Alarm barking in apartment

by Kevin
(Seattle, WA)

We have two small dogs: a chihuahua-rat terrier mix and a poodle mix of some sort (some people have said mini-goldendoodle). We can't seem to get the poodle mix to stop barking at noises outside the apartment.

Both of these dogs are rescue dogs. We've had the chihuahua mix for somewhere around 6 years. We've only had the poodle mix for about a year and a half.

To some extent, the poodle-mix has always been a bit of an alarm barker. If he hears a noise at the door, he'll let out a "yip" before even looking to us for guidance. He usually does look at us after the first "yip" and we tell him "quiet" and he does pretty good.

We recently moved into a high-rise apartment building where all of the entry ways are interior and in a shared space. So now there are noises outside our door fairly frequently. We didn't realize how much he would bark at the noises outside, otherwise we probably wouldn't have signed this lease.

We're trying to desensitize him to the noises by making clicking sounds with our door and other things that will cause him to bark, but we can never seem to get rid of that first "yip". Our neighbors have told us that he also barks more when we leave. Intermittent barking at noises in the hall, I assume because we're not here to tell him quiet. When we leave, he isn't destructive and he doesn't mark or have a bunch of anxiety. We think he has a little separation anxiety, but it doesn't seem to be the cause of this alarm barking.

Do you have any advice for us besides putting him in a bedroom and playing music to deprive his senses? That's the best we can do right now for when we leave. When we're here, we're telling him he's a good boy and giving him treats when a noise in the hall happens and he's quiet.

Any advice would be helpful. We're in our lease until next August and we don't want to annoy everyone until then. At this point, I get anxiety when we have to leave because I'm scared he's going to bark the whole time we're gone.


PS: Believe it or not, the chihuahua mix is pretty good. She rarely ever barks, even when the poodle-mix does.


Hi Kevin!

Thank you for your question. Based on what you tell it, it’s logical that your dog barks more because there are more noises outside. Besides you need to account for the added stress of a move and new living questers. To start with, I wouldn’t plan on moving out just yet…maybe your dogs will get used to the new place and moving out will only re-start the problem. Training might take a little while, but I think that with patience and practice you can get your dogs to relax.

Step 1: Stop barking for every little noise outside.

What you are doing, desensitizing your dogs to the noises outside, is good, although technically speaking you should give them a treat no matter what the dog is doing (barking, quiet, laying down, sniffing the door, etc.). The idea is to change how to the dog feels about noises outside. Right now they feel alert…with desensitization they should feel happy and expecting food. That is the first step, to try to get them to feel happy about noises outside.

The next step is to teach them to do something instead of barking…and better yet, something that is incompatible with barking. One of the best tricks is to teach the dog to go fetch a toy every time they hear a noise outside. To teach them this, as soon as there is a noise ask them to go get a toy or lead them to the toy if they don’t know to go get it. Do this EVERY time for at least a whole weekend. Make sure you also play with them for 15-30 seconds after they get the toy (as a reward). If you are consistent about it, they should stop barking in very little time and instead rush away to find a toy. You will need plenty of toys to rotate them and keep the fresh weekly.

Step2: Stop barking while you are gone.

Now that they know to get a toy every time they hear a noise outside, it’s a matter of building a day routine for them to do while you are gone. This can be a little hard to do, since…well, you are not home! But it can be done. It is important that while you are home (morning and evening) you spend time with them, do training exercises and play a little bit with them…maybe fetch or tug-of-war and of course take them out for walks. The idea is to create a routine where they get tired while they are with you and sleep while you are away.

Instead of giving them free food every morning, they will now have to work a little bit for it. For example, you can fill up a few Kong toys, hide treats around the apartment for them to find (teach them to find it first too!). They will spend the first half an hour searching for food, then hopeful take a nap. Because they have been trained to get a toy when they hear a noise, they might even play during the day a little bit too or keep searching for more food. Finally, as soon as you get home, ask them to bring you a toy. Do this EVERY time too. With practice, they will start anticipating your arrival and get the toy (and play with it) instead of barking or getting anxious half an hour before you arrive.

Remember that you are trying to create a routine, the better you are at sticking with it, the faster your dogs will learn and settle down. Think about the big picture as you train every little step.

Hope this helps!
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