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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...
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.
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
The Desensitize Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
It can also be helpful to leave a radio on low volume, to act as white noise to blur the sounds from outside.
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.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021