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It’s a common problem, but an annoying one: Your dog is well-behaved when you’re home. But as soon as you leave, they can’t stop making noise. Your dog has their reasons for acting out. Boredom, restlessness, fear, and separation anxiety are all common reasons that your dog might bark and whine while you’re gone. Wondering how to stop a dog from barking when they’re home alone? Try these tricks to distract or redirect their behavior from barking, courtesy of Mary Burch, Ph.D., Director of AKC Family Dog and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Make Sure They Get Exercise
Make sure you give your dogs enough exercise before you leave in the morning. Tired dogs are more likely to want a quiet rest time. If possible, have a dog walker come during the middle of the day to provide more exercise.
Try Toys and Canine Puzzles
There are a number of commercial and homemade products that give your dog something to do while you’re gone. You can stuff a hollow toy with a spreadable treat, like dog-safe peanut butter, and the dog will work to get the snack out. You can also hide dog treats in an interactive dog puzzle. Your dog may be too busy to bark, since they’ll be looking for their treats.
Turn on Familiar Sounds
For dogs who bark when owners are gone, trainers often suggest leaving the dog with some familiar sounds such as a radio or television. The idea is that these sounds resemble the household noises when the owner is present, which may reassure your dog.
Citronella collars spray a burst of citronella when the dog barks. Citronella is made from the oils of lemongrass, and it is often used in perfumes, candles, and incense. This collar is seen as a humane alternative to shock bark collars. There can be a problem when more than one dog is barking and the collar is sometimes hard to fit on very small dogs. Online reviewers report that some dogs learn to bark in tones and frequencies the collar does not detect.
Anti-Barking Devices (Non-Collar)
There are several anti-barking devices that do not involve collars. These devices detect barks and sends a high-pitched sound that only dogs can hear.
What to Do if Barking Continues
If you try these solutions and your dog’s barking continues, you might need to play detective and explore beyond the simplest solutions. Keep in mind that as the dog’s trainer (or animal behaviorist), finding the function of the behavior is important. Once you identify what triggers their barking, you can go about reducing or eliminating that trigger.
If you’re not able to stop a dog from barking, you also may want to take your dog to the vet. They will be able to identify (or rule out) any underlying health issues.
What About Separation Anxiety?
A study on dog separation anxiety confirmed that this a complex problem. “Remember that anxiety is a term that means your dog is sufficiently stressed that there will be some physiological signs that will be manifested by behaviors such as pacing, whining, panting or drooling,” Dr. Burch says.
She also adds that your smartphone can be a very useful tool for diagnosing the root of your dog’s behavior. Consider using a smartphone app like Barkio or Pet Monitor VIGI to observe your dog remotely, or a simple dog camera or monitor. By watching your dog’s behavior from afar, you’ll be able to see any signs of anxiety in your absence. You can also see if they bark when squirrels are in the yard, or if your dog gets destructive when they’re simply bored.
Separation anxiety can be a tough problem to treat — but these best practices from Dr. Burch can help you make inroads on the problem. Some of them are similar to the more general fixes for barking:
- Exercise your dog vigorously before you leave. This allows your dog to rest well in your absence.
- Leave “activities” to keep your dog occupied. Examples include a safe chew toy, or an interactive game where your dog works to get a treat out of a puzzle.
- Provide training while you’re home. Leave the dog for a few seconds, come back into the house, and reward them for quiet, calm behavior. Add a few seconds at a time. Although this process does work, it requires a lot of patience. It’s a good idea to avoid adding too much time at once, since that won’t work.
Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety problem, you may want to talk to your dog’s veterinarian. They may prescribe anti-anxiety medications for your dog that you’ll eventually phase out.
Recruiting a professional dog trainer can also help. Training an anxious dog isn’t always easy, and your dog is very clued in to your mood. Involving a professional makes it easier for you to stay calm and relaxed, which in turn helps your dog stay calm too.