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Why Dogs Bark at Nothing

“Why does my dog bark at nothing?” 

You know, before we address the reasons behind dogs barking at nothing, it’s important to remember that our four-legged friends don’t experience the world in the same way that their loving pet parents do. They have more enhanced senses which means they tend to pick up on things that our less advanced noses, eyes, and ears can’t! So, are they really barking at nothing, or is there more logic behind their need to howl out of nowhere…?

Why Do Dogs Bark At Nothing?

If you have a dog barking at nothing you’re probably wondering what could be causing them to spontaneously vocalize. Reasons behind dogs barking at “nothing” include…

They’ve smelt something you haven't; 

Dogs have the most amazing sense of smell! It’s their primary scent, whereas ours is our sight. Dogs can even smell things like diseases and illness (we’ve all seen the videos on social media of service dogs letting their owner know they’re about to seizure hours before it happens!). Their brain has a significantly larger area dedicated to working out smells than we do too, so they may be barking because something unfamiliar has entered their sniffer and alarmed them.

They’ve heard something you haven’t; 

Dogs can hear very high-pitched noises, which we humans cannot. Dogs can also hear much quieter sounds too when at a higher frequency. This means they could be hearing sounds around you that you just simply can’t, and their bark is to alert you to them/warn off the unfamiliar sound. 

They’ve seen something you haven’t; 

What may look like a pitch-black area to you, doesn’t to your dog. This is because our pups can see in much lower light than we can. They have an advanced reflective layer behind their retina which increases the amount of light their eye receives compared to ours. When your dog is barking at a pitch-black window, yard or area, they may be seeing something your vision just can’t process!

They’re experiencing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction; 

If your pooch is over 7 years old, this means they are now considered a senior dog. With this comes the natural deterioration of the body and its functioning. Older dogs may be more susceptible to stress, and anxiousness caused by separation and tend to want more attention so may be vocalizing for those reasons too. However, they may also be experiencing CCD: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This is usually accompanied by other changes like accidentally soiling in the house, getting stuck in corners of the room, and/or interacting differently with household members. CCD can make it very difficult for your mature dog to cope with their environment. If you suspect CCD, get them looked over by a vet and seek their professional advice.

They’re losing their sight or hearing; 

older dogs, like us humans, lose their hearing and sight as they grow older. This can cause them to become startled more easily and increase general concern and stress in your dog regarding the environment they find themselves in. They may react by barking as a way of communicating this. 

Dog Barking At Nothing: What Should You Do?

If you have a dog barking at nothing, here are some steps to take:

Acknowledge it; Don’t yell at your dog for barking in an attempt to get them to stop and you must in no way punish them - they’ll just think you’re barking as well, or learn to be scared of you. This also may lead them to bark more… Calmly saying “thank you” or “I know” or a more familiar cue can help them feel like their master (that’s you!) has it under control and this may be enough to stop them howling again. 

Train them; If the above doesn’t help, and they continue to bark, this will be because they think you haven’t heard them, understood them or they are continuing to warn the potential threat off. Teach your dog a “quiet” cue by electing a word like “enough”, “quiet” or “stop”. When they bark (if you know the trigger, like the doorbell says, you can purposely set this off to instigate training), say this word until they are quiet and then give them a treat when they hush up. Repeating this will help them learn that that word means they should quieten down. 

Pupex Pro Tip: The most effective training time is up to 10 minutes. Any longer and your dog will get bored and stop retaining. Return to the training process every few hours to help gently reinforce the new command but never train for longer than one-sixth of an hour per session. 

Support your senile dog; If you suspect your dog is barking because they’re becoming senile and experiencing CCD, take them to the vet to rule out anything medical. Then, if all is well physically, take small steps at home to help calm and comfort your mature pooch and help reduce their barking.

Assess their diet – discuss with your vet how to tend to your dog’s senior needs via their food.

Limit the rooms they can go in when at home – this can help minimize confusion if they’re losing their sight and hearing or becoming senile. Giving them one or two rooms and the yard instead of free rein of the house will cause them less stress and help them feel secure. 

Consider a pheromone collar – most pet stores sell collars that emit comforting pheromones that older dogs can smell, which may help calm them, appease them and help reduce their rate of barking.