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How to stop a dog barking when they’re left alone

Leaving your furry friend at home can lead to continuous barking, a sign of canine separation anxiety. Understanding the root causes is key to resolving this issue. Explore the whys, hows, and potential solutions in this guide to keep your dog calm and quiet during your absences.

Reasons for Dog Barking

Before addressing the barking issue, it’s crucial to understand the reasons behind your dog’s vocalisations. Dogs are social animals and barking is an important form of communication, can stem from various motivations, including:

  • Lack of Stimulation: Dogs are intelligent and social creatures that require mental and physical activities. If they’re under-stimulated, barking can become a secondary occupation.
  • Separation Anxiety: When left alone, some dogs experience intense anxiety, leading to destructive behaviour and, you guessed it, incessant barking.
    For more information on this condition, do check out our article on what is separation anxiety in dogs!
  • Frustration: If your departure marks the end of a fun game or a day at the park, your pet might express its frustration through a series of loud barks.
  • Boredom: A bored dog is a creative dog, a maxim that can manifest in the form of barking, especially when left to their own devices for extended periods.
  • Fear and Uncertainty: Dogs may bark to scare away perceived threats or intruders.
  • Attention Seeking: Some dogs bark to gain attention from their owners or to communicate their needs.
  • Alarm or Alert: Barking can serve as a warning signal to alert their owners of potential dangers or unusual activities.
  • Excitement Dogs may bark when they are excited, such as during playtime or when anticipating a walk.
Images showing the different root causes that can result in dogs barking when left alone such as separation anxiety, boredom or lack of stimulation etc.

Understanding dog behaviour

Understanding behaviours and linking them to a specific root cause serves as an initial step, and this requires a fundamental understanding of dog body language. 

Image showing the different body language when dogs are happy, relaxed, alert, stressed or assertive. These helps dog owners understand their dog behaviour better.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge the uniqueness of each dog, influenced by individual histories and varying behaviours even in similar contexts. Owners should view the provided guidelines as a flexible reference to assess dog barking rather than a rigid checklist. 

Professionals, with their extensive experience in interpreting dog body language, can provide more accurate assessments based on their past encounters with a variety of dogs. Therefore, consulting a professional is advised if you’re unsure about the root cause of the barking behaviour.

Given this foundation, we can transition to the subsequent section to explore potential assessments for identifying the source of your dog’s barking accurately.

Figuring out what causes the barking behaviour

Before putting on your behaviour change cap, we should undertake a few preliminary checks that can help pinpoint the triggers of your dog’s excessive barking.

Image showing an engineer looking into a microscope. This is an analogy to inspecting and investigating the root cause of your dog's barking behaviour.
  • Increasing Stimulation: A sufficiently stimulated dog that receives enough exercise and play is unlikely to bark excessively if the root cause of the bark was under-stimulation. Providing a variety of chew toys can help to reduce boredom barking.
  • Check if it Could be Separation-related: Observe if your dog barks only when you’re away from home. If this is the case, it may indicate a separation anxiety-related issue.
  • Remove the Trigger: If it’s a specific trigger that you suspect your dog is reacting to, try removing the trigger from its environment. 
  • Chew Time: Providing a variety of chew toys can help to reduce boredom barking.
  • Assess for Fear: Observe your dog’s reactions to passersby. If barking occurs only when people walk by, your dog may be fearful of strangers and is barking in attempts to remove the ‘threat’.
  • Assessing Attention-Seeking: To determine if the barking is for attention, check if your dog’s basic needs are fulfilled first. If they are, observe if the barking persists if you ignore it or walk away.
  • Excitement: Monitor the arousal state of your dog and see if the bark only arises during highly arousing situations. If yes, the trigger for the bark could be due to excitement or anticipation of an exciting event, such as a walk.

By understanding and understanding these specific reasons for barking, you can document the scenarios that results in barking. This would help you or an animal behaviourist narrow down the explicit root cause that is resulting in excessive barking and craft tailored programs to help the dog stop barking.

Do note that this is the initial diagnostic phase. If you’re unable to assess the root cause, it is highly recommended that you engage a professional behaviourist that could offer a more sophisticated set of tools to evaluate the situation.

Planning and Implementing Mitigation Strategies

Identifying the root cause is key. Tailoring a plan, like a training routine for separation anxiety or providing interactive toys to address boredom, can greatly help your dog. Protocols for barking issues are customised based on history and context, and treatment can range from simple to complex, depending on the cause. Some specific strategies to address barking are detailed below.

Lack of Stimulation

For example, if the motivation for barking has been determined to be solely due to a lack of stimulation, then the next step would be to identify what are the activities that can be performed that would increase stimulation for the dog and provide the dog with enough exercise. 

Image showing the one dog playing puzzle games and another dog chasing after a ball. This represents mental and physical stimulation required by dogs accordingly.

It is important that the solution suits the owner’s lifestyle. If the owner lacks time but has sufficient cash flow, they can opt for doggy daycare, providing ample playtime and socialisation for their dog. This setting allows the dog to expend energy and gain stimulation. If the dog suffers from dog reactivity issues, they could hire dog walker to provide physical and sensory stimulation outdoors.

On the other hand, if the owner has time but prefers to allocate resources differently, they can engage in stimulating activities with their dog daily. This could involve long hikes, beach or pool visits for swimming, or dog runs for social interaction.

As you can see, even though the root cause is the same, the solution is unique to the person and their dog.

Separation Anxiety

In some cases, your behaviourist might diagnose your dog with separation anxiety – a condition that is relatively more severe. For these cases, careful analysis specific to the dog would be required. These includes assessing pre-departure cues, level of threshold for the dog and whether the separation anxiety is specific to the owner or generalised for all humans.

Separation anxiety represented by an image of a dog looking anxiously outside of the window, waiting for it's owner to come home

Separation anxiety in dogs is a complex issue characterised by your dog feeling anxious and displaying stress-related behaviours when left alone. To feel secure, they need the owners to come back and be present. These behaviours may start as early as when you reach the door or after several minutes of leaving the room. One common stress-related behaviour is excessive barking. Dogs with separation anxiety may feel insecure and highly stressed until their owner returns, sometimes barking incessantly throughout the absence, disturbing the neighbourhood peace.

If your dog has separation anxiety, training methods like crate training and chew toy may not work and could worsen the condition. Preventing stress buildup is key, with support from family or friends to avoid triggers.

Investing in a professional training program tailored to your dog’s needs can fast-track the behavioural changes you seek, and also prevent the dogs condition from worsening. Especially if your dog is suffering from complex conditions such as separation anxiety, it’s essential that you work with a professional behaviourist on a structured approach that ensures long-term success.

Pet Coach SG specialises in assessing and implementing desensitisation protocols to fix separation anxiety. If you suspect that your dog has separation anxiety, do reach out to Book a Consultation on Separation Anxiety for Dogs!

Common Pitfalls

In this section, we will describe several incorrect actions that might be undertaken by well-meaning individuals. With this list, we hope to shortcut the guesswork for you so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes and can expedite the resolution to your dog’s barking problem.

Image showing a notepad saying "Common Mistakes". This represents common pitfalls that pet owners can do that may aggravate the dog barking condition.

Ignoring the problem

A common belief advises letting a dog bark until tired to release its pent-up energy. However, this approach assumes that barking fulfills the dog’s needs, is untrue. For instance, if a dog barks out of frustration, assuming barking relieves it is not accurate. Similarly, if barking is due to anxiety, assuming that barking alleviates anxiety and results in a calm dog is inaccurate.

A cartoon of a man sweeping paper and trash under a rug, representing a pet owner ignoring the dog barking problem in hope that the problem would resolve itself.

Instead of ignoring the problem, we should understand the root cause to fix it. This would maximise the chances of resolving the excessive dog barking issue appropriately.

Punishing the dog

Punishing a dog using aversive behavior modification techniques may not deter the undesired behaviour, especially if it is motivated by fear. Understanding the underlying cause is crucial. For instance, punishing a fear-induced bark could escalate fear levels and worsen behaviour issues, potentially leading to increased barking intensity and the development of other unwanted behaviours.

A finger pointed assertively to a dog, representing aversive punishment to the dog. This approach is not advised. and we recommend rewards-based approach.

Moreover, if a dog barks for attention, punishing it can inadvertently reinforce the behaviour by granting attention. For effective punishment, the aversive impact must outweigh the perceived reward of attention. If the perceived reward is high, the punishment must be severe, potentially risking harm and straining the dog-owner relationship.

Instead of punishing the dog, we would recommend for an owner to understand the reasons for the barking issue. Once that is clear, there are more effective training techniques that can be applied (without punishment), to resolve the excessive barking issue effectively.

Over-reliance on quick fixes without understanding the root cause

Puzzle toys and chews can address excessive barking in dogs caused by boredom or frustration. However, addressing only the symptoms without understanding the root cause may lead to dependency on your presence for a solution. 

A meme showing a duct tape being placed in a toilet paper roll. This aims to indicate that a one-fits-all solution for excessive dog barking does not exist, and maybe even aggravate the dog barking condition.

To resolve the issue sustainably, identify and address the underlying cause. For instance, if the dog is bored, provide adequate toys or playmates; if the cause is frustration, remove triggers or desensitise the dog. These targeted approaches can reduce barking, improve your dog’s behaviour, and strengthen the bond between you.

Understanding these common pitfalls is the first step toward developing a more effective, compassionate approach to training and resolving excessive barking in dogs. Remember, patience and consistency are key in modifying any behavioural issue. By investing the time and effort to understand it and working with a professional, you can help your dog overcome its excessive barking and improve its overall well-being. Your dog will thank you for it! 

Conclusion

Dog behaviour and training is an art and science. Consider pet’s persona, history, and environment. Be patient, adaptable, prioritise well-being. Use prevention, management, treatment strategies and seek professional help when needed. There are behaviour modification techniques and protocols that have been proven to work multiple times across different scenarios.

Applying the behaviour modification techniques and training protocols correctly and effectively will maximise the chances of success. In doing so, we can address excessive barking effectively. It’s a rewarding experience when you have successfully achieved a common goal with your furry companion, and it strengthens the bond between the dog and its owner as well. If you need more information regarding the services that we provide, do check us out here! Otherwise, all the best in your journey with your furry companion, we will always be a button click away, ready to assist you if the need ever arises.

Picture of Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster has trained various species in zoos, rehabilitated companion animals, and championed animal welfare standards. He represented Singapore in the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, focusing on amphibian care and conservation. Now, his main focus is in canine fitness and conditioning as well as essential canine skills.

Picture of Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

With over a decade of study in the animal behaviour and welfare sciences, Qiai earned her Masters from the University of Edinburgh and has since devoted herself to the welfare and behaviour of pets. She has worked as an animal behaviourist since, and her expertise lies in addressing pet behavioural issues such as fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

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