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How to Train Your Dog to Not Bark When Left Alone

How to Train Your Dog to Not Bark When Left Alone
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon1-6 Months
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

When you walked around the local shelter, one particular dog stole your heart. You felt compelled to offer her a loving home. The early days with her new family went well. She is a delightful placid dog, who is loving and gentle and can generally do no wrong. However, a week or two into the adoption, your neighbors knock. 

When you are out, the rescue dog barks...and barks, and barks. Indeed, she barks so much that she's disturbing the neighbors. 

Shocked, you're unsure what to do. After all, the problem happens when you're not there, so other than stay home all the time, how do you retrain her behavior? 

Never fear, for this guide will show you how...

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Defining Tasks

Dogs bark for many different reasons when left alone. For some, it is a sign of a deep insecurity, called 'separation anxiety'. For others, they are bored and find an outlet for their energy in making lots of noise. Other dogs are highly territorial and hear noises outside and feel duty bound to defend the house against intruders. 

Training a dog not to bark when left alone, in part, depends on working out why the dog is barking, and then minimizing the risk of trigger factors starting the dog barking. 

A dog of any age can be retrained, so don't be disheartened if yours is an older dog. However, this isn't a behavior the dog is going to unlearn overnight, so be prepared for the long haul...it will be worth it in the end. 

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Getting Started

Barking is self-rewarding so it does take a while for a dog to unlearn the habit. However, most dogs, even the most determined barkers, can usually turn over a new leaf when you are patient and apply the methods consistently. 

To retrain the dog you will need: 

  • A quiet room or a covered crate
  • A fantastically tasty long-lasting treat that the dog gets when you go out
  • Treats to give as a reward when you return
  • Plenty of time and patience

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The Desensitize Method

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1

Understand the idea

When leaving the house, we give the dog lots of clues that we're going and therefore might be gone for some time. When the link between your departure routine and being left is broken, the dog is less likely to bark when you're gone as he will generally be calmer.

2

Prepare to go out

Chose a time when you aren't in a rush, and can spend time pretending to go out. Get ready as if to go out. Put the dog in his crate or the spot where he's supposed to rest in your absence. Speak to the dog in a calm but firm voice, telling him you'll be back soon.

3

Leave for a couple of minutes

Leave the house for a short time. Listen at the door and if the dog is not barking, re-enter. Praise the dog for being quiet and give him a treat.

4

If the dog is barking....

Wait to re-enter until a gap between barks. The idea is to reward his silence with your return, rather than the dog think his barking has summoned you. Most dogs will pause from barking from time to time, to stop and listen to see if anyone has taken notice. Take advantage of this brief lull if your dog is a determined barker.

5

Gradually extend the amount of time you are gone

As he learns barking isn't required because you do come back, gradually extend the time you are away before returning to praise him. You'll also find it helpful to use some of the strategies from the What Not to Do method while doing this.

The What NOT to Do Method

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Don't make a big thing of leaving

Don't plead with the dog before you go or spend time reassuring him that everything will be OK while your gone. This sends the wrong signals to the dog, that he is right to be anxious and bark. Instead, try to slip out when he's not looking so as to avoid him getting upset before you even leave.

2

Don't keep your departure routine the same

Think about how you prepare to go out: You put on a coat, then your shoes, pick up the car keys, and grab your bag. The dog notices this too and reads it that he's about to be left, which gets him worked up even though you're still there. Instead, vary your routine. Perhaps put your coat on half an hour before you go. Collect your stuff together but leave through a different door... anything you can do to make the departure less predictable.

3

Don't allow the dog the run of the house

A barking dog is liable to run from room to room, over sensitive to stimuli which are likely to make him bark. However, a barking dog has not earned the right to such freedom, and should be kept confined to one room. That space should preferably be a quiet room, away from noises that might disturb him.

4

Don't punish or shout at the dog

Never shout or punish the dog for barking. At best, he'll think you're joining in and it will encourage him. At worst, it will make him more anxious, which again will provoke him to bark more.

5

Don't rush things or get disheartened

Barking can be a deeply ingrained habit, so don't expect things to change right away. If necessary, take the pressure off yourself by explaining to neighbors you are in the process of retraining the dog and that you are aware the noise is a nuisance. When disturbed neighbors realize you are doing your best, they will usually be more tolerant.

The Set Up Right Method

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Understand the idea

Dogs bark for all sorts of reasons, such as they see someone walking by and bark to defend their territory, or bark because they are bored and want someone to take notice. This method focuses on addressing the triggers that can cause a dog to bark, and hence make noise less likely.

2

Plenty of exercise

Before leaving the dog alone for any length of time, make sure he is well-exercised until pleasantly tired and that his bladder and bowel are empty. A dog with energy to burn or one with a full bladder is much more likely to bark.

3

Calm and quiet environment

Choose the quietest room in the house as the dog's home base, in which to wait for your return. This is so that there is less stimulation from noises in the street, which could disturb the dog and make him bark. Consider strategies such as drawing the curtains, to make the room dark and peaceful.

4

White noise

It can also be helpful to leave a radio on low volume, to act as white noise to blur the sounds from outside.

5

The 'Only-When-I'm-Gone' treat

Prepare an ultra-tasty, very distracting treat for the dog. This could be a puzzle feeder full of wet food that's been popped in the freezer, or a bone steeped in tasty meat gravy juices. The idea is to have something irresistible to draw the dog's attention when you go out. When you go out, give this to the dog. Not only will he be distracted, but he'll start to view his time alone as a good thing as super-tasty treats appear.

By Pippa Elliott

Published: 11/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Oscar

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Yorkiepoo

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6 Years

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Whenever I leave for work or errands, my dog just barks constantly. I just moved into a townhome and I don’t want my neighbors to hate me. I got a camera to watch him and I knew he barked but didn’t know it was that much

July 10, 2022

Oscar's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Kaelynn, There are a couple of routes you can take with the separation anxiety, depending on how pup responds and the severity of it. There is also something called separation boredom, which is not really anxiety but rather boredom based. Giving pup things to do, like dog food stuffed kongs, can help with boredom based issues. For anxiety, the first step is to work on building his independence and his confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into his routine. Things such as making him work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching him to remain inside a crate when the door is open. Change your routine surrounding leaving so that he does not anticipate alone time and build up his anxiety before you leave - which is hard for him to deescalate from, and be sure to continue to give him something to do in the crate during the day (such as a dog food stuffed Kong to chew on). Also, practice the Surprise method from the article I have linked below. If pup does fine out of the crate and the case is mild, you can do this in a dog proofed room instead of crate, but if pup is destructive when left alone or has potty accidents, pup is probably being given freedom out of the crate too soon, and needs to be crated while you are away until he is past that destructive phase around 18 months; this is the general protocol for separation anxiety. It is gentle but can take a very long time on its own for some dogs with more severe cases. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Another protocol involves teaching the dog to cope with their own anxiety by making their current anxious go-to behaviors unpleasant, giving them an opportunity to stop those behaviors long enough to learn something new, then rewarding the correct, calmer behavior instead. This protocol can feel harsh because it involves careful correction, but it tends to work much quicker for many dogs. If you go this route, I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced using both positive reinforcement and fair correction. Who is extremely knowledgeable about e-collar training, and can follow the protocol listed below, to help you implement the training. Building his independence and structure in his life will still be an important part of this protocol too. First, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3j882MAYDU Second, you will need an interrupter, such as an electronic collar, e-collar, with a wide range of levels. I recommend purchasing only high quality brands though. For example, E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator or Garmin Delta Sport or Dogtra for this. If you are not comfortable with an e-collar then you can use a vibration collar (the Mini Educator and Garmin should also have a vibration mode) or unscented air remote controlled air spray collar. DO NOT use a citronella collar, buy the additional unscented air canister if the collar comes with the citronella and make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh and the smell - punisher lingers a long time so the dog continues to be corrected even after they stop the behavior). The vibration or spray collars are less likely to work than stimulation e-collars though, so you may end up spending more money by not purchasing an e-collar first. The Mini Educator has very low levels of stimulation, that can be tailored specifically to your dog. It also has vibration and beep tones that you can try using first, without having to buy additional tools. Next, set up a camera to spy on him. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. Next, put the e-collar on him while he is outside of the crate, standing, and relaxed. Turn it to it's lowest level and push the stimulation button twice. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours or days if you can (take it off at night to sleep though). Next, set up your camera to spy on him while he is in the crate. Put him into the crate while he is wearing the collar and leave. Spy on him from outside. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear him barking or see him start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, push the stimulation button once. Every time he barks or tries to get out of the crate, stimulate him again. If he does not decrease his barking or escape attempts at least a little bit after being stimulated seven times in a row, then increase the stimulation level by one level. He may not feel the stimulation while excited so might need it just slightly higher. Do not go higher than three more levels on the mini-educator or two more levels on another collar with less levels right now though because he has not learned what he is supposed to be doing yet. For example, if his level is 13 out of 100 levels on the Mini Educator, don't go past level 16 right now. The level you end up using on him on the mini educator collar will probably be low to medium, within the first forty levels of the one-hundred to one-hundred-and-twenty-five levels, depending on the model you purchase. If it is not, then have a professional evaluate whether you have the correct "working level" for him. If he continues to ignore the collar, then go up one more stimulation level and if that does not work, make sure that the collar is turned on, fitted correctly, and working. After five minutes to ten minutes, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back inside to the dog, sprinkle several treats into the crate without saying anything, then leave again. Practice correcting him from outside when he barks or tries to escape, going back inside and sprinkling treats when he stays quiet, for up to 30 minutes at first. After 30 minutes -1 hour of practicing this, when he is quiet, go back inside and sprinkle more treats. This time stay inside. Do not speak to him or pay attention to him for ten minutes while you walk around and get stuff done inside. When he is being calm, then you can let him out of the crate. When you let him out, do it the way Jeff does is in this video below. Opening and closing the door until your dog is not rushing out. You want him to be calm when he comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home. That is why you need to ignore him when you get home right away. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Put a food stuffed Kong into the crate with him also. He may not want it right now, but once he is less anxious after training he will likely enjoy it and that will help him to enjoy the crate more, especially since he is so food motivated. First, he may need his anxious state of mind interrupted so that he is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give him a food stuffed Kong in the crate for him to relieve his boredom instead of barking, since he will need something other than barking to do at that point. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 11, 2022

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Orca

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Border Collie

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2 Years

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She ALWAYS barks at the door OR if we hug. It makes me quite anxious when she will continually barks. I also think that she seems scary to the people who knock on our door, as she jumps up on the gate and growls and barks. I need some help!

July 6, 2022

Orca's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Lucy, It sounds like pup may be acting possessive of you, which is a form of resource guarding people from others, like not wanting another person to go near a favorite toy - but instead it's people they are keeping others away from. I highly recommend working with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression and resource guarding in person for this issue. Look for a trainer who comes well recommended by their previous clients for working with aggression cases. I would also desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle for safety, or use a back tie leash so pup couldn't reach a person during these times. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s This process typically involves things like gently building pup's overall respect, trust, and listening with you both so that pup doesn't think they own you and so that their behavior is easier to manage and so that they feel more secure and can defer to your leadership when in situations that make them uncomfortable. Check out the article linked below for some ways to do build those things, but I recommend only starting those things under the guidance of your trainer because they will need to be done carefully and sometimes modified or certain safety measures added, to avoid a potential bite. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you It also tends to involve gradually desensitizing pup to people, in this case you and the other person touching each other, one person at a time, with safety measures like a back tie leash or basket muzzle in place (introduced gradually ahead of time using treats so it's not just associated with the training and stressful), starting with you being further away from pup and with less contact between you and the other person, progressing to more contact as pup improves. The training can sometimes also involve interrupting pup's aroused state, but that should only be done under the guidance of the trainer and with proper safety measures in place, because with any aggression there is always the risk of the dog redirecting their aggression to whoever is closest when stressed. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 7, 2022


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