Dog howling while at home alone is a very serious problem. It often forces the owners to give their pet away (to a shelter or other owners), when in fact this problem can be solved within 2-3 weeks, even if your dog is over 5 years old. This article describes a method to solve the howling problem. Each case, of course, has its own peculiarities. This article cannot substitute consulting a specialist, nor your own knowledge and experience (if you are a specialist yourself). Nevertheless, I hope it can become a useful guide that will draw your attention to the most important training aspects and offer you some basic principles of dealing with the problem.
What behavior is typical for “howling” dogs?
Many dogs stay in the apartment (house) alone rather well, and yet the neighbours might complain about the howling. In this case it is necessary to leave a video camera or voice recorder and record your dog’s behavior for at least 10-20 minutes after you leave. We had an experience when such recording helped prove that it was another dog howling on the next floor. It turned out that an elderly lady, who complained about the howling simply couldn’t define where the howling sound was coming from.
Usually a problematic dog tries to slip out with its owner, when it ses him (orher) leaving the house. It can even try to grab its owner’s clothes, growl and bark. And as soon as the owner closes the door, the dog starts howling. In most cases the dog does it out of frustration or because it doesn’t understand that the owner will come back. Once alone, it starts running from one room to another, to the corridor, the kitchen or its observation point at the window, jumps down and runs again. It can be clearly seen in the video that the dog is agitated and energetic.
Behaviour correction techniques will be first of all aimed at explaining to the dog that the owner leaves it at home on purpose and wants it to wait for him. And the second aim will be to make sure that the dog feels secure and can sleep calmly while you deal with your business outside your home.
Preparatory work is essential
Before you start solving the problem, it is necessary to get your dog’s life on the right track (OR make your dog’s life better). If you don’t make any changes in the pet’s life, you won’t be able to correct its behavour either.
The basic principle of a pet’s welfare states that a pet has a right for “Five freedoms”:
Freedom from hunger or thirst
A dog should be fed in portions and have access to water 24/7. Its diet must be balanced: not excessive, nor poor. “Hawling dogs” often have poor digestion and don’t easily gain weight. Separate nutrition by small portions has beneficial effect on a dog’s behavior.
Freedom from pain, injury or disease
A dog should be healthy and free of any pain. Owners are obliged to take all necessary prophylactic measures in time – vaccinate, give antihelminthics as well as vitamins and probiotics, if necessary.
Freedom from discomfort
A pet needs to have its own “spot” in the house (even if it’s allowed to lie on the owner’s bed, it still needs its own dog bed!). Sit on the dog’s “spot” with a book and try to stay there for at least 1-2 hours. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable in that place, then your dog won’t feel comfortable there either. In such case you’ll have to find another place for the dog’s bed.
Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour (freedom to be a dog)
2-3 hours should be dedicated daily to walking with your dog. If possible, even more, but not less! A dog needs to communicate with its congeners.
If a pet is unable to do so due to some behavioural problems (aggression, fear), the owner should address these problems as well. If the dog is not brood and has excessive sexual drive, it has to be castrated.
Freedom from fear and distress
Behavour correction is aimed at providing your dog with this exact right. By solving the dog’s problems, we free the dog from its fears and anxiety.
Owners family. Psychology.
Dogs are extremely responsive to their owner’s emotional state. Sometimes even we – owners – find it hard to leave our apartment. We waste a lot of time on preparations, feel worried, check if everything is switched off, locked, cleaned up, etc… We simply don’t want to leave our comfortable and safe “little world” and find ourselves in a big, unpredictable city. In my practice those who turned to me with the dog’s howling problem were mostly families with a young child (the child turned one year old and his mother wants to return to work after the maternity leave) and married couples of about 50-60 years, whose children have recently “flown the nest” and they have more spare time, but they fear this new stage in life.
Some owners confess that they feel sick at heart to leave the dog that feels so scared and lonely at home. While an owner is possessed by such feelings and while his fear towards the outer world is yet strong, behaviour correction efforts will have no effect. At some point the owner will refuse to leave the dog alone at home (even if it no longer howls) or will do something that will whittle away all the achieved results. Howling dog and threats of the neighbours are a good excuse for one family member to be always housebound.
If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, consider that your dog always, even through problematic behaviour, tries to make you happier. Determine what is truly good for you, and then explain it to your pet. You will see, when you’re ready, the dog will easily accept new rules of the “game”.
Behaviour correction: 8 exercises
1. Begin the exercise with the bedroom door instead of the front door. Enter the room together with your dog. Then start opening the door in order to exit the room. If the dog is trying to force its way before you – stop, turn to face your pet and press it away from the door. If the dog looks in your eyes – praise it. You can command it to sit or simply not let it through, forcing it to make 1-2 steps away from the door each time the dog tries to leave the room with you. While doing that, say: «No, stay!». This will help you to keep you main goal of the exercise in mind, and make the dog start seeking the sense of your actions.
All your movements should be calm and friendly. Don’t forget to praise the dog from time to time, you can even retell this article. Make sure the dog doesn’t consider your actions as a threat. You might need to repeat the exercise 10-15 times until your dog will be able to stay calmly 1 metre away from the door and you will walk out without feeling your pet squeezing beside you. Praise the dog generously and give it a treat to reward its first success!
In case the dog is aggressive towards you or if you haven’t yet “established a contact” with your pet, put a muzzle and a leash on the dog before beginning the exercise. Don’t press the dog into the room with your hands, use an improvised “shield” – badminton racket or a folder. Simply put the ‘shield’ forward, so that you don’t have to bend over the pet; this way it won’t feel any threat from you. Don’t look the dog into the eyes, don’t scold, nor punish it. At the moment you are only dealing with a howling problem. Do not let yourself be distracted by any other problem.
2. As soon as the dog learns to stay in the room alone, try to leave the apartment (house) with the pet seeing you to the front door. You needn’t be absent for a long period of time. The aim is to leave and enter as many times as possible. If you notice your dog yawning or if it starts howling again, take a 5-minute break and only then continue the exercise. When leaving for a walk and returning back home, prevent the dog (using a leash) from pushing you aside and squeezing through the door first. You will have to walk through the bedroom door and then through the front door from 4 to 10 times in order for your pet to understand this simple rule of courtesy.
3. Once again we work with the bedroom door. Set a timer to go off every 1 minute. Leave the dog in the room alone, but don’t close the door. Walk out of the room, take one step away from the door. The dog must stay in the room, and you – near the entrance. You shall be separated from your pet only by the doorstep. If the dog starts walking towards you, immediately press it back into the room. As soon as the dog is inside the room, take a step back, cross the threshold and stop near the entrance. On hearing the sound of the alarm enter the room, praise and treat the dog. Reset the timer for another 1 minute. This time stay inside the room with the dog until the alarm goes off. On hearing the sound of the alarm praise and treat the dog again. Reset the timer and leave the room for one minute once again.
Thereby you stay in the room with the dog for 1 minute, then walk out of the room and stay outside for the next 1 minute (near the entrance, door is open). Setting a timer is a must – the dog will learn to wait for the alarm signal. Remember that you have to praise the dog and give it a treat every time the timer alarm goes off, even if the pet didn’t sit quietly during the minute.
You should carry on with this exercise until your dog learns to stay in the room without trying to escape or cross the threshold. It will take on the average 10 minutes 2-3 times a day for 1-3 days.
4. Repeat the same exercise, but now give your dog a treat only before you exit the room (cross the threshold).
5. The same exercise, but this time the door will be closed. Don’t forget to treat the pet every time you leave the room and after the timer signal. It doesn’t matter, if the dog makes any objecting sounds or scratches the door. At this point it’s insignificant. Usually on the 7th-8th repeat dogs wait for the alarm patiently and silently, wondering what the next “episode of the show” will bring.
6. The same exercise once again, but with the front door.
7. Now we make intervals a little longer. Some owners (and even dog trainers) erroneously believe that time intervals should be increased gradually from 1 minute to 10 hours. You can waste months like that and still not get any results. That is why I recommend doing the following: set the timer for 2 minutes. You spend 2 minutes with the dog, and 2 minutes separately. Repeat it 3 times. It will be 12 minutes in total. After 12-24 hours do the same exercise, but set the timer for 5 minutes. Make 2 rounds (2 times with the dog, 2 times separately). Total — 20 minutes. That is all you need.
8. Now don’t set a timer. Dress as if you were going out, leave the apartment, lock the door and wait silently counting to yourself to 100 (or time 1,5 minutes). If you hear your dog start barking or howling — come back inside and scold the dog, then leave the apartment again and mark another 1,5 minutes. If the pet is silent — come back inside and give it a treat, praise calmly.
But there is another moment worthy of a more thorough explanation. Dogs can be more or less sensitive to punishment. Some of them are so happy the owner has returned that they don’t even notice the discontent, and keep wagging the tail and jumping around the owner. Others expect you to be angry and put their tail between their legs as you enter. In this case you must make sure the dog understands why you are punishing it, and isn’t simply terrified (the dog mustn’t be afraid of you!).
Too mild punishment.
When you are scolding your dog, and it keeps jumping around you with its ears sticking up, puts its paws on you, wagging its tail and stretching its lips in a smile – the dog definitely doesn’t understand that you are displeased. Scold the dog more strongly, press it into the room. Make your voice lower. Imagine that your dog is doing something absolutely inappropriate at this very moment, for example it has reached on the table or wallows in rotten stuff. The dog must interpret your tone unambiguously.
But note that I am offering you only to scold the dog without beating it or throwing “Fisher disks” at it. In this exercise you have to show your dissatisfaction only with the tone of your voice and using certain words.
If the dog stopped for a moment, turned with its side towards you, lowered its head, pressed its ears, lowered its tail below the level of the back — it means that the dog understood your discontent, but is not frightened. Now you have to stop scolding your dog, it is enough. When you see your dog acting like that, walk out of the apartment and continue the exercise.
The punishment is too harsh if the dog has its tail between its legs, dropped to the floor, urinated or tried to run away and hide. Try to remember the dog acting like this and never make the same mistake again. Continue the exercise, but next time be careful with your actions and express your dissatisfaction slightly lowering your voice.
А lot of emotional dogs are so responsive to punishment, that over the years owners see only manifestation of fear and never know what the right reaction to punishment looks like. Owners get angry because they think the dog is simulating fear. But this is not the case. The more a dog is frightened while being punished, the more it feels the need in protection. And the only reliable “safety base” for the dog is its owner. Consequently, the more you frighten your dog, the scarier it is for the pet to stay home alone. As a result the dog will howl more actively in your absence. Therefore it is important to never punish the dog too much.
Such breeds as Yorkshire Terrier, Chinese hairless Crested dog, Jack Russell Terrier, Belgian shepherd and Border collie are very emotional and sensitive. Frequently the owner only says “what’s that?” without even raising his voice, and the dog demonstrates reactions, which it is supposed to demonstrate after the correct punishment. Of course dogs can persist in their bad behavior for some time even after the punishment, but you shouldn’t pay attention to that. If the dog has pressed its ears, frozen and dropped its tail, there is no need to approach closer and continue to scold. You should stop talking, walk out of the room and continue the exercise. You have been heard!
So then, walk out of the room 4-6 times. Praise and treat the dog if it has been silent all the time. Scold the dog and walk out of the room again if it barked and howled. Repeat this exercise for a couple of days. If you are doing everything right on the second – third day of exercises, you will be able to leave the dog for several hours alone and be surprised to see your dog calm, quiet and pretty happy when you come back. Further you have to follow three rules:
And now, when you have completed the 8 exercises, during the next 2-3 months you have to follow these rules:
1. Leave the dog home alone every day. It doesn’t matter will it be 5 minutes or 9 hours. But you will have to find a reason to get dressed, take your handbag, in a way that the dog doesn’t understand for how long you are going to be absent. Then walk out of the apartment.
2. Never return to a howling dog (so you don’t reinforce its misdoing). If you come home and hear the dog howling — enter the apartment, scold the dog, leave the room right away, count to 5 and enter again. During these 5 seconds the dog will be silent and you will return to the silent dog.
3. Never forget about the “5 freedoms” right of your dog!
The dog will feel well and be able to demonstrate its best qualities provided that you comply with the rule of “5 freedoms”.
There are several ways to make the dog be silent in your absence, but I consider these measures as inadmissible. Sometimes owners cut their dogs’ vocal cords. Hoarse sounds that dogs make after this operation will maintain in the owners the feeling of guilt during many years, not to mention that it violates the fourth “freedom” of the dog.
E-collar (shock no bark collar) will only strengthen your dog’s fear of loneliness (in case you don’t complete the 8 exercises). It is very probable that the dog will continue to howl without the collar, and might start damaging things and soiling in the apartment, or might develop any other bad habit as a result of wearing such a collar. Moreover, using an E-collar is inhumane and outrages the “5 freedoms” right of the animal.
Ultrasound no bark collar (collar and stationary) can substitute your punishment at the 8th stage of behavior correction. If you skip the previous stages (preparatory work), the dog will get used to the ultrasound and become unresponsive to it in about two weeks.
In the early spring and mid fall all the dogs’ behavioural problems aggravate. If you succeeded in breaking your dog’s howling habit in 2 weeks, and your pet learn to stay home alone calmly, and two years later on returning home you suddenly hear the long-forgotten howling – don’t worry. All you need to do is repeat all the above mentioned exercises (very often 1 repetition of each exercise is enough). The dog needs one day only to remember everything and understand what you demand of it. Your pet will be good again and possibly will maintain such good behaviour for the rest of its life!