Dogs are social animals hence explaining why their ancestors, wolves, lived in communities we refer to as packs. Even after you have trained and conditioned your dog to feel confident when left alone, this should not be a period greater than 4-5 hours during the day.
The primary cause of barking when a dog is left alone is boredom, loneliness or nervousness. Excessive barking can also be accompanied by chewing objects (not necessarily those things you want them to!) and house soiling. This is often referred to as separation anxiety.
Since we cannot be with our dogs 24 hours a day it is important we both condition them to be confident when left alone and be content to occupy themselves during these periods. Here are some tips :
- Gradually accustom your dog to your leaving. Start by leaving your dog confined in another room (or its long term confinement area) for short periods i.e. a few minutes. Do this at irregular intervals throughout the day. Over a number of weeks, start building up the periods you can leave them in the house alone. Your dog will soon realise that they are not being abandoned forever and that you will return.
- Give them stuffed chew toys (such as Kong toys) to keep them occupied. Be imaginative with these, there are many different ways and different treats these can be filled with. See our article How to use a Kong Toy
- Don’t be overly attentive with them at all times while you are at home. This just makes being left alone feel even more extreme.
- Feed your dog a small meal before you leave, this will make them more sleepy, but remember that many dogs need to relieve themselves shortly after a meal.
- Don’t make a fuss before leaving the house. Quietly settle your dog and leave. Avoid getting them excited and avoid long goodbyes. Get into a familiar routine and over time you will find your dog knows what is coming and will settle itself.
- Leave the TV or radio on. Dogs often find the sound of music or people talking to be reassuring. They will also be less disrupted by sounds outside.
- Tie a scarf that you have been wearing (i.e. it has your scent on it) to the outside door handle of the door you exit through. When your dog sniffs under the door to find out if you are still close, they may be re-assured by your scent.
- Don’t allow your dog the run of your house while you are away. Have a ‘long-term confinement area and condition them to feel comfortable in these areas. Alternatively, consider the benefits of crate training your dog.
- Dogs can feel very insecure when left outside on their own and this should be avoided if separation problems exist. They should be left in a secure area, safe from hazards such as electrical cables and breakable items.
- Ensure your dog gets plenty of exercise, thus allowing them to sleep while you are away.