- Why is my dog barking?
- How can ‘home-alone’ barking be reduced?
- Determining if medical conditions are causing or adding to the barking
- How to do low-cost surveillance on your dog to measure the barking
- Reducing the access to the stimuli that cause barking
- Enriching your dog’s home-alone lifestyle
- Treating underlying anxiety disorders and compulsions
- Why shouldn’t I just use an electronic barking collar?
This section will give you remedies for the barking your dog does when you are away from him or her.
Typically you would be concerned that your dog barks excessively:-
- when you are at work
- when you leave the home for evening social events, for short shopping trips and so forth
- when you are sleeping and your dog is in the garden and therefore away from you.
This Guide is also important if you have a Council action regarding your dog’s barking or your neighbours are complaining about your dog’s barking when you are away.
Curing your dog’s excessive barking is no different from any other behaviour and involves three important chronological steps:-
- Assess your dog’s problem first (and measure the amount of barking)
- Then implement the solutions that target the problems (and opportunities) you identify in your assessment
- Then re-assess your progress as times goes on to ensure you are getting to where you want to be
Why is my dog barking?
Let’s get the first step underway and assess the nature of the barking your dog is exhibiting.
As a general guide to ‘what’s acceptable barking, in most areas your local authority or Council will specify the limits to how much barking your dog is allowed to do.
In Queensland (Australia) that limit is set by state legislation and Councils can choose to adopt the guidelines set by that state legislation.
So, that means you need to know how much barking your dog is doing when you are away.
How do you do that? You may have friends or neighbours who can tell you but it’s a lot better to spy on your dog when you are away to assess that accurately.
You will find all of that information on this sheet – free software to measure your dog’s barking and that also has more details on Council barking limits.
A proper assessment is much more likely to lead you to the targeted solutions your dog needs. However, the likely reasons for your dogs barking when you are away are:-
1. Boredom-related issues
If your dog is a youngster and in particular if it’s a working breed or a Terrier, boredom is quite likely. There are many solutions to boredom and they are all summarised in the extensive information on our No Bored Dogs Pet Pick.
2. Anxieties and related conditions
Amongst the most common causes of ‘home alone’ barking are those related to anxiety-based behaviours.
Many dogs bark at stimuli that ‘worry them’ when you are not home to give the guidance and comfort. While you can often train a dog not to bark at such stimuli, that’s difficult to do when you are not home. (More details on training dogs not to bark in this Web Guide)
Even territorial barking is a form of anxiety because affected dogs predict that a noise or ‘thing’ seen is a threat to their territory and that causes a ‘puff of anxiety’
You will find more information on anxieties and related ’emotions’ of pets on this link but such reactions include:
- Territorial threats where pedestrians, other dogs and unidentified noises occur beyond your property boundary
- Self-protective aggression where your dog feels threatened by nearby activities
- An anxiety disorder such as a Generalised Anxiety Disorder where your dog startles easily and is over-reacting to stimuli to which most dogs do not react.
2. Separation-related problems
In our world as pet behaviour consultants, every day we deal with barking behaviour that is caused by separation anxiety or one of its ugly relatives.
If your dog has a separation anxiety he or she will show distress when you are leaving, distress while you are gone and distress when you arrive. The distress when you are gone can include barking, howling and screaming as well as many other behaviours.
The remedies for separation anxiety are many and varied but techniques such as Trial Separations and Staged Leavings and calming strategies are three of many solutions.
3. Compulsive barking
Compulsions are one of the rarer causes of barking. A compulsion is a purposeless behaviour which is often repetitive, and can occur for long periods. For dogs, compulsive barking often fits into a rhythm and is usually not caused by an identifiable stimulus. Dogs with compulsive disorders need professional attention and the best first step is to contact us for assistance.
4. Old dogs and barking behaviour
Some old dogs bark when they have a senile behaviour disorder similar to Alzheimer’s Disease. This usually occurs with dogs in their ‘teens’. For dogs this is called Canine Cognitive Disorder. There are many methods to reduce the effect of this condition (follow the previous link) but it’s one where your veterinarian will need to be involved.
How can ‘home-alone’ barking be reduced?
There are many ways to limit a dog’s barking behaviour but the most effective methods are those that treat the underlying reason for the barking.
Because you are reading this page, you are interested in the barking or howling your dog exhibits when you are NOT home.
So the therapies are usually very different to those you would use if the barking is occurring when you ARE home with you dog. (Click here for ‘barking when you ARE home solutions)
So, the therapies for ‘home-alone’ barking mostly rely on:-
- Determining if medical conditions are causing or adding to the barking
- Doing low-cost surveillance to determine how often your dog is barking
- Reducing the access to the stimuli that cause barking, if that’s what is evident from your surveillance
- Enriching your dog’s home-alone lifestyle by providing comfortable accommodation (usually a Den) and boredom relief
- And treating any underlying anxiety disorder, compulsive condition
Determining if medical conditions are causing or adding to the barking
Certainly medical conditions can be the prime cause of barking or a secondary complication that are adding to the barking.
As a rule of thumb, the older the dog, the more likely medical conditions are relevant.
The analogy is much like it is with humans – if you are feeling unwell, you are much more likely to have problems dealing with the ‘stressors of everyday life’.
It’s much the same with your pets.
So, if your dog is vocalising excessively it’s important that you consult with your veterinarian to ensure that medical conditions are either confirmed or eliminated as a cause of the worrisome behaviour.
There is more information regarding medical conditions that cause pet behavioural problems on this link.
How to do low-cost surveillance on your dog to measure the barking
We touched on this concept above.
While you may have friends or neighbours who can tell you what your dog is doing when you are not home, it’s a lot better to spy on your dog yourself to accurately assess the home-alone behaviours.
Doing surveillance on your dog will tell you:-
- The quantity of barking and whether it’s within legal limits and whether your neighbours are being truthful.
- How the quantity changes as you implement your solutions.
- The type of noise your dog is making (e.g. barking, howling, crying, screaming).
- And will greatly speed the solutions by telling you ‘what works’
Reducing the access to the stimuli that cause barking
Does your surveillance tell you your dog is barking through your fence, your windows or from your veranda?
If so, it may help if you reduce your dog’s access to those stimuli that cause barking. That way you will not only reduce the amount of barking but will also stop the self-reinforcement of this unwanted behaviour.
Reducing the access can involve many things but in practical terms often means:-
- Altering the fence by changing its construction or location to stop the dog’s vision of passing stimuli (more information)
- Preventing access to elevated areas (such as verandas and decks) where your dog can see stimuli beyond the fence
- Giving the dog alternative ‘stimuli’ to entertain and to absorb its interest. You will find the No Bored Dogs Routine is particularly effective for this. (more below)
Enriching your dog’s home-alone lifestyle
In many cases, excessive barking is caused by boredom.
Even if your dog’s barking is not caused by boredom, boredom relief and lifestyle enrichment are still foundation stones upon which many other therapies rely.
So, giving your dog a rich lifestyle is often a vital part of bark-reduction therapy.
There is a whole section of Pethealth.com.au devoted to this essential concept and it starts with this No Bored Dogs Routine.
Providing brain-game toys that give your dog the ‘Sudoku’ effect is also vital and you will find all the information on dog toys on this link.
Treating underlying anxiety disorders and compulsions
We have mentioned anxieties and related ’emotional’ conditions of pets several times in this advice.
That’s because these emotional disorders are a very common cause of the behavioural difficulties owners experience with their dogs – including barking and other forms of excessive vocalisation.
Anxiety is a normal emotion of humans and of pets but ananxiety disorder is abnormal.
If you haven’t done so already, read this page on mood disorders of pets – you may find it fascinating that human mood disorders have distinct equivalents in animals.
Pets with mood disorders normally need professional help so please contact us for advice.
In some cases the use of calming agents can be beneficial and curative.
There are some dogs with anxiety disorders where they really need a person – any person – to comfort them during the day. For those dogs, the use of a compassionate dog day-care provider is useful if nothing else will work.
Follow the links above for more information on calming agents but if that seems to fit the problem for your pooch you should contact us for more advice.
Why shouldn’t I just use an electronic barking collar?
If you have read all that preceeds, by now you should realise that there are many causes and many potential remedies for the excessive vocalisation your dog will be exhibiting.
If you are considering using a barking collar you should first ask if that collar will get rid of the territorial challenges your dog may be experiencing and will it relieve boredom, enrich your dog’s lifestyle, eliminate medical conditions, anxieties and compulsions or help to sure senility.
Barking collars don’t treat the underlying malady.
We almost never use barking collars. The only rare times we have were for special cases where other forms of therapy have not worked. In more than 30 years of barking therapy, we have used barking collars less than five times – and they were effective for only two of those cases.
Excessive vocalising at those times when you are away from home potentially stems from many causes and it is wrong to presume that all cases of barking can be solved with one strategy. However, when you determine the underlying reason, the solutions are much more accurate.
We hope you now have a better understanding of your dog’s barking behaviour.
- Assess the cause, the quantity and the type of vocalising your dog is showing
- Make sure there are no medical causes
- Implement boredom relief and lifestyle enrichment
- Provide effective therapy for any anxieties or other mood disorders
- Implement therapies with calmatives if they are indicated
- But above all contact us for professional assistance.