Give me your best hacks to help a barking, anxious dog.
February 9, 2018 7:02 AM   Subscribe

My mom recently had a stroke, and I am taking care of her dog until she comes home. He's generally a great dog, but my living situation is proving to be a real challenge for him (and me). He is used to a quiet home life in the suburbs with a yard and no other pets, people, sounds etc. I live in the city with 2 cats, no yard, and endless noises. He barks. At. Everything. All day and night, and will not stop. Halp!

The dog is an 8-year old terrier mix. He's probably a bit undersocialized, but he's a well behaved, sweet guy. He is cat-aggressive, however, so I have had to divide my house into upstairs (cats) and downstairs (dog). He is crate-trained and stays in his crate during the day while I am working and while I sleep. He gets lots of walks, though they seem to overstimulate him because of all the people/dogs/cars/tourists around my neighborhood. The barking thing is really out of control. I know my neighbors must be less-than-happy, and I'm about to pull my hair out.

Here's what I'm doing so far:
1. Xanax, per prescription from his vet.
2. TV on 24-7 in the room where his crate is to provide distracting noise.
3. Moved his crate to various rooms in the downstairs.
4. Covered his crate.
5. Leave him out of his crate (this was disastrous - he just paced and howled).

His biggest current trigger is going to end after Tuesday (Mardi Gras parades and associated noises), but his second biggest trigger is the sound of my cats running and playing upstairs. That will set him into a half-hour of barking, howling, and singing. Any sort of noise outside usually also sets him off (my house has awful insulation).

What else can I do to help him not get so worked up over sounds, and give us all some peace for the next few months? Assume that sending him elsewhere to stay is completely out, as is doggie daycare (he's not great with other dogs).
posted by tryniti to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
White noise generator? Hepa filter?
posted by stewiethegreat at 7:07 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Give him treats every time he is quiet and/or looking relaxed! Every time he shuts up for a little bit, give him some really high value treats. If he is quiet in his kennel, treats! If he's just sitting there looking at you in between bouts of barking, treats! Or if he's just looking up at the ceiling and listening to cats quietly, treats!

This works surprisingly well at the shelter I volunteer at. We have a protocol where volunteers and staff will stroll the kennels. If we see a dog who's calm and quiet, the top door gets opened quickly and treats fly in. The dogs learn pretty quickly that quiet and calm equals super awesome amazing things (like hot dog bits and deli meat come flying in) are going to happen.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:24 AM on February 9, 2018 [12 favorites]

He may be feeling anxious. If you don't have a Thunder Shirt for him, you can make a DIY one ( Also, try to tire him out every day—if possible, take him on a long walk each day or find a place where he can run around for a bit, even if it's inside your apartment.
posted by smich at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by Ziggy500 at 7:27 AM on February 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Can you switch him to the top floor so he doesn't hear so many cat noises? Is having a dog walker or companion come over an option? Is he a fan of cuddling? If he's like my anxious dog, he might like to be held in your lap and/or wrapped in a nest of blankets, snuggled, and spoken to in low, soothing tones. Also, yes, treats for good behavior sound like a great idea.

Also, you may already know this, but when he barks, just ignore him. If you respond, then he is getting a response, which keeps the bark cycle going.
posted by stillmoving at 7:29 AM on February 9, 2018

I know you have ruled out doggy day care, but (at least where I live) there are doggy day care places that accept and have space put aside for anti-social dogs, so that he can still benefit from attention and exercise and might even grow used to hearing and smelling the other dogs enough that he'll end up better socialized over time.

It's worth visiting and talking with a few places, at least.
posted by davejay at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have an super anxious couple of dogs. Routine is number one (which I know will be hard with your mother recovering). Pick a quiet time of day to go walking. If it's not super cold where you are at night or very early morning is ideal, tire him out, a sleepy dog is not an anxious dog. You might like to try anti anxiety pheromone collars, my dog finds them helpful for his anxiety, some dogs don't. Do you have familiar toys, food, bed, blankets, things that smell your mum?

Maybe work on some basic clicker training with him. It is a good way for you both to bond, so he'll feel safer with you & work his mind (tired mind tired dog).

If you approach something & he starts to get over stimulated, immediately turn around & walk away. If he quietens down you can turn back toward stimulating thing, but the second he gets overstimulated turn around & walk away again (you will look crazy to anyone watching). He only gets to see cool thing he really wants to see if he approaches it calmly. Lots of positive praise & treats when he's walking good (this is where the clicker comes in as it makes it easier to mark that exact second he's good). Terriers often need to be taught self control and to not go from 0 to 100.

Do you have the time/money to go to a few dog classes with him, even some basic Petsmart ones? It's not so much because he needs to be trained, but to give you both something to do that will help him learn to trust you & develop the lines of communication between you. Poor guy doesn't know what happened to "his mum" she just vanished, & while he knows you everything is different & scary. Even just doing some basic training exercises with him at home will go a long way to him developing a bond & a basic line of communication with you which combined with a strict routine will help him feel more in control of his situation so less anxious.

Do you leave him with a nice stuffed kong when you leave him crated? Something frozen that will take a while to work on?

Also totally swap the dog & cat's areas, put the cats downstairs so there is less thumping to hear. Maybe play with your cats before you go to work so they are all tired out & sleep all day too.

I suspect there is a distance reason for this but is there any reason the dog can't stay in your mothers home during the day? You could then have a big play with it in her backyard before you bring him home for the night for pats & snuggles. Or he could stay there all the time & you go & visit him twice a day to make sure he's OK (assuming there is a dog door & a safely fenced backyard) or even arrange a petsitter/dog walker to go around & let him out a few of times a day. I think it's great you want to help your mother out but it might be less stressful for the dog to stay in his own familiar space.
posted by wwax at 9:09 AM on February 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

A bark collar. You'll notice the dog is less agitated and anxious. In other words, it's good for the dog.
posted by xammerboy at 9:22 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend taking him to a chill place for an hour long walk in the mornings or afternoons as often as you can. You want a place where he doesn't have to stress about all the other dogs and people bustling around. I've had good luck at churches and cemeteries during the week, as well as office parks and industrial areas during the day and on weekends.

A longer exercise leash in those areas will let the dog sniff around as much as he needs to without dragging you all over the place; walks are about exercising his brain as well as his body.
posted by redsparkler at 10:07 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Consider swapping the TV out for soothing music, or the white noise machine previously suggested. I used to leave the Animal Planet on during the day, but stopped when I realized that all the "vet" shows actually were traumatizing to my dogs. It was almost like the vet was invading their home....and they were treated to the sounds of animals in distress.

Maybe also add a busy treat like a stuffed Kong that becomes part of your leaving the house routine. You can stuff a Kong with healthy treats like kibbles mixed with plain yogurt, a little natural peanut butter, or a touch of squeeze cheese.
posted by answergrape at 10:10 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

If it helps, I view the anxiety in my dog kind like hit points in a video game. Every little bit of brain use and energy use chips away at his anxiety levels, so I try to maximize that stuff. For my pup, that means:

• None of his food comes to him in a bowl. His breakfast (and later, his dinner) is a mix of kibble and yogurt that has been frozen into Kongs, which brings me blessed minutes of peace as he works to get it out.
• We work on dumb pet tricks at home (clicker training, like someone mentioned above).
• We try and take long PEACEFUL walks as often as we can.
• I pick up smoked bones from the local butcher shop and let him chew his heart out for an hour (some dogs are fine with bones, some are fine with rawhide, your mileage may vary, dogs should always be supervised when chewing on stuff like that).

None of those things work on their own (okay, the long walks might, but I don't have that much time in the day), but put together, they can do a lot to help reduce overall anxiety levels.
posted by redsparkler at 10:22 AM on February 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

How much do you tire him out? He needs a release valve for his energy. Does he play ball, or can you take him to a dog park? Have a friend that can take him jogging? Anything to wear him out will help.
posted by Vaike at 11:34 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Assuming you haven't done this already: would you be able to get a blanket, towel, shirt, etc. from your mom's house that would have the familiar scent of his old home on it? When we're away, our dog sitter reports that our anxious/somewhat barky dog settles down more when he can curl up under my partner's jacket (the weight of it might also be helping calm him down, in the same vein as how the Thundershirt can help).
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 12:40 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Protocol for Relaxation is a program developed be a canine behaviorist that teaches dogs to relax, and to relax even when Things Are Happening. It's a bit of an undertaking (15-20 minutes once or twice a day, for many days and weeks), but it sounds like this poor guy is under a lot of stress right now.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:11 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Try playing opera music. I discovered by accident while staying with some friends that my opera music calmed their normally anxious/barky dog, so much so that they started leaving opera music on for their dog even after I was no longer staying with them. And it was specifically opera -- the dog was not calmed by other types of music.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:42 PM on February 9, 2018

Oh and regarding leaving the TV on, be mindful of the tones of voice that predominate the channel. You want perky happy voices (e.g. home shopping channels) and not angry upset voices (e.g. news channels).
posted by Jacqueline at 1:44 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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