Crying for Help: Why Dogs Bark When You Leave

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Crying for Help: Why Dogs Bark When You Leave

It’s not easy to hear your dog barking for you when you leave for work or a night out. The sound of each bark can be heartbreaking and, if it goes on incessantly, it can start to feel embarrassing.

But why are they doing it and how can you make them stop? The first step is understanding what kind of bark you’re dealing with. 

HOW TO SPOT IT: Why does my dog bark so much?

Dogs bark for a number of reasons. In “Barking, Barking, Barking, Etc., Etc., Etc…,” Dog trainer Linda Michaels, MA, talks about how “dogs bark to repel intruders, for attention, during play, as an outlet for energy, or in separation distress.” While some dogs will bark because they’re bored or want attention when you leave, anxiety over being alone (also called separation anxiety) is an extremely common reason. It can also be the hardest to combat because of the underlying fear causing your dog to bark.

“To stop anxious barking, you must identify the source of the anxiety and either eliminate it (if possible) or train the dog to accept it,” notes TheSophisticatedDog.com, owned by dog trainer Irith Bloom. Bloom says that dogs with separation anxiety will continue to bark until your dog learns to be calm when left alone. This can be difficult to achieve on your own, so getting some specific tips from a trainer about your dog might be in order.

Dog waiting for owner

THINGS TO CONSIDER: How did my dog get separation anxiety?

Dogs with separation anxiety may have developed it because of their histories, suggests Jacque Lynn Schultz, a certified professional dog trainer. According to Schultz, these factors may include:

  • Dogs that move to multiple homes with different families or dogs rescued from shelters
  • Dogs that had “helicopter parents” who overprotected or babied them
  • Dogs that received inadequate socialization as a puppy
  • Dogs that were left alone
  • Dogs who rarely ventured far, if at all, off their property or space

Schultz cites that these dogs are found “chewing, barking, house soiling and digging at doors or window sills” because of anxiety triggered by their parent leaving. 

Should I debark my dog or get a bark collar?

No. Debarking is NOT the solution, especially to anxious barking. Over on thebark.com, famed dog trainer Victoria Stilwell explains, “Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition.”

Another unfortunate tactic pet parents try for dogs that bark when left alone is putting a bark collar on their dog when they leave. However, for dogs with anxiety-related barking behaviors this can make the problem worse. “When dealing with anxious barking, it is absolutely critical to avoid using aversives (shock collars, etc.), since these will only increase the dog’s level of stress,” notes Irith Bloom on TheSophisticatedDog.com. (Read more about separation anxiety and why to avoid bark collars.)

FIRST STEPS TO TAKE: How can I help my dog and stop their barking?

1. As always when your dog is doing something funky, rule out medical reasons first. Changing a behavior that’s being caused by an underlying medical condition just doesn’t work without tackling the medical side as well. Even if your dog is barking because of anxiety, some hard-to-spot health and age-related conditions can increase anxiety in dogs, leading them to bark. (Learn more about age and health-related anxiety in pets here.)

2. Look for stress versus boredom. Irith Bloom suggests setting up a video camera or baby monitor to watch your dog while you’re away. Look for common signs of stress, like pacing and inability to settle, digging or chewing at entry and exit points, avoiding food, shaking, whining or peeing/pooping, or others. This is likely to be anxiety and it’s time to call a trainer. “If, on the other hand, your dog settles in to dig all the food out of the food toy, then takes a short nap, and finally heads over to chew on the couch contemplatively, he’s probably just bored.”

3. Add exercise and boredom busters for bored dogs. Ask for help with anxious dogs. If your dog is calm and bored, consider adding some additional exercise to his day to help tire him out. There’s a reason for the saying, “a tired dog is a good dog.” It’s true! At least when it comes to keeping dogs from getting bored. Food puzzles and things that will keep your dog’s mind active while you’re gone can also help deter a bored barker. If, however, your pup seems scared when you’re away, it’s time to call a professional. 

HOW TO GET HELP: Questions to ask veterinary and behavior professionals

Barking can become embarrassing for a pet parent. If you’re on the path to solving the problem, you may want to get the advice of your vet or certified dog behavior specialist.

Some things you may consider asking:

  1. Are there any medical conditions that could be causing or intensifying my dog’s barking?
  2. Is my dog bored, frustrated or scared when I leave them alone?
  3. What can I do to help make sure my dog is tired before I leave the house?
  4. What steps can I take to show my dog there’s nothing to be scared of when I leave?

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