Dogs are social creatures and love to spend time with their owners. But sometimes, you’ve noticed that your dog seems to want to be alone. So, what’s going on?
So, what does it mean when your dog wants to be alone? If your dog wants to be alone, it suggests something is wrong. The cause of unrest, however, can range. It could be a short-term and easily resolved issue like feeling overwhelmed in response to loud noises/music, or it could be more serious such as feeling intimidated by your behavior, illness, or injury.
As you can see, dogs will distance themselves as a means of self-preservation.
Of course, that can be under threat from various different sources in the environment, as we shall soon see.
It could be entirely under your control or in response to you, or it could be an external development that came out of the blue.
It could rarely happen, occasionally, or frequently too.
And the truth is, every dog is different from the next.
So, learning why your dog is choosing to be alone is essential.
Let us now continue to explore isolation in dogs and what you can do about it to bring them back into the family!
Why Is My Dog Distancing Himself from Me?
Your dog can distance itself from you for many reasons. He may need some time to themselves. Or he could be experiencing intense emotion, causing him to want to separate himself from you.
The world has become a vastly different place in the last few years. We all know why.
Nevertheless, more and more owners have needed to stay at home during extensive lockdowns.
In the beginning, it was likely a much more positive place.
But it has ultimately impacted schedules, rhythms, and the general tone and mood of the house. It is these things dogs are particularly fond of and astute too.
It’s no surprise that our dogs have often decided to take themselves off for some alone time.
A dog will approach you when they are ready to socialize, after all.
But why retreat, to begin with?
He may be distancing himself from you if he believes he’s in trouble with you or feels intimidated by you. His avoidance of you because of these feelings will be obvious.
He’ll keep to himself if you’re annoyed with him. Or he’ll retreat to a corner of the house if he feels you’ve been aggressive towards him or used big body movements.
Dogs are sensitive to their owner’s emotions.
They want you to be happy, especially with them and their behavior. Even if your annoyance is fleeting, your dog might not feel the same way.
The best way to combat this type of distancing is to be mindful of your tone around him.
And positive reinforcement will help as he’ll know he’s still loved and cared for.
Or it could just be because of something in the environment they are not content with; it could be loud noises, it could be shouting, or banging.
Worse still, it could be a sign of illness or injury, as we shall explore in the next section.
Is It Normal for Dogs To Want To Be Alone?
Dogs are social creatures by nature, so if your dog wants to spend a lot of time alone, it’s usually not a good sign. Especially if their need for time alone is new, that being said, a small amount of alone time every now and again is considered normal.
In the same way that certain people can get overloaded after socializing with others, so can dogs. They need time to recharge their social batteries.
And this is far more likely with our increased time spent at home and all the shenanigans we get up to during this time.
There’s something to consider here.
Dogs love structure.
To the point where disrupting it can cause your dog to become more anxious and depressed.
Depression may occur if there’s been an event like another pet passing away or even a new addition to the family.
If you feel your dog is feeling low, make sure to give them some more love and affection. And consider bringing him to the vet if this depressive episode lasts a while.
Even though it might seem like depression, it could be because of another illness or injury. If your dog is ill or injured, he might conserve his energy to heal quicker.
Hiding is one way of doing so as it lessens the energy required to engage with others.
Other common signs of illness or injury include a lack of appetite and being generally quieter.
Illnesses such as heart disease or respiratory conditions can display subtly at first.
The heart becomes under pressure which results in reduced oxygen intake. So, your dog’s body will compensate by saving precious energy.
If your dog is in pain because of an injury or illness, he will also exhibit the same behaviors mentioned above.
Pain because of an injury can be easy to tell if he’s not as active as he was before.
He might not want to play with you. Or becomes reluctant to jump down from a height (if the pain is originating from their joints, for example).
If you think this is the cause, visiting the vet is the best option to figure out the root cause of this behavior.
A change in your dog’s diet can be an additional reason for their reclusive behavior.
It doesn’t mean the food you provide them is causing an upset. It could be access to new foods, or he’s starting to eat too much or too little.
What Do Dogs Do When They Want to Be Alone?
When a dog wants to be alone, they’ll tell you in their own way. Some dogs will retreat to a quiet place in the house. Others will react to your affection and presence.
As mentioned before, each dog has their own personality where one dog is happy to be in your presence all the time; another needs alone time to nap or play by themselves.
If you find your dog is happy taking a break from everyone in the house, then it’s important to give him this space and time. He’ll look for you when he’s ready for attention.
More active signs that your dog wants to be alone include snapping at you when you’re trying to engage them.
Acting agitated or disinterested when you’re trying to pet them is common too.
Some dogs will show their disinterest by walking away. And others will vocalize with a growl or bark, telling you to give them space.
But, if this behavior becomes normal or worsens, consult a vet to see if there’s something else going on.
Whereas before, he might have been bouncing for a walk, he’ll show his need for alone time by refusing their walk.
Scratching At The Door
If he’s scratching at the back door to get out without wanting you to join him, don’t take offense.
This is his way of getting some needed respite.
Unable To Settle
Dogs prone to stress and anxiety can get to the stage where they need alone time to decompress.
An anxious dog will be unable to settle or develop repetitive behaviors.
Repetitive behaviors include excessive licking of their legs or surrounding cushions.
It’s important to remember that a changing routine can trigger these behaviors.
Dogs, like humans, can get overwhelmed, and having you in the house more can upset their rhythm.
Giving your dog the space he needs to be alone is okay for small periods of time.
If it’s becoming a regular habit or the time spent alone increases, it’s time to go to your vet to get him checked out.
What Do Dogs Do When They Are On Their Own
How a dog behaves when he’s alone depends on his personality and needs at the time. He may need time to recharge, so he will nap. Or he wants to play with a favorite toy in a quiet place.
As with humans, what dogs do in their free alone time depends on what they want to do.
They May Nap
Many dogs become overwhelmed with too much contact that they need to recharge.
They’re used to long periods of quiet time while their household is out of the house.
If this changes, the increased activity can overwhelm them. So, they’ll resort to napping away from everyone.
They may retreat to their comforting crate or a quiet spot in the house.
They May Play
It’s not unusual for a dog to have comfort items either like a favorite chew toy.
Retreating to a quiet corner to play with their chew toy is another thing your dog might do when he’s alone.
You might see this more in anxious dogs, as is like humans. When humans need to decompress, they might retreat with a comfort item like a teddy.
And dogs are no different.
They May Be Destructive
However, sometimes dogs left alone can be destructive. So, it’s a good idea to regularly check on them to make sure they’re still behaving.
It would be worth clearing their space area of shoes, pillows, and any exposed wiring for your peace of mind.
How Long Should a Dog Be By Itself?
A dog should only be left by itself as long as it is safe, content, and has access to everything they need. Generally, a young pup should not be left for long at all (1-2 hours max), whereas older dogs can generally be left longer (4 hours +).
It can be hard to judge how long to leave your dog by himself.
There can be a very small difference between a healthy amount and too long.
So, keeping an eye on your dog’s behavior will be key in finding the right amount for your dog.
That’s because there really is no set amount of time you can, or should, leave your dog alone.
It will differ day by day and is very context-specific.
Nonetheless, it is possible to use guidelines to give you a brief overview of what is typically safe and to do this by the dog’s age:
- If he’s under five months old, he shouldn’t be alone for more than a couple of hours.
- Over five months old (all the way to full maturity) is okay to leave them up to 4 hours at any one time.
Most dogs will engage with their owners when they’re ready. Or will do so when they’re hungry, thirsty, or needing to go out.
As we know, dogs are social creatures, so they do need at least 2 hours daily of your time.
You can spread this out across the day, but this interaction is important for their well-being.
It ultimately comes down to your best judgment. If your dog is happy and healthy, their alone time is okay.
But, if their behavior has recently changed and is lasting, it’s time to go to the vet to be on the safe side.
Dogs love company, so it can be worrisome when they want to be alone. Especially if they spend a lot of time in another room.
But although it’s unusual, it doesn’t always mean it’s a worrying sign.
A change of circumstance can cause your dog to need some solo recharge time.
But, if this alone time increases and other behavioral changes develop, you’re going to want to look into it.
Dogs do tend to retreat when they are sick. This is very much an adaptive evolutionary behavior that served dogs when they were wild animals. In doing so, retreating enabled dogs to safely recuperate and avoid danger.
Older dogs tend to prefer or resort to retreating behavior. This is often because they have lower energy levels which they want to restore; they are more susceptible to stimuli in their environment, causing them stress or anxiety and an increased likelihood of pain and injury.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.