One of our lovely Adopt-a-Pet.com fans asked us to blog about how to stop our dogs from barking when we’re not home. Well, your wish is our command! First, it’s important to understand why dogs bark. They bark to communicate, just like we speak. Some common types of barking include alert barking to let you know of something, defensive barking to avoid or stop something the dog doesn’t like, attention barking for your attention, frustration barking when confused or stressed, and boredom barking which occurs as an outlet for the dog to amuse himself. (Check out Karen Pryor’s books for more detailed explanation of why dogs bark.)
Not all barking is a problem. Often it’s a natural way for your dog to tell you he wants to go outside or is hungry. But when dealing with your dog barking excessively, take into account that it’s often a symptom of another problem such as anxiety or boredom. The barking is a symptom and will not go away until the source is addressed so consider what is going on for your dog that is causing him to bark before devising a plan of action.
For example, if your dog is barking for attention, one of the most effective ways to handle this is to remove what he wants – your attention – when he is barking. When he stops barking, give your dog all the attention and love you can! He will soon learn that being quiet gets him what he wants and will pair barking with your ignoring him. If your dog alert barks when someone comes to the door thank him for his help and let him know you’ve got it under control. Then throw a ball or a toy he likes to get his focus off of alerting you and on to a game. You can also teach your dog to be quiet on command with the help of a trainer or dog training class. By teaching your dog to bark on cue, you can also teach him to be silent.
If your dog barks when you are gone, accept that the environment and set-up you have is reinforcing his barking. And barking is, unfortunately, a self-reinforcing behavior which becomes a learned habit. So if you want to stop your dog from barking when you’re not home, change the set-up that is inadvertently reinforcing the barking. For instance, if your dog barks when he’s alone in the backyard, try keeping him inside in a crate instead when you’re gone. (Please note: a dog should not be kept in a crate for more than 6 hours at a time – see our How to Crate Train article.) If you think certain street sounds trigger him while you’re gone, try leaving classical music playing to calm him, or check out special soothing dog CDs for such purposes (like www.throughadogsear.com). If your dog barks at people or other dogs passing by a window, draw the blinds or keep the dog out of the front room except when you’re there to address the problem.
Keep in mind that your dog might be barking when you leave home because he is simply bored. Is your dog getting enough exercise and stimulation? If he is good with other dogs, consider adopting a second dog so they can keep each other company and play while you’re gone, or try fostering a pet with a local rescue group to see if that helps relieve the boredom and barking. Experiment with giving your dog a chew toy like a bully stick or Kong (best when filled with peanut butter or treats) to keep him occupied while he’s home alone. Give him a chew treats as a project to work on right as you’re walking out the door as this will help keep him busy and also positively associate your absence. Try only giving him these high value chew treats when he’s home alone. (Please note: if you have more than one dog, do not leave them unsupervised with high value chew treats as they may lead to fighting.) See my past article on When to Give Your Dog a Chew Toy for more on this topic!
In sum, watch and listen to your dog. What is causing him to bark when you’re home? Those are good indicators of what is causing him to bark when you’re not home. Then figure out how can you alleviate these triggers for him and set him up to succeed barklessly!
Katya Friedman is Adopt-a-Pet.com’s Director of Partnerships and Promotions and a certified dog trainer.