German Shepherd dogs are people dogs. This is why people love them so much! But this also presents some challenges if you have to work out of the home or be away for other reasons during the day.
Of course, you don’t want to leave your GSD alone. But until we live in a world where dogs can go everywhere people can go, we are stuck with doing the next best thing – finding ways to make sure our German Shepherds are comfortable and calm while we are gone.
In this article, find out exactly what to do with German Shepherd while at work. Learn tips to keep your dog content and even discover creative ways you can interact remotely!
The German Shepherd Is a Sensitive Dog Breed
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), German Shepherd dogs are the second most popular companion canine in the country. That is out of nearly 200 registered purebred breeds of dog!
But as the AKC points out, the GSD will become very bonded to you right away. From day one when you bring your new German Shepherd puppy or rescue dog home, you can expect your dog to want to be where you are, doing whatever you are doing.
This is also the nature of choosing a dog breed with a strong innate drive to guard, herd, and protect. German Shepherds aren’t happy until they know everyone in the “herd” (even if that is just you) is safe and accounted for.
This means that a big part of the German Shepherd dog’s appeal is their sensitivity and awareness – this breed is extremely attuned to people!
So you need to know this going in – your dog will not do well if left all alone or even in the company of other dogs for hours at a time on a regular basis.
How Long Can You Safely Leave Your German Shepherd Dog Alone?
The amount of time you can safely leave your GSD alone is going to depend on these key factors:
- Prior history
- Presence of other pets
- Home safety
German Shepherd puppies, like all puppies, have very limited bladder capacity. They also have the greatest capacity to develop anxiety because they are coping with so many changes all at once.
So for a GSD puppy, you should not leave your dog along for more than two hours at a stretch unless it is night time (and they have already had their potty break for the night).
As your dog gets older (12 months or older) and bladder/bowel capacity is no longer an issue, a properly trained and socialized German Shepherd may be able to tolerate periods of up to four to six hours of alone time safely.
But it will be up to you to put those systems in place – otherwise, your GSD may develop separation anxiety (we will talk more about this in a later section here).
If your German Shepherd comes to you in puppyhood right from the litter, you will know everything about your dog’s past and history.
But let’s say you rescue a German Shepherd as an adult. You don’t always know what that dog has gone through before they came to you.
So here, prior history precedes age as the determining factor for how long your dog can be safely left alone.
Presence of other pets
If your family includes other pets, and your German Shepherd gets along well with those other pets, then it may be possible to leave your dog alone for long periods of time in their company.
While another pet or even another dog is not a substitute for you, other friendly animals can be a nice stand-in when you have to be away for longer periods of time.
However, if your German Shepherd is new to the family or does not get along with your other pets, or if any of your pets are more vulnerable “prey type” pets who cannot defend themselves, then leaving your GSD alone in their company is not a good idea.
Finally, you need to consider whether your home as it is now is safe for your German Shepherd. GSDs are very strong!
YouTube is full of owner stories about how anxious GSDs pulled down curtains, tore apart couches, ripped off crown molding, and even dug under fencing to escape.
Not only is this super stressful and potentially dangerous for your dog – but it is also super expensive for you to have to fix!
Now you can go through this checklist for yourself to evaluate how long you can safely leave your German Shepherd alone given your current situation and home setup.
Is Separation Anxiety a Problem in German Shepherd Dogs?
Earlier here you learned about how the German Shepherd dog breed is an innately more sensitive dog breed.
These dogs are so attuned to their people because they have been bred to be this way!
The bad news is that your German Shepherd may develop this condition even if you do your best to create a welcoming and comfortable home environment.
The good news is that you can definitely train your smart, attentive GSD to not go into “separation anxiety mode” when you have to be away.
This helpful YouTube video shows you how easy and fast it can be to help a GSD with separation anxiety start to feel calmer and better.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to a local dog trainer if you need help in this area because it can be very serious if left unaddressed.
On that note, this helpful checklist from All Shepherd German Shepherd Rescue Charity can help you figure out if what you are seeing in your dog is true separation anxiety.
So now what? Let’s talk about your options for helping your dog cope during times you have to be apart.
Tip 1: Provide Safe Haven with a Dog Den or Crate
The use of dog crates is one of the hands-down most controversial and hotly debated topics in the world of dog lovers.
But properly introduced, dog crates can be a useful way to help your German Shepherd feel safe and protected while you are away.
Dogs, like their wild wolf cousins, naturally seek out smaller, enclosed spaces to hide, rest, whelp and care for young. This is called “dog denning.”
A 2016 research study showed that free-range (aka feral) dogs also exhibit denning behavior. They prefer to den near people, of course, but here the important point is that they do den just like wolves.
So when you provide a smaller, enclosed, secure structure or den for your German Shepherd to retreat to, this can create a calmer and comfort for your dog when you are apart.
Tip 2: Tire Your German Shepherd Out Before You Depart
For this tip, consider how canine behavior experts recommend helping dogs deal with scary events like seasonal fireworks.
One of the most frequently mentioned tips for helping dogs overcome (or at least cope with) scary loud, bright fireworks is to tire them out before the fireworks are scheduled to begin.
As Forbes explains, this strategy treats fireworks like a noise phobia.
Any type of phobia takes energy. The more exhausted your dog is, the less energy they will have to invest into a phobia.
This same principle can work well when applied to be separated from you – a separation phobia.
If you can find time to take your German Shepherd on a long walk or run (provided your dog is old enough to do so safely) before you leave, you may find your GSD is more inclined to nap until you get back instead of dismembering the area rug.
For situations where you are not able to personally take your GSD for a long walk or have an extended play session to tire them out, why not hire a local dog walker or pet sitter to do this for you?
As a side perk, this also gives your dog another person to develop a relationship with to help ease any issues with being insecurely (and thus unsafely) attached to you. And it gives someone in your community who loves jobs and needs income a job to do.
Another option if your budget and location permits are to consider giving your German Shepherd the gift of doggie daycare once or twice a week.
This can be a great way to socialize a high energy GSD puppy or young adult dog and also help you learn more about how your dog behaves when you are not there.
Most daycare services will provide detailed notes to owners on a daily basis and some even provide live video camera feeds where owners can check in on their dogs during the day.
Tip 3: Provide High-Value Distractions for Your German Shepherd
Along the same lines as Tip 2 here, tip 3 taps into your German Shepherd’s high natural energy as a working dog breed and gives your pup a job to do while you are away.
German Shepherds do need a good amount of physical activity each day because these dogs were developed to work tirelessly for long hours daily herding and guarding livestock and, later, people as well.
This job may be to get the peanut butter out of a Kong toy or find the treats hidden in a sensory snuffle mat.
It may be to play with a sensory ball that emits lights or sounds. Some of these even allow you to record the sound of your own voice saying common commands.
Another creative idea to try is to play music composed specifically to appeal to dogs. For some dogs, this is very calming.
Some dog puzzles have levels of difficulty, such as to treat balls where you can change how and how often the treats are dispensed once your dog masters the basics.
Tip 4: Interact With Your German Shepherd Remotely With Technology
For GSD owners who are comfortable with modern technology, consider the new breed of remote interactive toys designed for owners and their pets.
A variety of these toys exist today. Most allow you to do basic things like scheduling times to dispense treats, record your voice, or speak to your dog live through a two-way remote microphone, video conference with your GSD, and more.
Many offer remote live video feeds of your dog at home so you can check in to see how your GSD is doing during the day.
While the use of this type of technology won’t be enough for a German Shepherd dog who is dealing with separation anxiety and it isn’t a substitute for exercise and face time with you, it can add spice and variety to your dog’s day when they are home alone.
You Know Best What Makes Your German Shepherd Dog Happiest
In addition to these tips, you can brainstorm a list of your GSD’s favorite things. What toys and treats do your dog love most? Be sure to include these in your dog’s “home alone” activity schedule.
Of course, if you are like so many German Shepherd owners, YOU are your dog’s favorite thing.
While you can’t always be there, you can leave something that smells like you that your dog can cuddle with while you are away. Just be sure your dog won’t eat your dirty socks or old shirt – safety trumps even comfort here.
What ideas do you have that work well to keep your German Shepherd active and occupied while you have to be out of the house? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments here.