Help! My Dog Won’t Stop Barking When I Leave

Understand Why Your Dog Barks When You Leave

Dogs bark for many reasons when their owners leave them alone. The most common causes are separation anxiety, boredom, fear, and territorial barking.

Separation anxiety is a major cause of barking when you leave. Studies show that 47% of dog owners report separation anxiety in their pets. Dogs with separation anxiety become very distressed when left alone, and barking is one way they express this stress. Separation anxiety may be more prevalent now due to increased time spent at home with owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boredom can also lead to barking when you leave if your dog doesn’t have enough stimulation and activity. Providing interactive toys and food puzzles can help prevent boredom barking.

Fear may cause barking too. Loud noises, strangers, or other frightening stimuli when you leave can trigger barking due to fear and alarm.

Territorial barking can occur when your dog hears or sees things outside while you are gone. They may bark to warn away perceived intruders.

Identifying the specific reason your dog barks when alone will allow you to address the underlying cause and implement training methods to curb this behavior.

Prepare Your Dog Before You Leave

a person walking their dog before leaving the house

One of the best ways to prepare your dog before you leave is to make sure they get plenty of exercise. A nice long walk or active play session will help tire them out before you go, according to this source. Some ideas for exercise include taking them for a walk, playing fetch or tug-of-war, or going for a jog together. A tired dog is much less likely to bark or act out due to separation anxiety when left alone.

Providing interactive toys is another good way to prepare dogs before departures. Toys like treat-dispensing puzzle toys will keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated while you’re gone. Rotate different puzzle toys to keep it interesting. Kongs stuffed with frozen peanut butter or wet food are another good option to keep your dog busy for at least 30-60 minutes, based on this source.

Playing calming music designed for dogs is another technique to try before leaving. The music can help relax them and mask outside noises that could trigger barking. Download playlists of dog relaxation music to play during absences.

Use Positive Reinforcement

One of the most effective ways to train your dog to be quiet when you leave is through positive reinforcement. This involves rewarding your dog when they exhibit the desired behavior of staying quiet while you depart.

To implement positive reinforcement:

  • Have treats ready by the door before you leave.
  • When your dog stays quiet as you grab your keys, put on your shoes, open the door, etc., immediately give them a treat and verbal praise like “Good quiet!”
  • Start small by rewarding quiet behavior for just a few seconds at first before working up to longer durations.
  • Be consistent and reward every time your dog stays quiet during your exit routine.
  • Use high-value treats that your dog loves like small pieces of chicken, cheese, hot dogs or liver treats.

With regular positive reinforcement, your dog will learn that being quiet during departures leads to rewards. Over time, they will associate your exit routine with treats and praise, making them more likely to stay calm and silent.

giving a dog treats for being quiet by the door

Remember to always reward the behavior you want to see more of. With persistence, your dog will learn that quietness during your exit is the behavior that delivers the treats and positive attention they crave.

Ignore Bad Behavior

One of the most important things when training a dog to stop barking when left alone is to not reward the barking behavior in any way. This means when your dog barks as you prepare to leave or as you walk out the door, do your best to completely ignore them. Don’t talk to them, don’t touch them, don’t even look at them. Any type of reaction from you, even a scolding, can reinforce the behavior.

According to Preventive Vet, “When your dog barks for attention, they’re often seeking any interaction — even negative attention.”[1] So it’s best to not interact with them at all. The key is to leave without any fanfare. Don’t say goodbye, don’t make eye contact, don’t give any commands. Just matter-of-factly walk out the door. This helps signal to your dog that your departures are no big deal and not something to get worked up about.

It’s also important to ignore barking or whining after you’ve left the house. As hard as it may be, don’t yell at your dog to be quiet or bang on the door or window. Your dog will see this as a reward for their barking since they got a reaction. Instead, you want them to learn that barking results in nothing.

With consistency over time, your dog will realize that barking when you leave does not result in any reward, attention, or interaction from you. This concept is known as extinction in dog training. Eventually the barking behavior should decrease dramatically or stop altogether.

[1] https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/ignoring-bad-behavior-in-dogs

Use Distractions

One effective way to stop your dog from barking when you leave is to provide distractions to keep them occupied and focused on something other than your departure. A great option is interactive toys and puzzles that contain treats. The combination of mental stimulation and tasty rewards is the perfect formula to distract your pooch.

Kongs are a popular choice for this technique. You simply fill the Kong with your dog’s favorite treats, peanut butter, or a mixture of wet and dry food. As your dog works to access the tasty contents, they’ll be fully engaged with licking out every last morsel. The Kong will keep your dog happily occupied and less inclined to bark while you head out.

There are also a wide variety of puzzle toys on the market designed specifically for treat dispensing. These toys come in various shapes and sizes, with adjustable difficulty settings. Your dog will need to manipulate the toy in different ways to uncover the treats inside. This provides both mental and physical enrichment to fully absorb your dog’s attention.

a dog playing with a treat dispensing toy

The key is to provide the toy or puzzle right before you leave so your dog transitions seamlessly into playing as you walk out the door. Over time, your dog will associate your departure with the arrival of a fun distraction, helping curb the barking behavior.

Try An Anti-Barking Device

Anti-barking devices can be an effective way to stop your dog from barking when you leave. Two common types of anti-barking devices are citronella spray collars and ultrasonic noise makers.

Citronella spray collars detect barking and emit a quick spray of citronella near your dog’s nose. The citronella smell is unpleasant but harmless, and acts as a deterrent to barking. These collars are humane and work for many dogs, but some dogs become accustomed to the smell.[1]

Ultrasonic noise makers detect barking and emit a high-pitched sound that is unpleasant to dogs but inaudible to humans. The sound startles dogs and deters barking. These devices are very effective for some dogs, but others may become acclimated over time.

When using an anti-barking device, introduce it gradually and use positive reinforcement to encourage quiet behavior. Never use a shock collar or punishment. Work with a professional if your dog shows signs of stress.

Use Calming Supplements

Calming supplements can help relieve anxiety in dogs who become distressed when left alone. Some supplements work by mimicking natural calming pheromones or hormones, while others contain herbs that have a relaxing effect.

Pheromone supplements, such as Adaptil, contain dog appeasing pheromones that can provide comfort and reassurance to dogs (source). These artificial pheromones are the same ones mother dogs produce to calm their puppies.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Veterinarians may recommend melatonin supplements to help anxious dogs relax and sleep more soundly when alone (source). The proper dosage of melatonin depends on the dog’s size.

Herbal remedies such as chamomile, passionflower, valerian root, and ginger can provide mild sedative effects. Formulas containing these herbs, like Composure treats or Solliquin liquid, are available for calming anxious dogs (source). Check with your vet before using herbal supplements.

Desensitize Departures

One of the most effective ways to train your dog to be calm when you leave is to slowly desensitize them to your departures. The goal is to get your dog used to being alone for short periods of time, while preventing them from becoming overly anxious or stressed.

Start by practicing leaving the home for very brief periods of time, ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. When you return home, do so calmly to avoid rewarding frantic behavior from your dog. Slowly increase the amount of time that you are gone. The key is gradual progress to condition your dog to your absence.

someone practicing leaving the house for short periods

It can also help to vary your routine when leaving. For example, randomly change whether you put on your coat or shoes first, which door you use to exit, and whether you pick up your keys and bag. This prevents your dog from recognizing a set “leaving routine” and becoming anxious in anticipation of your departure. According to a Rover article, varying your routine can be an important part of the gradual desensitization process.

Seek Professional Help

If your dog’s separation anxiety is severe or fails to improve with the above techniques, be sure to seek professional help from a certified behaviorist or dog trainer. Some things to consider:

Behaviorist

A certified dog behaviorist has extensive education in animal behavior and will conduct a thorough assessment of your dog’s anxiety triggers, problem behaviors, and history. They can then design a customized treatment plan involving behavior modification techniques tailored to your individual dog.

Trainer

Look for a trainer that specializes in separation anxiety, such as a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). These professionals have advanced skills in anxiety reduction protocols and desensitization training. They can coach you through exercises and changes both inside and outside the home.

Medication

In severe cases where behavior modification alone doesn’t produce enough improvement, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication or natural calming supplements. However, medication should be used cautiously and only in conjunction with behavior modification training.

Be Patient and Consistent

You won’t see results overnight when training your dog to be quieter when you leave. It takes time and consistency to change anxious behaviors like excessive barking. Be prepared to stick with your training plan for at least a few weeks before expecting any improvement. Progress will likely come gradually at first. You may notice your dog barking a bit less each day or waiting a few extra minutes before the barking starts.

It’s important not to get frustrated or give up too soon. If you switch between techniques or stop the training completely, your dog may become confused and the anxious behaviors could get worse again. Pick a training method and commit to being patient and consistent with it. With time and repetition, your dog will learn that being alone is okay and that barking or whining when you leave is not required.

Remember that setbacks are normal too. Your dog may have a day or two where the barking gets worse again out of the blue. Stay calm, stick to your routine, and usually they will bounce back quickly. Changing anxious behaviors requires dedication and time, but it is very possible. Be patient, be consistent, and celebrate small wins along the way.

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