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Ask Kathy About Dogs Barking When Alone At Home

By Kathy Santo | Updated: April 10 2019

Student’s Question:

“My neighbors tell me that my dog barks all day long when I’m not home, but when I arrive at the front door at night, he’s as quiet as a mouse. Who do I believe, and why would he do that?

Kathy’s Answer:

Dogs bark for many reasons, but when you’re gone, loneliness and boredom are usually at the heart of it. Separation anxiety occurs in a very small number of dogs, but if that were the case here, you’d normally see other symptoms (having accidents, destructiveness, being very clingy when you try to leave).

There’s also the group of people who’ve reinforced barking, because whenever they hear a noise outside they ask urgently “Who’s there? Who’s there?” inciting the dog into a barking frenzy and rewarding them with either laughter or praise. A cool game…. until your dog barks at everything he hears without you having to say a word.

But more often than not, dogs who bark while their owners aren’t home have learned that barking gets them what they want, just as a trained dog learns that doing a “sit” earns them a treat or praise. It’s worth taking note of what your reaction is when you’re home and your dog barks at you –  do you produce a treat, play with him, or run to open the door so he can go outside and play? (Housebreaking issues are exempt from that last example!) Teaching your dog that barking doesn’t cause you to spring into action will go a long way in extinguishing the behavior.

For the times when you do leave, make your dog is suitably exercised, and has a few puzzle-type toys to play with while you’re away. Don’t allow him access to windows where he might see people or dogs pass by, because that kind of “TV” viewing encourages barking whenever someone (or a neighborhood dog, cat, squirrel, etc.) passes by your home.

And speaking of being away, make sure that your ‘goodbye’ is brief and unemotional. Avoid cue words that trigger behavior you don’t want. For example, if your last words before leaving are always “Mommy misses you”, simply stop saying it. Fifteen minutes before leaving, turn on the tv or radio for white noise, give your dog a dog “pacifier,” such as a food-stuffed hard rubber toy (you can find great recipes that your dog will love here), and skip the long goodbyes. Eventually, your dog should look forward to you leaving so he can have his reward!

Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.

In Ramsey, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.

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