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Help, My Dog Is Barking When Left Alone!

Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.

Is your dog barking when left alone?

Is your dog barking when left alone?

Barking When Left Alone: A Dog's Manifestation of an Internal Turmoil

If you have a dog who is barking when left alone, you are likely looking for some solutions. Perhaps you live in a tight-knit neighborhood and worry about neighbors complaining, or maybe you're concerned about your dog's emotional well-being.

While many people find barking annoying—so much so that it's been even given an infamous nickname, "nuisance barking"—it's important to consider that many forms of barking in dogs are a manifestation of internal turmoil.

There is barking and barking though in the world of dogs and differentiating one form of barking from another is not always a straightforward and easy task.

However, we can gain several clues by attentively observing the dog's body language and the context in which the barking occurs.

"How can I know my dog's body language and what triggers the barking if I am away?" you may ask. That's a great question.

The Advantages of Remote Monitoring

A solution for this that comes in handy courtesy of our advanced technology is what's called "remote monitoring."

In other words, you will need to use some kind of device that records your dog's behavior while you are not present. This can be a nanny cam, a special app, or some special device purposely made to monitor your dog.

Nowadays, there are many exciting monitoring systems on the market. One of my favorites is the Furbo Camera which allows you to always track your dog in a 360 degrees view even if your dog moves around the room.

I often recommend this device to my clients because on top of monitoring, this camera also allows you to interact with your dog and even toss treats to your dog so to brighten their day.

Tips for Careful Monitoring

For a good recording, you want to set the camera to get a wide view of the areas your dog frequents when he's left alone. If your dog is left free in the home, you may want to aim for the areas nearby the door and where he normally rests.

Unless you have a device that rotates and pans offering a 360-degree view, you may find it helpful to set up various recording devices so that you can capture from a variety of angles.

Most dogs when left alone start manifesting signs such as barking in the first 10 minutes after the owners leave, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Ballantyne in an article for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

A recording of a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes should therefore suffix to provide some insights.

If you suspect that, on top of barking, your dog engages in worrisome behaviors that could put him in danger or may impact your personal belongings, you may find it helpful to use a live webcam so that you can return home before your dog injures himself or destroys something you value.

Reasons Dogs Bark When Left Alone

As mentioned, there is barking and barking in the world of dogs. Just to give an idea, you may find it interesting to discover these 11 types of barking in dogs.

In this case though, we can considerably narrow down the list by only focusing on some of the main causes of barking when dogs are left alone.

Following are several potential causes of dogs barking when left alone that can provide you with some clues on what may be going on in your dog's mind.

1. Boredom

Many dogs will bark when left alone because they are bored. While humans can engage in a variety of hobbies when in the home such as reading a book, watching TV, crocheting or playing video games, dogs are often left with few options.

Barking in this case allows the dog to vent his frustration of having nothing to do. The barking in this case is often repetitive and rather monotonous in tone.

When the barking stops, the dog may have grown tired and finally decided to rest, but there may be risks that the quiet may signal that the dog has started to engage in some other problematic behavior such as chewing on stuff.

As the saying goes, "Idle paws are a devil's workshop!"

The poster child of boredom barking is usually a young dog who has lots of energy and no outlet for it.

Upon observing these dogs who bark when left alone, their body language remains rather calm. After barking for some time, these dogs may occupy their time by chewing items that are left around such as the remote control.

I will never forget the scene we came to when a dog trainer, an acquaintance of mine, left her young Aussie and her retrievers alone in the hotel room. They were initially barking in protest, and then it was quiet. The trainer commented that they were likely taking a nap since they had been running around most of the day.

Upon opening the door, we found pillow stuffing literally everywhere! The dogs disemboweled the whole pillows covering a sofa chair and had a blast! Of course, a hefty bill was left behind her door the day prior to checkout!

How to Fix This

It goes without saying that these young dogs may do better being dropped off at a daycare or having a dog walker swing by to keep them occupied.

Another option is to walk these dogs and find ways for satisfying their needs for exercise and mental stimulation. It can therefore help to play and interact with them prior to being left alone, and then provide them with various enrichment opportunities to keep them mentally stimulated and busy during the day.

I often recommend dog owners leave a Kong Wobbler with a portion of their dog's meal mixed with some pieces of cookies large enough to prevent the kibble from exiting readily, and then the rest of the kibble soaked in water and mixed with some peanut butter or canned dog food stuffed into a regular Kong and frozen.

This gives the dog access to two food puzzles that will keep him entertained for a good portion of the time, hopefully enough to tire him out and meet this mental enrichment needs.

For dogs who are destructive, I recommend keeping the dogs safely crated so they can't get into trouble. To keep occupied, these dogs may be provided with a frozen Kong as described above as well with a bully stick, Himalayan chew or some other durable edible chew that is safe.

It's not a coincidence that many dogs who boredom bark and destroy things are often dogs of the working group and sporting group who were selectively bred to accomplish tasks that kept them occupied for most of the day. Left unemployed for hours on end, can leave them bored and frustrated.

2. Sounds

Many dogs will bark when left alone in response to noises, and this barking may be more pronounced than when their owners are home.

Here's the thing: many dogs do fine with noises when their owners are home, as they feel reassured by their presence. At the most, they may alarm bark, and once the owners acknowledge whatever they are barking at, they may settle and go back to what they were doing before.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some dogs will repeatedly bark despite their owners being home because they are hypervigilant dogs by nature or have made guard duty their main job. They may be constantly worried about things going on and may bark to send possible intruders away.

In any case, a video recording of these dogs will often reveal the actual sounds the dogs are responding to, and if the sounds aren't clearly audible, you may see the dog moving the ears in a certain direction, capturing the sound and rushing towards the window or door that leads towards the sound.

How to Fix This

This is not an easy task because you can't control the noises. However, you can take some steps to make them less salient to attend to.

For example, you can keep your dog in the least noisy area of the home, which is often farthest from the busiest road. On top of this, you can take some steps to buffer more sounds.

Nowadays, there are several options such as white noise machines, but in lieu of these, you can run a fan, or try several White Noise Channels on YouTube. Dog Tv also has a relaxation channel made just for dogs.

When I must leave dogs who react to sounds alone, I like to use a special classical music CD that was purposely crafted for dogs and known as 'Through a Dog's Ear.' This is often sold in sets of CDs to cover several situations such as when your dog must be left alone, or when prior to and during an anxiety or excitement-provoking event.

For dogs who are anxious about noises, it may help to also invest in some calming aids such as DAP Diffusers, collars or sprays and/or calming over-the-counter supplements such as Zylkene or Composure.

With the owner's permission and vet's approval, I have used Composure to help a dog fearful of thunder cope with several storms along with behavior modification. For more severe cases of noise phobias though, you may need your vet to prescribe prescription meds.

3. Sights

On top of noises, some dogs may also bark at certain sights when left alone.

This barking may stem because the dog is reactive and anxious about people or other dogs approaching their territories, or because they are eager to go meet and greet them and will bark out of frustration because they're prevented from it: the classical case of barrier frustration.

This barking may therefore be a distance-increasing or distance-decreasing behavior.

In the case of distance-increasing barking, the dog wants the outdoor people or other dogs to go away, in the case of distance-decreasing barking the dog wants the outdoor people or dogs to actually come closer and interact.

In both cases, dogs will typically bark upon noticing people or other dogs from a window or door. They will rush towards these areas and intently bark while looking out.

If they feel frustrated or particularly nervous, on top of barking they may start chewing on windowsills and scratching at doors.

How to Fix This

In these cases, these dogs benefit from being kept away from windows and doors.

This could mean confining them in a room away from main activity areas where there are windows or doors, keeping them in a crate or exercise pen with something to chew on, or in the case of small dogs, removing couches or chairs that allow them to gain access to windows.

A little trick of the trade I have been using is applying window film to the main windows, so to allow light to come through while blocking visuals that dogs may find bothersome or too overstimulating.

4. Learned Behavior

In some cases, barking can occur as a learned behavior. In other words, the dog has learned that, when he barks, he gets their owners' attention. This can be often seen when dogs have a long history of being reinforced for barking.

In other words, dog owners may leave a room and close a door, the dog barks, and the owners return while the dog is barking. Soon, the dog learns that, by barking, he gets his owners to return.

The behavior of barking therefore quickly puts roots and establishes becoming more and more habit-forming.

The behavior becomes more pronounced and persistent when the owners ignore the dog for some time and then return as the barking worsens (as a result of an extinction burst) or becomes just too annoying to tolerate.

When a dog's behavior is reinforced intermittently, or worse, during an extinction burst, it becomes more and more established and difficult to overcome. It can therefore happen that a dog may bark a whole lot when owners leave the house as he expects them to eventually come back.

Recording of such dogs often shows dogs who bark insistently facing a door with intent but without showing evident signs of panic or anxiety.

This is for the most part an operant behavior with no emotional stress attached, but likely some level of frustration as the expected owners may fail to return in an expected timely manner.

How to Fix This

Owners should work on reinforcing calm, quiet behaviors. In other words, they can practice going out of a door for a few seconds, and then return only when the dog is quiet. They can then increase the time but should mix in some shorter absences every now and then so that the dog doesn't predict a pattern of increasing difficulty.

It also helps to provide the dog with activities to engage in when owners close a door such as food puzzles, brain games and edible long-lasting chews.

Barking can be a sign of a separation-related disorder

Barking can be a sign of a separation-related disorder

5. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety may be difficult to recognize in its early stages. It may manifest itself in a wide range of behaviors, including barking, whining, panting, pacing and salivation. For a more comprehensive list, see 11 signs of separation anxiety in dogs.

These behaviors can make life miserable for the dog and can lead to conflicts with landlords and neighbors.

Dogs may also become destructive when left alone, often chewing and scratching at windowsills and doors, and they may urinate and defecate in the home. On top of this, they may refuse to eat or drink when left alone.

Recordings show a dog who is very anxious. Stress panting, pacing, hysterical barking, whining, drooling and panicked destruction as the dog tries to escape. Often the anxiety starts upon the dog noticing the owners getting ready to leave, culminating once they're out the door and the car drives away.

Upon returning, the owners are greeted profusely, often in an exaggerated manner.

Many dogs with separation anxiety are also quite clingy, velcro dogs, following their owners around the house.

Something worth mentioning is the onset of signs of separation anxiety in elderly dogs. Sometimes this coincides with their senses deteriorating or medical problems.

How to Fix It

The best treatment for separation anxiety in dogs may combine pharmacological interventions and systematic desensitization combined with counterconditioning to help minimize anxiety in dogs.

Here are several tips to help dogs suffering from separation anxiety.

It's important to differentiate cases of separation anxiety from cases of isolation distress. Formally, in separation anxiety, dogs develop anxiety from being separated from a specific person, while in isolation distress, dogs develop anxiety from being separated from anyone.

Of course, it goes without saying that life can be much more tolerable for dogs with isolation distress since they'll do fine with just about anybody- all they need is the company of any human being rather than a specific person.

A dog with isolation distress can therefore do well being sent to daycare or having a pet sitter or dog walker keep him company during the day, whereas, a dog with separation anxiety will likely still feel anxiety no matter who he is with, until he's finally reunited with his "special person."

A Word About Bark Collars

As seen, dogs can bark for many reasons. Barking when a dog is left alone is a sign of an internal turmoil that needs to be tackled.

Trying to suppress the barking by using a bark collar is like using a Band-Aid to treat an infected wound. Nothing is being done to tackle the root problem, and the behavior issue will exacerbate, potentially leading to more problems along the road.

The answer is therefore not suppressing the barking through punishment or aversive methods, but working on addressing the underlying emotions.

This may entail a variety of strategies such as reducing exposure to triggers that may evoke barking, providing outlets for a dog's basic needs, keeping dogs entertained and helping dogs develop coping skills with being left alone.

Cases that aren't responsive to our interventions, may require the help of a dog behavior specialist such as a dog trainer specializing in separation anxiety, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli