If you’re wondering, “How to stop my dog howling when left alone?”, you are most likely dealing with separation anxiety. The best way to resolve this would be through desensitization and counterconditioning — easing the triggers and creating new, positive associations.
How to Stop My Dog Howling When Left Alone
When I got the latest furry addition to my household, I thought training the dog would be a true picnic in the park. However, unlike my other pets, which have displayed some other behavior quirks over the years, this particular pup was rather clingy. It wasn’t long until I was desperately trying to find out how to stop my dog howling when left alone. Even my neighbors were losing their patience, so something had to be done!
Of course, I sort of guessed why the pooch was howling. Still, I had to dig deeper and make sure there weren’t any medical issues at play. Once that was done, I was ready to commit to a couple of months’ worth of work — so here’s my story.
How to Stop My Dog Howling When Left Alone: The Cause
In order to figure out how to stop my dog howling when left alone, I knew that I had to get to the root cause of the problem. But seeing as this isn’t my first rodeo (I have had dogs all my life), I knew that sometimes, dogs could act weird for various reasons.
Before going any further, know that I recommend taking the dog to the vet before deciding to resolve the situation on your own. In some cases, excessive howling may signify that the dog is going through something internally. A medical issue we haven’t noticed yet may be troubling the pooch.
If the dog is suffering from an underlying disease or condition, it may howl, bark, and generally act a bit strange” href=”https://www.happyfitdog.com/my-dog-is-acting-strange-and-hiding-a-unique-and-helpful-guide/”>strange or misbehave to show its owner that something is wrong. Sometimes it may just be boring, but dogs are usually capable of resolving ennui fast with toys. So, if it is in impeccable health, the only reasonable cause of the howling is separation anxiety.
About Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is the type of nervousness that dogs feel whenever their owner leaves them alone or even before they step through the door to leave them. In most cases, the dogs will show clear signs of anxiety right before they leave. They may also keep displaying odd behavior even when the owner is already gone.
Howling when the owner leaves is one of the most common signs of separation anxiety, and it’s often followed by:
- General destruction (chewing, digging, etc.)
- Improper urination and defecation
- Fixed pacing-back-and-forth-in-my-older-dog/” title=”pacing”>pacing” href=”https://www.happyfitdog.com/my-dog-is-restless-and-pacing-at-night/”>pacing
All of these may serve as coping mechanisms for the dog. However, they are, in and of themselves, disturbing and may lead to more issues down the line. The problem is that except for auditory signals, such as barking or howling, it’s unlikely that we will notice them immediately.
Of course, we’ll take note that our dog has escaped, but how likely is that to happen? What’s more, even though dogs may engage in coprophagia, destruction, and pacing while alone, they will make sure not to behave like that when the owner is at home.
Why Dogs Get Anxious When We Leave
Most dogs will definitely miss their owners when they leave them at home. However, not all dogs will start howling and continue to do so for hours when they’re alone.
This sort of behavior is far more prevalent in rescues. The sad truth is that those dogs have already lost their previous humans or were abandoned. So, in essence, the main cause of the anxiety and an indirect cause of the howling is fear of abandonment.
If the dog has been with you ever since it was a pup and is now engaging in some howling whenever you leave it alone, consider the following:
- Have you moved recently? Dogs may react negatively to new environments. It may take them some time to adjust to their new home. After all, it’s an unfamiliar place!
- Have there been any changes in the household recently? Did you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Has a live-in family member died? All of these represent “loss” to your dog. That may have kick-started separation anxiety.
- Have you changed its routine recently? If you have been working from home all these years and have now decided to work from an office — that’s a HUGE change for your dog. You might have triggered the anxiety, and consequently, the howling by leaving the dog alone for hours on end.
How to Stop My Dog Howling When Left Alone: The Solution
In my case, I needed to learn how to stop my dog howling when left alone as soon as possible. Although the neighborhood I live in is fairly nice, the pup in question was relatively loud and would often alert passers-by. So, I decided to do a little digging to find the most suitable solutions. Though there are various tips you could use to make the situation better, the only way to eliminate howling is to rely on some desensitization and counterconditioning.
In a nutshell, desensitization requires us to keep exposing the dog to varying levels of a certain threat or fear in order to change its emotional reaction to it. In this case, I had to:
Ease the Triggers
I had to figure out what I do right before I leave through the door and do those things even when I’m not going anywhere. For example, most of us make a real show out of getting ready to leave for the day. We get dressed, run around to find our shoes, keys, etc.
These are all triggers that show the dog we are about to leave it. So, to desensitize the pup to the activities, I had to perform them at random times. The point was to stop the dog from associating them with “loss,” “leaving,” or “loneliness.”
Help the Dog Become Independent
The other technique I relied on had to do with creating some distance between the dog and me. And this is where counterconditioning came into play.
The whole point of counterconditioning is to create new associations — nice ones, of course. So, I had to trigger a pleasant emotional reaction, and the easiest way to do that was with treats.
My dog had to learn that we could be separated, but that I would always come back. Therefore, I started to desensitize it to my absence by exposing it to varying levels of it.
I first moved away from it while we were in the same room to create some distance. If it didn’t move, I would return and give it a treat. Then, I just kept going, distancing myself further each time the dog successfully stayed away.
The gist of this method is simple if you deconstruct it. The dog needs to learn how to be alone, that much is true. However, since it has a negative emotional reaction to being by itself, you first have to ease that. Once it has been desensitized, you can work on making positive associations.
In any dog’s case, treats work great for that. Each time it performs well, you give it a treat; that should reinforce the positive reaction and help the dog think “Treats are delicious rewards for my behavior. I will keep engaging in it to get more traits!”
Additional Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety and Howling
- Leave the room or your home silently, without making a big deal out of it. Stop saying goodbye to the dog, reiterating “Be good,” etc. Unless those are cues that will help the dog feel more relaxed, you are just triggering its anxiety further. Dogs are smart, and they know what those words mean; you’ve said them so many times before, and every time you did, you left the pooch alone!
- Keep the dog busy. Get your furry friend all the toys you can find to keep it distracted for as long as you’re not at home. Food puzzle toys are a great option, for instance, but if the dog prefers stuffed animals and balls, then get those!
- Help it cope by leaving some clothes behind. While you’re teaching the dog to be independent, you can remedy the situation a bit by easing its anxiety with your scent. You can give the dog one of your T-shirts (that you have worn) so that it “feels” as if you’re at home.
While you’re teaching the dog how to stay calm when you leave, you may have to implement some short-term solutions too, such as:
- Leaving the dog at doggy daycare when you’re not home for longer.
- Leaving it in familiar hands, i.e., with a family member, next-door-neighbor, etc.
If possible, you could take the dog with you to work as well. However, I do believe that’s a huge change in the long term. You may decide to switch jobs at some point and work from a not-so-pet-friendly office. In that case, you’d have to start the process all over — so why not just resolve the issue now? After all, your home is your dog’s home too, and it should be able to relax there, even when it’s all alone!
How to Stop My Dog Howling When Left Alone: Dealing With Severe Anxiety
In some cases, separation anxiety in dogs is so strong that they will not only howl but chew on furniture, defecate everywhere, etc. If that description fits your dog, too, I suggest that you confine it to a safe area in your home where it can relax and not cause any damage.
However, don’t lock the dog in a crate — not having enough space may make it more anxious. Instead, confine it to a larger area in your home, like a separate room with windows and lots of light. Get plenty of toys to keep it busy too and, again, give it some of your clothes to ease its nerves.
If the anxiety is severe enough to make you ask the vet for help, inquire about any anxiety medications that they could prescribe the dog. There’s no shame in asking for meds if your dog’s mental health is on the line.
I won’t lie to you — while I was learning how to stop my dog howling when left alone, I did wonder if I had made a mistake by taking in another rescue. But those dogs deserve a second chance! No matter how difficult the journey was, I’m glad I went through it.
The important thing is not to give up and leave the dog in distress. Howling is usually a sign of discomfort, after all, so just keep practicing, and have patience. As time passes, the pooch will find its inner peace, and its mood won’t dip whenever it’s not with you!