Jodi in Phoenix writes:
I have two large dogs that are put outside whenever we need to leave the house. My concern is that our neighbors complain of their barking while we're out, especially if I go out with friends and stay out late. How do I stop them from barking while I'm away? They have plenty of toys, water, shade and food. what can I do?
Any time we leave the home (or come home for that matter), our pets can easily learn to recognize the signals (e.g., keys rattling, doors open, putting on our coat, starting the car etc) that communicate they will be left on their own (or good things are about to appear). Whether being left alone is fun, stimulating and just plain OK, really depends on us.
So try this:
Invest in some durable stuffable chew toys like a set of large KONGs or similar toys. Then, use chopped boiled beef liver, carrots, dry dog food, and other healthy food items to over stuff each Kong. As you leave home, give each dog its own stuffed toy.
Depending on your skills at filling a toy, the resulting foraging/feeding behavior can occupy their time for 10-20 minutes. That's plenty of time to distract even the most anxious of pets long after we've made our departure. It is quite likely your dogs may then settle into a nice long nap, especially after a nice dessert.
For variety or to extend the life of the stuffing inside toy, try preparing them in advance and freezing it. The frozen block of treats can keep your pets' interest even longer.
Other ways to make your yard interesting from day to day include: rotating the types of other toys you leave them with each day, using a few drops of perfume or musk (try a sporting/hunting supply store) at random locations in the yard, and paying a pet sitter or asking a friend to randomly drop in and reward them for being quiet while you are gone. The idea is to make your trips away from home look a little different (and FUN) for them while you are gone.
One last thing, when you are home, be sure to praise and reward them often each day and night, inside or out for being just what you want--quiet!
Dr. Grey Stafford has been an animal trainer for 20 years and is the author of the pet training book, "ZOOmility: Keeper Tales of Training with Positive Reinforcement." As Director of Conservation and spokesperson for the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, Grey regularly appears on 3TV presenting wild and endangered animals. Be sure to watch his regular pet-training call-in segments, Saturdays on GMAZ and check out ZOOmility on Facebook.