Treating dogs with severe separation anxiety

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Dogs make wonderful companions and ideal pets, but sometimes even a good dog can become an incessant barker. As your dog learns that silence is rewarded with treats and barking is ignored, you'll need to gradually extend the period of time that your dog must be quiet before receiving a treat.
There are numerous reasons why dogs bark, and that problematic behavior is both annoying and, in many places, illegal.
Also called "attention-seeking barking," request barking is a common problem for dog owners. When your dog finally does stop barking, it's important that you praise and reward her for her silence. Counterconditioning is a common treatment method for dogs that typically involves training the dog to associate something fearful with a reward. If your dog barks compulsively for no reason, or tends to bark when she's left alone (in the yard, for example), she may be engaging in boredom barking. Learning and practicing tricks is an excellent way to prevent boredom in dogs and discourage compulsive behavior. In addition to exercise, leaving distractions around the house is a great way to inhibit problem behaviors like boredom barking. If your dog has barking problems whenever she sees or hears something outside, a simple solution might be to block her access to seeing or hearing that trigger. Bark deterrents like anti-bark collars are very unpleasant for dogs, and should only be used as a last resort when no other method has worked.
If your dog is barking at people walking past your home, close the curtains and move him to another room where he cannot see the people. This is sometimes tough to do, if your pooch is barking constantly to get out of his crate or come into the room to be with you. The first step to quieting your dog's barking is to find out why she is making so much noise.


The first step to breaking a dog's request barking is to stop giving your dog what she wants whenever she barks. Dogs that bark when left alone may be experiencing separation anxiety, but there are usually other symptoms which accompany that problem, like destructive behavior, bathroom problems, and following you around when you're home. Once you've determined why she's barking, you'll know what actions to take to get her to stop. Learning how to silence your barking dog can help ensure a quiet community and keep you out of trouble with the law. Some dogs bark whenever they are exposed to novel or unusual stimuli whether they are sounds, sights or odors.
Effective crate training techniques when your dog is first obtained should decrease the dog's anxiety when it is left alone in its crate (see our handout on 'Crate Training in Dogs').
Providing your dog with a consistent and predictable daily routine (see our handout on 'Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling') can help your dog to be calmer and more settled through the day. Also, by providing predictable consequences, you can insure that calm and quiet behavior is reinforced and that you never reinforce attention seeking behavior (which may escalate to barking). If your dog's excessive barking problem has been going on for some time, he may be suffering from separation anxiety. However, the barking becomes problematic when it gets too loud, too frequent, or will not stop on command. One of the most practical techniques for teaching a dog to cease barking on command, is to teach barking on cue. Dogs that bark on command can then be taught to turn off the barking by removing the cue or stimulus, and giving a 'hush' or 'quiet' command just before the barking subsides.
It can be difficult or impractical to teach a dog to be 'quiet' on command if the barking cannot be predicted or 'turned on', or if it is too intense. Another method to teach a "quiet" command is to wait until your dog is barking, for example in response to a doorbell.


When the dog is quiet (which should happen because dogs cannot sniff and bark at the same time) you can praise your dog, say 'good quiet' and give the treat. Alternately, distraction or remote punishment devices (see below) can be used to disrupt the barking. One of the most effective means of interrupting barking and ensuring quiet is a remote leash and head halter. Soon the dog should associate the closed mouth and the verbal command with the absence of noise, and begin to stop barking when given the verbal prompt alone. Even a small amount of barking could disturb a sleeping baby or upset neighbors (particularly in apartments or townhouses).
When trying to resolve barking problems, the motivation for the barking behavior is an important component.
Excessive levels of punishment can increase anxiety and further aggravate many forms of barking, while mild punishment merely rewards the behavior by providing attention.
Surgical debarking is a drastic and often permanent method of decreasing the sound of the barking. Devocalization may need to be considered when owners are confronted with the option of immediately resolving a barking problem or having to give up their pet. However, all attempts at behavior modification should be continued to try and address the underlying motivation for barking and perhaps result in a permanent solution.



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