lonely dog of any age, and in some cases, even a
recording of your voice might be soothing. Leaving him
with a soft shirt that you’ve worn but not washed may
also provide him with your comforting scent.
If you don’t find a way to handle puppy-barking, you’ll
one day have to deal with the barking of your lonely
adult dog. One pet counselor described the dog who barks
constantly until his people return as a dog who is
calling his owners home. He knows that barking works,
because they do come home, eventually! Dogs who spend a
lot of time with their people may become dependent on
the constant presence of others, so that when they are
left alone, they feel anxious. And dogs express their
anxiety by – you guess it – barking.
One good way to prevent a lonely puppy growing into an
anxious barker is to let him spend time alone while he’s
still a puppy. (Be aware: some people unconsciously
want their pets to need them, and this
unconscious need to be depended on keeps them from
training their pets to become healthily independent. If
you find yourself thinking things like, “Oh fine, now
that you have your new chew toy, you don’t need me at
all,” watch out for ways you might sabotage your pet’s
learning. Don’t feel bad about it: lots of people get
pets precisely in order to feel needed, and your pet
will still need you even after he’s a perfectly-trained,
Teach your puppy that he can amuse himself when you
aren’t around. Provide him with toys that a dog can play
with alone, chewing happily on something in his very own
bed. If you give your dog a bed from the start and take
him to it every night, you’ll be doing both of you a
favor. First, he will have his very own spot, where he
can retreat to sleep, to daydream, or to hide when he’s
in trouble. Second, you’ll have your very own spot,
which you won’t have to share with a growing, shedding,
drooling dog who expects to be with you every minute of
your life. (Many vets recommend using a crate and
training your dog to use that as his primary base, but
if you’re not planning to do a lot of traveling, and if
your dog isn’t unusually unruly, your dog can get by
with a pet bed.)
When you’re home, don’t spend every waking and sleeping
minute with your dog. Do your own thing sometimes and
insist that he does his.
Start training your puppy right away. Puppies should
start their training at two months of age, so don’t wait
too long to start teaching him that training is part of
his daily life. While your puppy is young, you can try
responding to barking not by shouting or petting or
smacking him, but by turning your back on him and
leaving the room. This works because the puppy’s aim in
barking is to get your attention, so by leaving the
room, you are teaching him that you will not come
if he calls you. Ignoring behavior extinguishes it. Be
aware that you may have to “ignore” it for several weeks
(and don’t ever give in, because you will then
have provided your dog with the unalterable proof that
if he just barks long enough and loud enough, you’ll pay
attention to him.)
It’s important not to comfort a dog who is
barking. You don’t want your dog to learn that to get
your attention all he has to do is bark. Sometimes
people feel guilty and try to make it up to the animal
by talking, petting or even giving the animal treats.
Occasionally giving in is called in psychological
circles “intermittent reinforcement”, and it’s a
powerful way to teach the exact opposite of the lesson
you want your dog to learn. If you are inclined to feel
guilty, remind yourself of the big picture – you’re not
being mean; you are teaching your dog healthy ways of
being comfortable in the world.
If you try it for two solid weeks and ignoring the
barking isn’t working, you will want to move directly to
Bark Prevention Training. (See section 13). Now this is
going to sound like what I just told you not to
do, because you will be learning to quieten the puppy
when he barks. The difference here is, you will be
building on the “speak and hush” training you’ve already
shared, and you will practice it daily. Here’s how:
Once you have practiced the basics of Bark Prevention
Training and effectively taught your puppy to
“speak” and to “hush”, apply the training directly to
the problem of loneliness. Pretend to leave the house
(or the room, depending on what starts your puppy
barking). When the barking starts, come back in and tell
your puppy to “hush” just like you have in earlier
training sessions. When he hushes and stays hushed, wait
five or ten seconds, then tell him “good dog” and give
him a treat. Then, leave the room again. Repeat this
sequence until you can leave the room for five minutes
without hearing a bark. (You may also decide to put him
in his bed or in his crate, not as a punishment, but
because that is “his space” and will signal to him that
it’s time to take a nap or chew a toy. If you decide to
go this route, make sure and use his crate or bed
consistently for hushing him when you go out.)
Continue training your dog to be quietly alone,
gradually increasing the time you leave him to ten, then
fifteen, then thirty minutes. If you’re actually leaving
the house, the ideal situation is to have a
voice-activated tape machine or a neighbor who will
listen carefully and report back the amount of barking
your dog produces while you’re gone. That will give you
an idea of how your training is working, and whether
there are any other factors at play. It’s possible that
your puppy will learn to be quiet, but then a big truck
rumbles by or a siren sounds, and frightens the dog or
brings up a territorial reaction. If this happens,
you’ll go ahead and train for lonely-puppy barking, then
start desensitizing your puppy to the extra noises.
Desensitizing, or targeted training is covered after
Bark Prevention Training, later in this book.
Enlisting the help of a neighbor is also a good tactical
idea if your neighbor has problems with your dog
barking. It lets him know you’re serious about changing
the behavior, and making him part of the process also
puts him somewhat in your shoes, increasing his
potential for empathizing with you.
Puppies have different needs from grown dogs.
Puppies bark when taken from their mothers too soon.
Comfort barking puppies with a ticking clock, a radio or
television, or a shirt that smells like you.
Lonely puppies grow into lonely dogs unless his barking
is addressed in early life.
Help your puppy enjoy time alone: don’t spend every
waking minute with him.
Some owners want their dogs to “need” them,which stops
them from preventing inappropriate barking.
“Comforting” your pup only makes things worse.
Ignore barking – leave the room and return when he
Plan to start training by two months of age.
Put puppy in his bed before leaving him alone.
Practice leaving and returning to your puppy. Reward him
for not barking!
Lonely puppies may also bark at other things.
Neighbors can help you train your dog.