How to Train Your Dog to Not Bark When Left Alone

Hard
1-6 Months
Behavior

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...

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. 

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

The Desensitize Method

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Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
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The What NOT to Do Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
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The Set Up Right Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Vinnie
Chihuahua
1 Year
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Question
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Vinnie
Chihuahua
1 Year

Hi.
I’m really having a hard time with my dog.
His barking and howling when left alone is bad. When at home I leave the house for 20 mins up to an hour and watch him on the camera and he seems be okay. But sometimes I’ll leave him for an hour to pop out and he will continue to bark and howl. I really don’t know what to do please help

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Willow
Mix
7 Months
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Question
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Willow
Mix
7 Months

Our dog is not one to bark hardly ever. She will be 8 months this month, and we’ve barely heard a bark come out of her mouth. Our neighbors informed us that for the last couple of days shortly after we leave, she barks for quite awhile. She got spayed a month ago so was needing to be very chill for 2 weeks while she healed, and then my husband and I got covid so we were home for 2 weeks with her 24/7. She is normally in her kennel for half of a day while we’re at work, so I’m sure if she is just off her routine and she’s confused. I wasn’t sure what to do about that as I don’t want her to cause a disturbance.
Thank you, God bless!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brittany, I would work on making the crate more fun and increasing pup's independence again. To make the crate more fun, check out the Surprise method from the article linked below. Practice the treat rewards while she is crated and you are more - even if that's just an hour each evening and hour long sessions, with long breaks in between on the weekend. If pup doesn't bark in the crate at all while you are home (which is sounds like she may not), still reward periodically for staying quiet for a while. Whenever you leave for longer periods of time, give pup a dog food stuffed kong or similar durable toy, to focus on and chew on - giving pup the task of getting the food out can help take her mind off why she is barking. If she tends to get the food out quickly, you can make frozen ones that last longer. Place pup's food in a bowl with water the night before. Let the food turn to mush, poke a straw through the Kong's holes, loosely stuff the mush around the straw, freeze the entire thing, then remove the straw and give it to her. Add a bit of peanut butter or liver paste to the mush if she needs help being interested in it - don't pack it tightly or she won't be able to get it out. You can make several of these ahead of time to have on hand. Just subtract the food in the kong from her daily kibble amount, to avoid overfeeding. For building independence, I recommend teaching Place and a distance Down Stay, as well as having pup practice Place inside the crate with the door open while you are home. Work up to pup being able to stay on Place for one hour, while you go about your business - leaving and re-entering the room she is in, without her being allowed to get off Place to follow you. A structured heel is also a good way to challenge pup mentally while exercising, to help with any nervous energy that needs to be gotten rid of. Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Finally, keep good byes extremely boring or non-existent. You don't want to build up anticipation of you leaving. When you return, ignore pup for ten minutes before letting her out of the crate if she isn't desperate to go potty. You want pup to expect your arrivals to be very boring too, so that she doesn't build up emotions in anticipation of when you will arrive home. Let pup out of her crate calmly, closing the door again if she tries to rush out, until she is waiting patiently, then allow her to come all the way out. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Baron
Rottweiler
9 Months
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Baron
Rottweiler
9 Months

He is very stubborn and he always jumps on people, he sometimes does not listen, he always barks when he is left alone, and he always tangles and bites the leash when we walk him

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
93 Dog owners recommended

Hello, you have an energetic dog who will get big and strong - and maybe even more stubborn. But that is okay, he is highly trainable and loves to learn. You have a few things to work on but that is to be expected with any young dog. Baron is the perfect age for obedience training. I would suggest you sign up for classes as soon as possible to socialize Baron to both dogs and people. At training classes, you will learn all you need to know to handle your dog as he gets bigger. Rottweilers are smart and come from a working lineage, so he'll need plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Buy him interactive toys and feeders, play fetch in the backyard, take him to dog parks with agility equipment or build him small obstacles at home. Before you start classes, work on his obedience at home: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-dog-basic-obedience. For his listening skills: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you and for heeling so he walks nicely on the leash: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. Good luck and all the best to Baron!

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Question
Bandit
cross
6 Months
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Bandit
cross
6 Months

Ban it is a rescue dog , she sleeps happily all night in the crate . We have a stair gate , she is nott allowed up stairs , but even when we are sitting with her she is obsessed at trying to get up there .my cats go upstairs .
She is barking and trying to vault over the gate .

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
93 Dog owners recommended

Hello, it sounds as though Bandit really wants to meet the cats. Are you worried that there will be an issue? Has she met the cats yet? You can try the Conditioning Method here: https://wagwalking.com/training/ignore-cats. Just be sure that your cat is not terrified and also that Bandit is not showing that she wants to harm the cats. It's all new and exciting to her - no doubt after a little conditioning, she will start to find the cats to be ordinary housemates. As well, when Bandit starts to show interest in the cats you can distract her with a toy, such as an interactive puzzle toy with a treat reward that may prove more interesting than the cats. But eventually, they will have to meet and get along. You can work on her basic commands, including sit and a long down stay. Perfect that, and she will stay in her spot while she meets the cats. She looks pretty clever - I imagine she will enjoy training and do well! https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-pitbull-puppy-basic-commands. Good luck and have fun!

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Tilly
Shih Tzu
4 Years
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Question
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Tilly
Shih Tzu
4 Years

We live in a camper in a campground. The only time she barks is when we have to leave her home alone. The people who live in the camper next door says when we leave she starts barking and won't stop until we return. How do we stop her from doing this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Andy, First, pup needs to be crate trained to help build independence. Check out the Surprise method from the article linked below and work on that method to get her used to you being out of the room while she is crated. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate She also needs to build her independence and her confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into her routine if you haven't already done so. Things such as making her work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets by obeying a command like Sit first. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching her to remain inside a crate when the door is open as well as closed. Give her something to do in the crate or on Place during the day while you are out of the room (such as a dog food stuffed Kong to chew on). Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ If doing the above is not sufficient, I recommend doing the below in addition to it, as needed. Purchase a Pet convincer. DO NOT use a citronella spray, make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh and the smell lingers a long time so the dog continues to be corrected even after they stop the behavior). Next, set up a camera to spy on her. 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 her but she 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. Set up your camera to spy on her while she is in the crate and leave. Spy on her from outside or another room - whatever normally triggers the barking. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear her crying or see her start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, quietly return, spray a small puff of air from the pet convincer at her side through the crate wires, without opening the door, then leave again. Every time she barks or tries to get out of the crate, correct, then leave again. After five minutes to ten minutes of practice, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back into the room where she is and sprinkle several treats into the crate without saying anything, then leave again. Practice correcting when she barks or tries to escape, going back inside and sprinkling treats when she stays quiet, for up to 30 minutes a session at first. After 30 minutes -1 hour of practicing this, while she is quiet, go back into the room and sprinkle more treats. This time stay in the room. Do not speak to her or pay attention to her for ten minutes while you walk around and get stuff done inside. When she is being calm, then you can let her out of the crate. When you let her out, open and close the door again whenever she tries to rush out, until she will wait in the crate with the door open. Once she is waiting calmly, tell her "Okay" or "Free!" and let her come out. You want her to be calm when she comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home - so that she isn't building up those emotions habitually anticipating your arrival home each time. That is why you need to ignore her when you get home right away also. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Also, for longer alone times give her a food stuffed Kong into the crate/room with her. Once she is less anxious she will likely enjoy it even if she didn't pay any attention to it in the past, and that will help her to enjoy alone time more. First, she may need her anxious state of mind interrupted so that she is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give her a food stuffed Kong in the crate for her to relieve her boredom instead of barking, since she will need something other than barking to do at that point. Regularly practice her staying on Place and in the open crate while you are home and leave the room as well. Finally, teach pup the Quiet command to make communication with her clearer. Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark When you are home, also make sure you are exercising her both mentally and physically - regularly teaching and practicing obedience commands or tricks, and incorporating those commands into her day is one way to stimulate mentally - such as practicing heel, sit, and down during a walk or game of fetch, having pup do a command before giving her something she wants, and feeding meals in dog food stuffed chew toys or or things like automatic treat dispensing devices like autotrainer or pet tutor, or kong wobbles. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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