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How to Stop Excessive Barking or Howling When Dogs are Left Alone

Introduction

Separation anxiety is a challenging issue that affects many dogs and their owners. It manifests in various ways, including excessive barking and howling when the dog is left alone. Barking and howling are the most common manifestations of separation anxiety because they directly impact not only the dog’s immediate environment but also the neighbours, family members, and anyone within earshot. This constant noise can lead to strained relationships with neighbours and increased stress for family members, making it a particularly problematic aspect of separation anxiety.

In this blog post, we will explore the fundamentals of separation anxiety and provide practical solutions for managing excessive barking and howling due to separation anxiety as a root cause. Additionally, we will offer tips for ensuring both you and your furry friend can enjoy a more harmonious life together.

While this blog focuses on excessive barking and howling caused by separation anxiety, there are many other reasons why a dog may bark and howl, which are addressed in our article on understanding excessive barking or howling in dogs (in general)!

Understanding Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety is a condition where dogs experience extreme distress when they are separated from their owners. This can result in a range of behaviours, but one of the most common and disruptive is excessive barking or howling.

For a more comprehensive understanding of what separation anxiety in dogs entails, please refer to our detailed article on what is separation anxiety in dogs!

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety often exhibit signs such as:

  • Excessive Barking or Howling: Persistent vocalisation when left alone is a hallmark of separation anxiety.
  • Destructive Behaviour: Chewing, digging, and other destructive actions can indicate anxiety.
  • Escape Attempts: Dogs may try to escape to reunite with their owners.
  • Pacing and Restlessness: Anxious dogs often display repetitive pacing and restlessness.
  • Poor Toilet Habits: Dogs may have accidents inside the house when experiencing separation anxiety.

What to Do

Do Not Blame Yourself

Understanding that separation anxiety is a genetically predisposed condition is crucial. Many misconceptions surround this issue, such as the belief that sleeping with your dog or pampering them causes over-attachment and leads to anxiety. However, there is no correlation between these actions and separation anxiety. A dog’s anxiety when alone does not stem from their relationship with their handler. It is possible for a dog to be deeply attached to their owner yet not anxious when left alone, or to have minimal attachment but still experience significant anxiety when isolated.

Separation anxiety is primarily a genetic predisposition, likely triggered by environmental stressors that the scientific community has yet to fully understand. Recognising that owners are not to blame allows us to shift our focus to addressing the root causes of separation anxiety. By doing so, we can work on effective strategies to mitigate symptoms like excessive barking or howling and help our dogs lead calmer, more comfortable lives when left alone.

Seek Professional Assessment

A professional assessment by a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) is essential. First, we need to rule out whether the excessive howling and barking are due to separation anxiety, as the behaviour modification treatment will differ depending on the root cause. CSAT professionals are skilled in accurately identifying the underlying issue before engaging their services. They will thoroughly evaluate the situation to determine whether separation anxiety is indeed the cause or if other factors are at play.

It’s important to emphasise that ruling out separation anxiety is a significant step forward, as it is a severe condition that no dog owner would wish upon their pet. However, if it turns out to be separation anxiety, do not lose hope. Separation anxiety is a well-solved problem, and with the right expertise and intervention, your dog can overcome it and lead a happier, more comfortable life. Early intervention can prevent the problem from worsening, so seeking a CSAT professional’s guidance is a proactive and beneficial step.

Apply Fear-Based Desensitisation Protocol

If separation anxiety is confirmed, fear-based desensitisation protocols can be beneficial. These methods help your dog gradually get used to being alone without anxiety. Always consult a professional to ensure the process is both effective and humane. For more details on what to expect during the desensitisation process, check out our article on how to treat separation anxiety. This knowledge will help you prepare mentally and formulate better questions and clarifications to discuss with potential CSAT professionals before engaging their services.

Ensure Your Dog Never Exceeds Threshold

It’s crucial to ensure that your dog never exceeds its anxiety threshold. The threshold is the point at which your dog begins to exhibit stress behaviours, such as excessive barking or howling when left alone. Each time this threshold is surpassed, the anxiety becomes sensitised, making future separation more challenging.

If you’re unsure about your dog’s threshold, consider reaching out to our Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSAT) professionals. They will typically perform an assessment and determine your dog’s threshold point during the first consultation.

What Not to Do

Puzzle Toys and Leaving

While puzzle toys can provide short-term distraction, they do not alleviate underlying anxiety. In fact, relying solely on these toys can exacerbate the issue, as the dog is still being exposed to stressors beyond their comfort threshold, inevitably sensitising their anxiousness further.

Punishing the Dog

Punishment is counterproductive when dealing with separation anxiety and in general. It increases the dog’s anxiety and does not address the root cause of the behaviour. As a training tool, it is ineffective and will only worsen the condition for both owner and dog, hence should be avoided.

For more on the negative impacts of punishment and what handlers should know when using it as a training tool, read our article on the negative impact of punishment.

Letting the Dog Bark or Howl It Out

Allowing your dog to bark or howl it out does not fix the anxiety. Prolonged periods of distress can further sensitise the dog to separation, worsening the condition over time. Exposing dogs to prolonged stress in any scenario is not advisable and can lead to the development of unwanted behaviours. Moreover, it’s unkind to the dog. Specifically for the context of this article, letting the dog bark it out will not resolve the issue because the anxiety will not be relieved. The dog will continue barking, causing inconvenience to neighbours and the community.

Crate Training

Crate training and separation anxiety training address different behaviours. Crate training focuses on making a dog comfortable in a crate, while separation anxiety training focuses on making a dog comfortable when alone. It’s a misconception that one training carries over to the other. Separation anxiety must be addressed through fear-based desensitisation to being alone, not through crate training.

Don’t Lose Hope

Separation anxiety is a well-addressed problem with evidence-based solutions. The CSAT community has successfully increased the duration dogs can be left alone without anxiety. For further information, reach out to our CSAT professionals who can provide tailored support and guidance.

Conclusion

Excessive barking and howling caused by separation anxiety can be challenging for both pet owners and their neighbours. However, it’s crucial not to jump to conclusions about separation anxiety. Understanding the root cause and implementing effective management strategies can significantly improve the situation. Identify the root cause before applying behaviour modification techniques to treat the behaviour.

If separation anxiety is ruled out as the cause, check out our article on other potential reasons for excessive barking and howling in dogs. This will help you or your trainer decide which behaviour modification techniques to apply.

However, if your dog’s vocalisation happens only when they are left alone, consult our CSAT professionals for an assessment. We wish you all the best on your journey with your furry companion. Thank you for reading, and we hope this article has been eye-opening and useful to you.

For additional support, check out our dog training services page to learn more about how we can help you and your pet thrive.

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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