A dog that is allowed to roam the streets on its own, particularly during the day when its owners are at work; a dog left alone in the house all day while its owners are at work. Also: latch-key dog, latch key dog.
Under the Control of Dogs act which was introduced originally to protect farm animals, owners are prohibited from allowing their animals to roam freely. But according to Pete Wedderburn, the law is widely ignored. So-called 'latchkey' dogs can be seen on almost every street.
"Why do I have to kill so many pet dogs?," Irish Independent, October 27, 2003
Dogs show great ingenuity in slipping out of a home or garden and there are also a growing number of 'latchkey dogs' animals left outside when the owner is at work.
David White, "A day in the life of a ... dog warden," The Evening Standard (London, England), March 10, 2003
Take smoke alarms. Some models are designed to alert owners when the batteries are getting weak by emitting constant high-pitched beeps.
''If one of those things goes off in the morning and beeps all day, that becomes a real problem for latch-key dogs or cats,'' said Guy Hodge, director of information for the Humane Society of the United States. ''It can cause physical and mental problems for the animal.
Bill Lohmann, "A dog's life in the age of electronics," United Press International, October 13, 1986
This phrase is a play on latchkey child (1944), a child who spends time alone at home after school because the adults of the household are still at work. The "latchkey" part comes from the fact that the child lets him- or herself into the house. Dogs are mostly incapable of operating door locks (although some have their own small doors that enable them to enter and leave the house at will), so the analogy is to the time spent alone and unsupervised. And, yes, there are latchkey cats (1986), although this phrase is not seen nearly as often as latchkey dog. The more general term is latchkey pet (1989).