Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.
Is Your Dog Barking When You’re Working From Home?
A dog barking when you’re working from home can turn out to be very problematic, especially when you’re making video calls and your dog’s vocalizations cover your audio.
Imagine for instance the following scenario: You’re on a video call and your dog approaches you.
He notices your hand dangling and lifts your hand in hopes of being pat on the hand. You tell your dog: “Not now Rover, I am having an important meeting with a client.”
Soon after a few seconds, your dog starts barking asking you to pet him. To quiet him down, you pet him. Your dog soon learns that in order to be pet, all he needs to do is approach you when you’re doing a video call in the office.
If this scenario sounds familiar, rest assured that you are not alone! Countless dog owners are dealing with the same problem.
With the whole pandemic ordeal, going now still strong, more and more employees are still working from home, and while it’s nice to work in a cozy home environment, loud, ear-piercing barking is no fun for all the parties involved!
Why Is My Dog Barking When I am Working From Home?
If your dog is barking the moment you turn on your computer or do a conference call, getting to the root of the problem is paramount.
Dogs bark for various reasons, for instance, did you know there are at least 11 different types of barking in dogs? Therefore, identifying the ultimate cause of your dog’s barking isn’t always as easy as thought.
Following are several potential reasons your dog may be working when you’re working from home.
A Matter of Unmet Needs
Being deprived of the ability to talk is no fun. Imagine for a moment being a baby who can’t tell communicate effectively important information such as feeling too hot or too cold, feeling some type of pain, being hungry, feeling overly tired, having a soiled diaper or just simply feeling bored or lonely.
Parents are often left wondering what is wrong with a crying baby. It gets frustrating, and even worrisome at times, not knowing exactly what may be going on. It often takes some experimenting to figure things out.
Well, for dogs the situation is similar. They can only voice their opinion and hope for the best that we understand them. Your dog may therefore bark because he’s hungry, thirsty or needs to be taken outside to potty, but there can be much more going on!
Some dogs tend to bark when they want attention and they can quickly learn to use their barking anytime they crave it.
It often starts quite innocently. The dog may be bored one day when you are not paying attention and he emits a bark, and the next thing he knows, you are looking at him and even getting up to check what is going on.
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Now, dogs who crave attention, crave any form of it, even if it’s attention of the negative type. So anything you do, even just looking at him, talking at him or getting up to check on him, qualifies as attention nonetheless.
If your dog is able to normally follow you around and now you close the door to work in peace in your home office, your dog may bark out of frustration.
Barrier frustration, in particular, is a term used to depict a dog who literally struggles to handle any type of physical barrier (gate, door, fence, etc.) that prevents him from doing something or going wherever the dog desires to go.
In this case, the dog is likely barking “in protest” at the closed door and his barking helps “vent his emotions” of deep upset.
The closed door comes to signal separation from the owner and this can be perceived as aversive by dogs who love being around their families and perceive them as their “secure base.”
Northern breeds such as Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, in particular, may hate being closed up due to their histories of wandering over large open spaces.
Some dogs are prone to getting anxious when they are separated from their owners. In these cases, the barking is more of the frantic type.
Sonograms of dogs suffering from separation anxiety reveal that the barking is atonal and repetitive, denoting distress (source Yin and McCowan 2004).
While dogs with separation anxiety show signs of distress such as barking, howling, pacing, digging at windows and doors, drooling and having pee or poop accidents when the owner leaves the house, some dogs show these signs even when the owner is present, but the dog does not have access to him/her (like being behind a closed door).
Did you know? Older dogs who are beginning to experience cognitive impairment and/or decreases in their ability to hear, smell or see may begin to show signs of separation anxiety. According to a study, out of 26 dogs 10 years old or older, 13 were diagnosed with separation anxiety (Chapman and Voith, 1990).
This is likely due to the fact that they feel vulnerable in their ability to monitor and function in the social environment.
A Word About Methods
As seen, dogs bark when you’re working from home for a variety of reasons. Identifying the underlying reason can help a whole lot in the resolution of the problem, but of course, this is not always possible.
Sometimes, the underlying trigger may not be as clear-cut as hoped for.
Intervention of a dog behavior professional can turn handy as he or she can conduct an assessment through close observations and history-taking, and then propose a customized plan based on findings.
There are various ways to stop a dog from barking, however, not all of them are without risks and some of them are not recommended and they can further add fuel to the fire! Such ways include using punishment, ignoring the behavior and training an alternate behavior.
1) Using Punishment to Stop a Dog From Barking
The purpose of punishment is to decrease a behavior by doing something that the dog perceives as unpleasant. However, punishing a dog for barking when you’re trying to work from home risks can backfire.
In order to be effective, punishment needs to be unpleasant enough to have a strong impact and therefore needs to be quite aversive. This can lead to considerable side effects.
For instance, shaking a can with coins, spraying the dog with a squirt bottle or using a shock collar/no bark collar may potentially lead to a dog who starts becoming scared of sudden, startling sounds, starts fearing water or associates the owner (or anything else the dog focuses on) with the emission of shock.
Due to the risks of “side effects,” I do not recommend aversive, punishments-based methods to stop a dog from barking.
Does Yelling Stop a Dog From Barking?
For those wondering, yelling doesn’t help much in stopping a dog from barking. Actually, yelling causes stress in dogs, and you may come to think that when you yell “quiet!” and your dog stops, it’s actually working.
In reality though, this is often just an illusion. You may think it worked because you got rewarded with temporary quiet, but if you look at the larger picture, you’ll soon notice that your dog may have stopped barking at that precise moment, but your dog will keep barking again and again anytime he craves some attention or notices a trigger in the yard.
On top of this, consider that yelling at a dog hungry for attention of any type may actually reinforce the barking rather than decrease it. Not to mention that barking can be self-reinforcing.
2) Ignoring to Stop a Dog From Barking
The purpose of ignoring a behavior is to hope that the behavior extinguishes eventually. For example, you may decide to not react in any way to the barking as if you were deaf.
However, barking can also be self-reinforcing. It can help the dog vent and feel relief from feelings of frustration or boredom.
On top of this, a lot of barking must occur before it extinguishes (it’s called an extinction burst) and not all owners can afford that if they live in a close-knit neighborhood. The process can also cause significant stress and frustration, especially in dogs with a strong rehearsal history of barking for attention.
Not to mention that, if you happen to inadvertently look at your dog or move in his direction your dog will qualify that as attention with the end result that you’ll put a dent in the progress and inadvertently place the behavior on a highly variable reinforcement schedule, which is the total opposite of what needs to be done for a successful extinction procedure.
3) Training an Alternate Behavior to Stop a Dog From Barking
The purpose of training an alternate behavior is to give the dog something else to do in lieu of the barking.
If the alternate behavior is generously reinforced, with time, the dog may choose to engage in this behavior rather than barking.
This method is non-aversive, offering a win-win situation for the dog and owner.
How to Stop Your Dog’s Barking When You’re Working From Home
Stopping a dog’s barking when you’re working from home often needs a multifaceted approach. Below are some tips on how to stop your dog’s barking when you’re working from home.
Consider the Risks for Behavior Chains
One important phenomenon to keep in mind when it comes to dogs who are barking is behavior chains.
It may be tempting to feed a dog treats the moment he stops barking and becomes quiet. After all, you want to reinforce the quiet, so it makes sense to reward the dog the moment he stops barking!
However, there are risks for behavior chains when doing so. In other words, your smarty pants dog may learn to purposely bark and then become quiet to earn a treat.
Fortunately, there are ways to remedy this phenomenon and break any eventual chains.
One method is to reinforce quiet that takes place *without* any barking behavior preceding it, another method is to insert a delay between the barking and delivery of treats so as to break the chain, another method is to add more elements to the chain so to break any associations. For instance, when the dog stop barking and becomes quiet, you ask your dog to sit and then lie down before giving the treat.
For Barking Due to Unmet Needs
Barking due to unmet needs can be tackled through some basic arrangements. In other words, ensure all the dog’s needs are met before you start working.
This could mean feeding your dog, making sure he has access to a bowl of fresh water, walking your dog or taking him outside to potty (aim to train your dog to potty on command so he’s “empty by the time you need to work) and allowing him to play and have some fun before you start working.
If your dog tends to feel lonely or bored, it may help to prepare some activities in advance and provide them prior to your work shift.
For instance, you can provide access to a stuffed Kong (consider frozen Kongs as they last much longer!) or a Kong Wobbler filled with some kibble right before you start to work so he’ll keep busy for some time.
With all these needs met, you can now relax a bit more knowing that your dog will be unlikely to be barking because he’s hungry, thirsty and/or needing to go potty.
What should you do though if your dog happens to bark and you know it’s because he needs to go potty or he’s trying to tell you that his water bowl is empty? In such a case may not want to create a behavior chain.
In such cases, unless this is an emergency, you can wait until he’s silent for 15-30 seconds before getting up from your desk and taking care of whatever he needs. But your ultimate goal remains preventing him from barking in the first place.
For Attention Seeking
For this type of barking, ignoring can work, but as discussed before, it has some downsides. It can cause frustration and stress in dogs who have attained attention for barking for a long time, and if you live in a tight-knit neighborhood, the extinction burst barking may be intolerable and you may end up giving attention to your dog for the sake of keeping good neighbors.
In such cases, it may help to use a remote feeder such as Pet Tutor or Treat and Train which can deliver treats when your dog has been quiet for some time.
If you want to watch your dog remotely, as you work in your office, while still being able to toss treats, a Furbo camera can also be a great solution.
The benefit of using remote feeders is that you remove a potential source of reinforcement for the barking behavior (in other words you remove yourself from the equation along with your potential for inadvertently delivering any forms of attention/engagement).
The best part is that these remote feeders can deliver treats at an interval (like after 20 seconds of quiet) so to prevent behavior chains. In other words, the treat is delivered only after the dog has been quiet for some time so to reinforce that.
Dogs who bark out of frustration need to better learn how to deal with their impulses. This can take some time with young dogs as they need to learn how to cope with their frustration and attain better impulse control.
These games may help, but in the meantime, you may want to use a remote feeder or a stuffed Kong to keep him busy while creating positive associations with being confined.
For Separation Anxiety
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety require a precise behavior intervention plan. A good separation anxiety plan entails teaching the dog to cope with owner absences starting with very brief ones and increasing them very gradually using a systematic approach.
The very first step though is to make sure the dog is never left alone for longer than he can tolerate. You may therefore have to have family and friends or a pet sitter keep your dog company while you’re working in your home office.
Some dogs will require prescription medications prescribed by your vet to help lower stress levels and bring your dog into a calmer, learning state.
Encourage an Alternate Behavior
If your dog barks every time you must work in the office, you have one main advantage: predictability. Predicting when a problem behavior occurs gives you the power to implement changes to prevent the behavior.
For instance, right before doing video calls, strategically provide your dog with an alternative activity that will keep him busy.
You can, for example, provide him a stuffed frozen Kong, sprinkle some treats over a Snuffle Mat or give him a Kong Wobbler filled with his meal.
Turn Sitting at Your Desk a Cue for Relaxation
This can take some time to master, but the goal is to teach your dog that when you sit down at your desk it’s also time for your dog to relax and wind down.
You may therefore want to train your dog to lie on a mat and make great things happen when your dog is lying there.
To help your dog succeed, make sure all his needs are met and that he has received enough exercise and mental stimulation.
If you need your dog to stay on your mat for some time, consider giving him a safe long-lasting edible chew to enjoy.
For Other Forms of Barking
On top of barking for attention, boredom or anxiety, dogs can also bark at outdoor triggers from the window. In such a case, you may find it helpful to keep your dog away from windows or place some type of barrier. You can also purchase window film to reduce reactivity to outdoor stimuli.
Some dogs will also bark at outdoor noises so running some white noise can help reduce this form of barking.
For Desperate Cases
You may not have the time to teach your dog to act calmer when you are working or your dog may be too over threshold to want to chew or enjoy some food puzzles. In such cases, you may need to find some other solutions. Here are some:
- Hire a dog walker and strategically plan a walk that coincides with your online meeting or conference call.
- Have family or friends take your dog out in the yard and play with him. Activities to keep him occupied can be games of fetch, tug, treasure hunt games. There are also some great gadgets that offer tons of fun like this bubble machine for dogs making bubbles that taste like bacon or a dog tennis ball launcher.
- Take your dog to daycare. Not all dogs do well in daycare, but if your dog is a good candidate this can be a good solution.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli