A common symptom of separation anxiety in dogs is barking. As soon as you leave the house, they let the world know they aren't happy. Learn how to stop dog barking when left alone and curb your dog's anxious behaviour.
Months of working from home and physical distancing have allowed us to spend way more time with our pets. They are obviously not complaining now, but what happens when we all have to go back to our old grind?
Change is Scary
Our typical 40+ hour work weeks are going to be a rude awakening for dogs who have become accustomed to your constant presence. This routine change could lead to separation anxiety.
Some dogs handle this change just fine, while others will develop some annoying and concerning behaviours to cope with their routine being upended. A symptom that you may not notice (but your neighbours will) is barking.
Barking isn't the only behavioural change you'll notice in cases of separation anxiety. Without proper direction, distraction, and stimulation, your dog may default to chewing, licking, scratching, and digging. These behaviours can be dangerous for them and your house.
Your dog will be most anxious right after you leave, but for some severe cases, that anxiety could leave them stressed and barking their heads off all day long. So how do you help them relax and stop this destructive and annoying behaviour?
First, we'll break down some of the reasons that your dog might be barking. This can help you understand the causes of their stress and find solutions to help soothe their anxiety.
Why Do Dogs Bark When Left Alone?
Why does your dog bark like a maniac the second your leave the house? This might be particularly frustrating if your dog didn't have these same anxiety issues before the pandemic.
To help you manage your dog's barking behaviour, you have to think of this sudden routine change from your dog's point of view.
Last week you were home all day, this week you're gone for 8+ hours a day. From your dog's perspective, he went from having regular and frequent entertainment and social enrichment, to being left to his own devices.
He's bored, he's understimulated both mentally and physically, and he might even be scared. Remember that you are the pack leader, and with you gone, he is without direction and protection.
How to Stop Dog Barking When Left Alone
Every dog is different, and some techniques will work well for some but not others. We put together some tips for helping your dog overcome his anxiety and spend his days peacefully relaxing while you are away.
Desensitize by Practicing
If you have the chance to practice before you head back to work, it can make a huge difference. This will allow your dog to acclimate back into spending his afternoon napping instead of pacing the house and barking.
- Set up a fun space for him to hang out. Let's call it his place. This can be a kennel, his bed, the couch, your bed, whatever works. Practice taking him calmly to his place and offering a treat. Do this repeatedly. You want him to associate his place with good things like toys and treats.
- Once he is comfortable with his place, try giving him a long lasting chew or a fun toy. Pick something that will occupy his time and attention.
- While he is committed to this activity, practice going through some of the routines and habits that tell him you are getting ready to leave - e.g. putting on your shoes, doing make-up, making coffee etc. If he takes notice and starts to react, bring him back to his place and redirect him back to his distraction.
- Practice short outings. Get him used to watching you walk out the door. When he is calm and distracted, casually walk out of the house. You're not trying to sneak; be natural. It's ok if he notices. Grab a seat on the porch, or sit in your car for a few minutes. You will likely get a taste for what your neighbours have been listening to. That's ok. After 3-5 minutes, calmly walk back into the house.
- When you get in, ignore your dog. He will be excited that you've returned, but try not to give him the attention he is so desperate for. Give him a few minutes to calm himself down while you put down your keys, take off your shoes, and go about your regular routine.
- Once he is calm, you can give him attention. This helps him to understand that calm behaviour equals attention and playtime.
- Start leaving for longer periods using the same technique. Go for a walk. Take a quick trip to the grocery store. Work your way up to a couple of hours, then longer. Most dogs will adjust back to their old routines in time, but practice can speed up the transition and reduce stress and destructive behaviours.
If you are already back to work, then there are some behaviours you can adopt that will help reduce your dog's anxiety.
- Leave extra time to give your dog attention in the morning. Before you leave, take your dog for a short walk, play in the yard, or do some quick training in the house. Find an easy activity that will help your dog release some energy, both mentally and physically.
- Bring your dog to his place when you leave, and give him something to do. A puzzle or a durable chew toy is perfect. You are reinforcing that this is his place to feel safe and comfortable, but also have fun. Hopefully, he will default to his place to soothe his anxiety, even after you are gone.
- Regular exercise and activity will further reduce boredom and stress. After a long day of work, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to stay active, but your dog depends on it. Training, games, walks, and socialization are all an essential part of your dog's routine. Make sure you are providing consistency in both mental and physical activities.
- Use high-value rewards, like raw bones and natural chews, only for managing stress and boredom. If they get "special" treats too often, they lose value and excitement.
- Try calming solutions. Sometimes using a calming solution can help encourage your dog to relax. They can be used in combination with our other tips to increase your odds of success. Here are a few of the most effective calming solutions:
- If your dog's barking behaviour is causing your neighbours to complain, then you should look into other ways to manage your dog's transition back to normal. Any of these options could help break up your dog's day, providing a distraction, and letting them release energy:
- Enroll your dog in doggy daycare a few days/week
- Hire a dog sitter to come in for an hour in the middle of the day
- Hire a dog walker to give your dog some exercise in the afternoon
- Have a neighbour check in occasionally
- Swing home on your lunch break for a quick play session
- Bring your dog to work, if possible.
Pass on Bark Collars
A common tool to control barking is a bark control collar. Though they may seem like an effective solution, we actually advise against this type of device.
They tend to give immediate results, and this is why they are popular, but it's important to consider the long-term repercussions of such an invasive tool.
When we are talking about barking caused by anxiety, using a corrective device like a bark collar, doesn't address the underlying problem. It just masks some of the symptoms by attaching a negative consequence to the action - in this case, barking.
Keep in mind that barking is one symptom of your dog's stress. If he can't bark out a fear of being shocked or sprayed, then he will express his anxiety in another way. This could be as simple as over-grooming to self-soothe, or it could be more dangerous, like chewing through drywall or eating toxic household items.
The safest way to rid your dog of destructive habits is to treat the anxiety. If you are dealing with persistent anxiety, then we strongly recommend connecting with your vet, a dog trainer, or an animal behaviorist.
How is your doggo handling your transition back to work? Let us know your struggles and successes in the comments below!