Where I live there are some regulations about leaving your pet alone. I don't know the details but I guess it is ok to leave a dog alone for a couple of hours, while fishes probably can be left alone for days as long as they are fed.

Anyway, I rarely leave my dog alone for more than an hour so it is not a problem anyway but I was thinking about the purposes behind this legislation and for dogs it is quite simple, they need to take a walk every few hours and they are pack animals that don't like to be left alone.

BUT, every night when I sleep I leave the dog "alone" for 8-9 hours. Obviously this is fine because the dog mostly sleeps during the night anyway and, here is my question: does a dog who wakes up in the middle of the night and realise that its human is in the house feel alone because there is no interaction between human and dog? Or is it satisfied by being able to smell and hear the human?

And a second question: the answer to my first question is quite obviously something like "most dogs are happy with being near a human during the night and don't need any direct interaction with the human to feel good" but that might be because dogs, like humans, sleep during the night. However, I frequently take a 3-4 hour nap during the day when my dog is supposed to be awake and active. Is this "cruel" to the dog? The (sound) idea behind the legislation I mentioned in the beginning is that dogs need company and stimulation and, if I sleep during the day, I obviously can't provide my dog with that.

(I can add that my dog usually sleeps on the floor next to my bed when I take my naps. It doesn't do anything the indicates it is sad, annoyed or something like that. It might look bored but that isn't really connected to me sleeping: it looks bored now when I write this question because I don't play with it or stimulate it in any other way. But that's a dog's life, I guess!)


1 Answer 1


Dogs, just like humans and other social animals, need a sound balance between:

  • Social interaction
  • Mental and physical stimulation
  • Rest.

At night the dog is obviously resting and sleeping. Dogs get used to schedules, so even if it wakes up, chances are high that it doesn't even expect you to interact with it because it's still time to sleep. Having you scent around also helps to relax the dog and reassure it of your presence.

Going on a walk, playing games or doing any kind of training is mental and physical stimulation. On walks the dog sniffs around, during play and training it either learns or remembers the rules, reads your body language and reacts to the clues you give. It moves around and burns the excess energy that it has.

Social interaction are things like cuddling or following you around, watching you eat (you know, training as a Jedi to teleport the food into their mouth someday) or interacting with other pets.

The right balance between those 3 depends on the dog, its age, breed and intelligence.

Everything that does not involve interaction with someone can be categorized as rest. That includes all the times you are not present, sleep or otherwise ignore the dog (for example watching TV or working on the computer). As soon as the dog has all the rest it needs, the additional time is boredom. The dog would like to do something, but nothing presents itself.

This is the reason why many dogs develop problematic behavior if left alone for too long or not being mentally stimulated. They are bored, so they do whatever presents itself, including barking at everything, chewing everything, digging up the yard or garden or chasing their own shadow.

On the other hand, if you would interact, play and walk with your dog all day long without a break, you give it too much stimulation and too little rest. Dogs like that can actually have burn out (mostly happens to service dogs or herding dogs). Usually a dog shows you when it had enough and needs a rest.

To sum it up:

Does a dog who wakes up in the middle of the night [...] feel alone because there is no interaction between human and dog?

Probably no, because night time is sleeping time. A wild dog or wolf wouldn't wake its pack to have small talk in the middle of the night, either.

Is this "cruel" to the dog to take a 3-4 hour nap during the day when my dog is supposed to be awake and active?

If you balance this time of rest with the proper amount of social interaction and mental and physical stimulation, it's not cruel at all. Dogs are not machines that start up in the morning and power down in the evening. They do need short rests during the day as well. However, if you don't provide enough stimulation during the day, it is cruel indeed, regardless of whether you take a nap, are not at home or ignore your dog for any other reason.

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