Of all dog behavior problems, perhaps the most distressing is the dog who barks when left alone.

These latchkey barkers fit several profiles, and it’s important to determine which one describes your dog:

  • Genetically prone barker: Virtually all terriers and many small dogs such as poodles, schnauzers and Lhasa Apsos fit into this category. These breeds have been “pre-programmed” to bark at movement or noise within their range. Training them to bark on command gives you control. It’s not that you don’t want them to bark; it’s just that you want them to bark when it’s appropriate.
  • The alpha/territorial barker: These barkers are most often unneutered males or guard dogs. They believe they are protecting their home. Neutering may take the edge off the dog. Training will help get the genetically protective dogs’ instincts in line. Blocking the dog’s view of the property lines and keeping him from patrolling the area around the front door or porch may assist in cutting down barking.
  • The bored, under-exercised dog: Sporting, hound and herding dogs were bred to work all day long. Many retrievers, pointers, setters, collies and the like find themselves sadly under exercised. They need to be kept busy. If not, boredom turns to barking (not to mention chewing, pacing and digging). If you are going to be gone more than six hours, you must spend at least an hour beforehand mentally and physically challenging your dog.
  • The fearful, neurotic dog: Toys and miniatures, dogs that have been passed around from home to home to shelter, fit into this group. Their histories include coddling or overprotective handling, lack of socialization and isolation. These dogs suffer from separation anxiety when left alone, even for brief periods. Chewing, barking, digging and house soiling are some typical responses. The neurotic dog may feel less stressed if he’s confined to a kennel crate (such as an airline type) with his bedding and chew toy. With less space to worry about, many dogs just curl up and calm down. However, dogs with severe anxiety problems (often a shelter dog) may go to pieces in a crate – shaking, slobbering and struggling to escape. In these instances, you must seek professional counseling from a dog trainer or veterinarian who is well-versed in canine behavior problems.

As with all behavior problems, patience and endurance are the keys. Don’t give up. When all else fails, there are many reputable “canine counselors” or animal behaviorists who can help you, your dog and neighbors all live happily ever after.