Stop me if you've heard this one before: Why did the dog bark at the door when left alone? To get his owner back inside, of course. Your dog barking incessantly after you leave is annoying, and it could signal a problem. Luckily, there are strategies for stopping this behavior.
Evaluate the cause of your dog's barking by observing your dog's behavior. Recording with an audio device or, better, a video taping device may provide valuable information about what is really going on when you leave the home: Does your dog bark nonstop? Does he settle after some time? Does he continuously pace and act otherwise restless? Does he scratch at windows, dig, eliminate in the home, whine, howl or bark? Or is he, for the most part, barking only at stimuli outside the window? Your recording may answer many questions and provide a clearer picture of what's really going on.
Ensure that your dog's needs for physical exercise and mental stimulation are met before you leave the nest. The solution to Woof's barking at times may be as easy as a walk in the park. Put a collar on your dog, snap the leash and take him for a long walk. Alternatively, take him to the park for a romp and games. A tired dog is a good dog, more likely to flop down on his bed and snooze when you leave the home.
Invest in some safe keep-busy toys to occupy your dog during the day. A food-dispensing toy such as a Kong stuffed with goodies can be a great way to keep your dog entertained for some time. If your dog is a champion chewer, create a long-lasting treat by actually freezing the stuffed Kong, certified professional dog trainer Jolanta Benal recommends. Alternatively, you may hide your dog's treats in the most unexpected places so Roofus can enjoy a rewarding treasure hunt in your absence.
Practice departures by imitating your departure routine. Tie your shoes, put your jacket on and grab your keys -- basically, act like you're leaving but then just sit down. Repeat several times until your dog no longer becomes anxious. Next, open the door, exit the door and immediately come back inside within a second or two before your dog has an opportunity to bark. Praise and reward him for not barking. Repeat several times. Gradually increase the length and distance of your outings. For example, go to the next floor and come down within one minute. If your dog is not barking, go back inside and calmly praise. If your dog is barking, leave again but stay close enough to hear the barking so you can go back inside only once he is quiet. The goal of this exercise is to reward silence and train your dog to get used to longer and longer periods of time without you.
Invest in a face wrap. A face wrap applies gentle pressure that results in a calming effect, making it ideal for anxious barkers. You should apply a face wrap only for short periods of time when the barking is most likely to occur, such as when you're practicing departures. Never use this product or any similar products for extended periods of time, or when you are unable to supervise, suggests certified professional dog trainer Jenn Merritt.
Minimize the opportunities for barking at outdoor stimuli. If your dog tends to bark at stimuli outside the window when you leave the home, put some blinds up or place your dog in a quiet room with no window views. If your dog stays outdoors and barks at stimuli behind the fence, take him indoors. If your dog is very reactive to any outdoor noises, try keeping a radio on to help mask such sounds.
Enroll your dog in doggy day care. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, this may be a prime solution. Your dog will be in good company, you no longer will have to worry about leaving him alone, and the peace and quiet -- courtesy of Rover's absence -- will be music to your neighbors' ears.
Seek your veterinarian for advice. If your dog's barking is accompanied by restless pacing, scratching at doors and windows, eliminating in the home, howling and whining, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. In this case, a recording of your dog's behavior when left alone may come in handy. Your vet can help you assess the behavior and suggest possible solutions such as medications or a behavior modification program.
- Invest a whole weekend or more on practicing fake departures.
- Always keep your departures and returns low-key.
- Hire a dog walker if you are unable to exercise your dog as needed.
- Consult with a dog trainer or dog behavior specialist for further help.
- Avoid crating your dog if he suffers from separation anxiety.
- Never tie your dog's muzzle closed; this is painful, dangerous and inhumane.
- Do not scold or punish your dog for barking.
- Investing in a bark collar may seem like a solution but it may cause unexpected side effects.
- Test-drive your dog's toys to ensure they are safe and not breaking apart.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.