Almost all dogs bark. It’s normal for dogs to vocalize!
When is my dog’s barking a problem?
Let me tell you a story. I have a friend that lives in an apartment with her dog. The dog is a small, older dog and this a great living space for her.
Except, when my friend leaves the apartment, the dog barks. Sound familiar?
This has caused a lot of stress on my friend because the neighbors have filed noise complaints. In response, my friend never leaves her dog alone anymore. And this is not necessarily an easy or viable option for many people.
As stressful as it is for us, we have to remember, it could also be stressful for our dog and they may be experiencing anxiety when left alone.
Your dog’s barking is a problem if it’s causing stress to you, those around you, or your dog. If you’re not sure if your dog’s barking is stress-related, keep reading!
Does your dog struggle with your work schedule or have separation anxiety? Sign up for our Left Alone course now!
5 Reasons Your Dog Barks When You Leave the House:
1. Your dog has a genetic predisposition to barking.
Many dogs have been selectively bred to bark. Over time, humans have designed specific breeds for specific traits―barking being one of them. Dogs using barking as a way to alert us to intruders or to alert to prey when hunting.
They may also bark to help move other animals when they’re working as herding dogs. Nowadays, especially in urban settings, barking is not a valued trait. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
2. Your dog is scared, startled, anxious, or nervous.
Often dogs who are afraid will bark in reaction to sights, sounds or smells. And because our noses and ears are so much less sensitive than our dog’s, it can seem like our dog is barking at nothing!
Let’s not forget
This trigger could be almost anything. It might be something that causes fear because they can hear and not see, or they can see and not smell. Or, perhaps they were sleeping and something suddenly startles them.
The response might even be exaggerated when left alone. I know if I am home alone and I hear a loud, unfamiliar noise, I am much more jumpy than when my husband (or dogs) are there with me!
Puzzle toys can help soothe nervous and anxious dogs.
3. Your dog is warning of intruders.
Territorial barking happens when there is a potential or a perceived threat to your dog’s space (home or property). Maybe the UPS driver just dropped a package off at the door, or the power company came onto your property to read the meter.
Think of this as your dog yelling, “Get off my lawn!”
4. Your dog is barking because other dogs are barking.
When one dog barks, they all often join in. If there are many dogs in the neighborhood, this might increase the potential to bark.
5. Your dog is experiencing separation anxiety or isolation distress.
This one can be very concerning. Often, but not always, it is accompanied by other signs, such as destroying furniture or defecating in the living room, for example.
This can be an indication that your dog is distressed when you are not home. If you suspect that this might be the case, we are offering a new online course that might be helpful to you.
What NOT to do If Your Dog is Barking
Avoid aversive tools. There are lots of kind ways to deal with your dog’s barking, from management to desensitization and teaching alternative appropriate behaviors.
At best, aversive tools such as anti-bark collars are annoying to your dog, and at worse, quite distressing. There is evidence they can increase anxiety.
What TO do if Your Dog is Barking:
Management can help alleviate things immediately. In other words, prevent the barking in the first place. Close blinds or leave the TV on to muffle the sounds outside.
Other things you can do along the way may be to get your dog used to common noises that trigger barking. Give your dog something better to do, like stuffed Kongs or Bully
Not all Barks are Created Equal: What is Your Dog Saying?
The type of bark can be quite telling, and is something to pay attention to. Howling and distressed barking or whining will sound quite different from a dog that is barking at the mail carrier, or from a dog that is excited when she hears your car pull up in the driveway.
Also, noting the context in which the dog is barking will help you to best address the situation. What happened right before barking, during, and how quickly did it stop?
If your dog is howling, or “crying” on and off the entire day without any obvious signs of an event, we would want to further investigate whether your dog is experiencing separation anxiety.
Film your dog and see what her body language looks like.
Be a Detective: Investigating Your Dog’s Barking Problem
What I tell every single one of my clients before we begin any type of treatment plan for separation anxiety, or even simply just training for a yappy dog: USE A REMOTE CAMERA.
Remote pet cams or remote camera apps for your tablet are one of the most useful tools for evaluating a dog’s barking behaviour while you are not physically there, and you will find continued use if you are treating separation anxiety.
My partner at Journey Dog Training, Kayla, uses a Furbo for her own dog. She gets a text if her dog barks, and then she can open the camera app to see what’s up!
Watching your dog remotely can give us a lot of information.
It can tell you:
WHO? Is your dog barking at a person? Any person or certain person? Strangers? Another animal?
WHAT? Is there something present in their environment at the time of the barking?
WHERE? Where is your dog when they bark? Are they looking out the window at people passing by the house? Are they standing by the front door?
HOW? How do they sound? How long are the vocalizations lasting for?
WHY? I saved this one for last because, the rest of the investigation should hopefully help you in answering this question!
Keep in mind that, although vocalizing can be a sign of separation anxiety, there are often other behaviors you should be aware of that can better help you to make a more informed diagnosis.
These might include things like: urinating or defecating in the house only in your absence, pacing, showing stress signals, destruction of household items, their crate, or doors, just to name a few.
And as with any behaviour changes, ALWAYS begin with a veterinary check. There are medical conditions that could mimic some of the signs of separation anxiety, and when treated, could also alleviate these behaviour concerns.
If your dog has separation anxiety, understand that there are many more steps involved, and changing your dog’s mind about how she feels when left alone will take time. But, there is help available!
Erin is currently from Alberta, Canada where she works as a canine behaviour consultant. Erin is a CDBC and CPDT-KA, working with all types of dogs with all types of training needs. She has a MSc in Anthrozoology (the study of human and non-human interactions), and is a PhD candidate in the same field. Erin will be relocating to Christchurch, New Zealand at the end of 2018.