Driving into your driveway, you thought you might have heard barking coming from your house. Now, as you put your things down and greet your little dog, who is beyond elated that you are home, you hear knocking on the front door you just closed and your heart sinks. You open the door, pushing your little dog back and preparing a stream of apologies and excuses. At the look in your angry, clearly sleep-deprived neighbor’s face, you know none of your excuses or apologies are going to work. As you close the door and stare into your little dog’s loving eyes you are faced with an impossible situation. Why does your little dog bark all the time you are gone, what can you do to stop her, and will you have to get rid of her?
If your little dog is barking when left alone it is likely that she is experiencing separation anxiety. All dogs experience some level of concern when separated from their family, and relief when they are reunited, but some dogs take this emotion to an unhealthy level. Small breeds bred to be constant companions and lap dogs may suffer particular anxiety when away from their person, while little dogs bred for work, like terriers and little hounds, may express their boredom with an empty house through barking at every sound, real or imagined, all day long.
Determining why your small dog is barking, whether mostly out of boredom or anxiety, and how pervasive the behavior is, can help in determining how best to address the problem. For dogs that are already causing a considerable disturbance and problem in your neighborhood, temporary solutions like doggy daycare may be necessary in the short term until your training goals are accomplished. If you are unsure of the extent of the problem, using a baby monitor or other video or audio monitoring device can help you understand more about your dog’s behavior while you are away.
Keep in mind throughout training that your dog is barking out of anxiety from being separated from you, or out of boredom because she does not have an enriching enough environment. It is unfair to feel angry at the dog for speaking out her unhappiness. Instead, work steadily to address your dog’s unhappiness.
Food replaces fear and anxiety in a dog’s mind with motivation and pleasure, so having food your dog likes is essential in this training. Many extremely anxious dogs will not be interested in their normal kibble, so have some more delectable treats available. New stimuli encourage dogs to think in new ways, so even if your dog already has a great selection of toys, some new toys, and especially food distributing, toys will be very useful in this training.
As a disclaimer, it is necessary to add that some dogs experience truly debilitating anxiety when left alone, and really may not be able to be taught not to bark while you are gone all day. If, after working with your dog extensively, she is still displaying the behavior, it may be necessary to consult with a behaviorist or consider a new home for her. Some dogs can be helped by a second dog, so fostering a second dog for a while may also be a last attempt to keep a very anxious dog if you must leave her alone.