom on one side of the house (I didn’t want her getting into toilet water. The bathroom door is usually left open.) She was, and to some extent still is, an anxiety doggie. But she has never had an accident that was not my fault. Bad mommy :>( She gnawed on one side of a pair of fuzzy socks and one side of a pair of fuzzy slippers only once each. I explained they were not hers and that it was bad, and she never did it again. Never had to hide anything from her or keep anything from her. When she gets scared (thunder and lightning or house guests) she crawls under a chair that has about nine inches of space until we get home. It’s been about two years now since I noticed that I don’t remember to close off the hallway. She likes to be able to patrol her whole house now, very proudly with her tail at high mast. Unconditional love and consistency because I am certainly no trainer. Being certain that I said “no” for unwanted behavior and good girl for everything else is the best I could do. Truly believing that your baby is smart no matter how they behave gives them confidence. Talk to them, especially when they notice something. She sees a squirrel climbing up a tree, “Squirrel is climbing up the tree. Hi squirrel.” She seems to like that. Just like children. :>) I also find that being calm yourself, helps.

  7. Hi!
    We have had out dog since she way 10 weeks and she will be 1 year in 20 days.
    She has always been crate trained & we never had issues before leaving for vacation (2 weeks) end of April.
    She was “puppysitted” by close friends who left her in her cage as usual except for a couple of days where she’s been able to go to work with them.
    Since we came back, she go back to her regular schedule & is OK being in the cage during the night however she always wines when put in her cage in the morning. + she not grunts when pulled out of under the bed/sofa (where she hides when she doesn’t want to go in her cage…
    Her relationship with her cage has always been positive & we never had issued before. She doesn’t pee in the cage during the day but she messes around with her pillow and blanket & makes a huge mess pretty much everyday now..
    HELP?

    • Hi Karen,
      Give her time to get adjusted again. It sounds like she is afraid that the cage means you will be leaving again for an extended time. Have her do some cage time while you are still in the house so she will be comfortable and know you aren’t always leaving when it is time to go to her space.

  8. Hi Hannah,

    We have always left our dog alone since he was 8-9 weeks old starting in a crate and now we leave him in the kitchen with a child gate and he has always been fine with this. He is 18 months old and in the past few months seems to be displaying signs of separation anxiety. He tends to rip up his bed during the day although we give him plenty of exercise and he has a dog walker that comes in during the day. This morning he started howling before I left the house which he has never done before. I am considering giving him more freedom of the downstairs to our house as I think this might make him feel more relaxed. What do you think?

    • Hi Harriet,
      Have you tried moving him to a new area before giving him more freedom? It sounds like he no longer is comfortable in the kitchen so it could be beneficial to try a new place!

  9. Hi !

    We just got a 14 week old Morkie Poo and I am having some trouble. Instead of getting a crate, we set up a gated playpen area with wee wee pads, toys, and a soft dog bed in the area. We only play with our dog inside the play pen, but sometimes we let him out of the gate to roam around the house. But, when we get out of the play pen after playing with him, he starts whining and crying, and pawing at the gate, I think he’s asking to be let out since we have let him out to roam the house before. Or is he asking to have more play time ? How much daily play time should we be giving our puppy at 14 weeks ? We are thinking of starting walks, but he hasn’t gotten his second set of vaccines so we want to wait until then. I feel like he’s either asking for unnecessary attention, in which case, we ignore him until he naps, OR he really needs more play time but we’re not sure ! Also, should we start using a crate with him ? We noticed that he loves squeezing into the corners of the play pen to nap and sleep. Any help would be greatly appreciated !!!!

  10. Hi.

    I have a 7 month old German Shepherd puppy who has recently started chewing things at night when I’m sleeping. She is crated during the day while I’m at work, but I let her sleep in the bed with me at night. I would like to know what should I do to get her to stop being destructive at night when I’m sleeping. Literally any help at this point would be amazing.

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