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Dog Behavior: Why Do Dogs Bark When Left Alone?

Updated on January 16, 2013
Dog barking when left alone
Dog barking when left alone | Source

Why is My Dog Barking When Left Alone?

Is your dog barking when left alone? If so, your neighbors may have been the first ones to alert you of this problem. But what is causing Rover to bark so much when you leave the home? And what can be done to stop this behavior before you are forced to get rid of your dog? There can be several explanations.

One of the best ways to assess the situation is to record your dog's behavior. While your neighbors know for a fact he is barking, you want to look for how long he barks for, if he settles for a while or if it is non- stop. You also want to see if there are other accompanying behaviors such as pacing nervously, urinating, defecating destroying stuff, scratching at doors and windows and whining. This record is also very useful to show to your veterinarian or dog trainer.

If the recording of your dog's behavior is limited to a few minutes of barking and then he settles down, you may be dealing with a mild case of frustration/ anxiety. If the barking is non-stop and is accompanied by also non-stop pacing, scratching at doors and other behaviors things may be more serious and may require the intervention of a veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB).

*Note: The behaviors of dogs suffering from separation anxiety are not only visible when the owners are away, rather, they also often manifest when the owners are home. In a case of separation anxiety look for the following signs:

  • The dog acts as a "velcro" dog staying always next to your legs or on top of you
  • The dog acts as a shadow, following you room to room whenever.
  • The dog gets anxious when the owner goes in another room.
  • The dog displays excessively enthusiastic greeting behaviors when the owners come home.
  • The dog displays anxiety by pacing, following you when you give out cues you are about to leave the home (ie, picking up keys, putting your shoes on, grabbing your purse etc.)

If your dog does not fit the picture, consider that he may be barking from boredom, frustration, lack of mental stimulation. If your dog belongs to a guarding breed, he may be simply barking at noises he hears outside. Some dogs tend to turn into alarm systems when left alone. This is why recording the barking can tell a lot about your dog's behavior. Is he barking the moment you leave? Is he barking to sounds? Is the barking just temporary, ie just a few minutes and then he settles?

If your dog fits the description of separation anxiety, you may be wondering what to do to deal with the problem. There are a variety of approaches, but most of them are not a quick fix. Take a week-end off or take a few days off from work if you can. If this is not feasible, if you work long hours, have a pet sitter come over or take your dog to doggy- day care.

Great method to curb separation anxiety

How to Deal With a Dog Barking When Left Alone

It may difficult at times to assess if you are dealing with a a bored and frustrated dog unhappy to be left alone, a mild case of separation anxiety or a more severe one. Hiring a dog behavior specialist may help clear the waters. This is where your recording will come handy. Following are some tips for owners of dogs barking when left alone.

  • Ensure Exercise/Mental Stimulation is Provided

As a general rule of thumb, it helps to ensure the dog's exercise and mental stimulation needs are met. Walk your dog before leaving the home, take him to a place where you can play with him, basically, make him tired; a tired dog is a good dog and is more likely to settle rather than burn energy in acting worried and anxious! The exercise and play time, may keep your dog less on edge once you leave if the barking is triggered by boredom. But if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, the barking will likely continue. In such a case, you will need to invest some time in behavior modification.

  • Use a Crate

If your dog is barking at sounds and triggers when you are away, then he is taking his guardian role quite seriously. Often, when owners leave the home, dogs feel more vulnerable and tend to bark at things they may not bark when the owner is at home and takes control. If this is the case, a crate can help your dog settle and stop reacting to stimuli. Note: don't use a crate though if you suspect separation anxiety, as this can exacerbate the problem! Have a dog behavior specialist assess your dog first!

  • Implement Behavior Modification

Behavior modification for SA (separation anxiety) includes desensitizing your dog and breaking apart all the associations he has created in his mind after observing all the cues you give suggesting you are about to leave the house. The problem occurs when you keep a routine and your dog knows what is happening. In other words, if you always do the same things like put your coat on, turn the radio on, get your purse, put your shoes on, your dog predicts you are about to leave and gets anxious. Instead, you will need to "trick" her and do all those things without you leaving. For instance, get ready to leave as you always do and then just sit on the couch and watch tv. Do it over and over until she starts no longer getting anxious when you do all those things. If you do that often, she will start not knowing anymore when you are about to leave or not. It is important to implement this along with some calming aids if necessary. The featured video offers an optimal approach using a clicker.

  • Get some Calming Aids

In severe cases, a dog may need medications from the vet such as Clomicalm and Reconcile . These medications help the dog calm down. When a dog is too anxious its cognitive functions shut down and they are unable to learn new behaviors. Another product that has obtained good review is Thundershirt. You can read more about it here: Dog Thundershirt

  • Hire a Professional

No medication, anxiety wrap, television program or calming aid will do miracles when dealing with SA. They all require to be used along with a behavior modification program. If you are unsure about your dog's behavior and need to work on the problem, your best bet is hiring a professional. While a dog trainer well-versed in dog behavior may work, your best bet is consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorists. (CAAB)

* Note: As much as it is tempting for owners of barking dogs, avoid using a dog bark collar as this will worsen the anxiety. If you suppress the bark which is simply an outward manifestation of the problem, you will not address the inner emotional issue which is the real problem. When you suppress the barking without addressing the underlying issue a symptom substitution may occur and your dog may begin digging, destroying the home or even chewing his paws. So to go to the root of the problem you really need to implement a behavior modification program.

How to Deal With a Clingy Dog that Barks when you Leave the Room and Encourage Independence

If your dog tends to bark when you leave the room, the barking is an attention-seeking behavior and a form of protest. Your dog may be saying in protest "don't leave me alone" and "I will bark until you come and get me". This behavior has to stop; therefore, extinguish.

The secret to stopping the barking behavior is therefore to stop giving in. Go to your dog only when he is quiet. If you move towards him and he starts barking, back away. If he is quiet go to him. He should soon learn that quiet brings you to him, while barking sends you away. As an opportunistic being, your dog will learn quickly which behaviors are more advantageous!

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