Why Is My Dog Barking at Nothing?

Behavior Recent January 6, 2022

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Why Is My Dog Barking at Nothing?

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Dogs bark for many different reasons and some breeds are even bred to bark.  As confusing as your dog’s barking may be, there is usually a good explanation for it. Barking can be your dog’s way of communicating depending on the pitch and severity of it.

Your dog could be seeking your attention, bored, anxious, frustrated, warning, or even defending his territory. If you pay attention, you may be able to figure out what your dog is trying to tell you based on the different barking sounds he makes.

In this article, we will explain why your dog may be barking and what you can do to stop it.

Separation Anxiety

A dog that barks when he is alone could need help coping with you being away. Compulsive barkers like to bark to hear the sound of their voice. Separation anxiety is best handled with a slow process of leaving your dog alone for very short periods at first. Providing your dog with distractions or items to occupy his time, like stuffed toys or an automatic treat dispenser can help him cope with being left alone. Other symptoms of separation anxiety can be pacing, destructiveness, depression, and inappropriate elimination. Your dog may display repetitive movements as well, like running in circles or along a fence. In some of the most serious cases, your dog may require the help of a professional trainer or pet behaviorist.

Strange Noises

Dogs are unable to distinguish the cause of certain sounds. While we may immediately tie a sudden boom of thunder to a passing storm, your dog is not able to come to this conclusion and a new sound can be unsettling for your furry friend, causing him to bark.

The faintest sound can cause your dog to alert you to something you cannot even hear because they can hear high-frequency sounds that we are unable to detect. This could be something as small as a leaf blowing in the wind, a car down the road, or even another dog making noise off in the distance.

A new and unfamiliar sound can seem very curious to our pup and cause them to bark continuously until the sound is gone. Just because you can not hear the sound triggering the barking, doesn’t mean it is nothing.

Protection

Protection and territorial-based barking may be your dog trying to warn you about potential intruders. Your dog may not be able to differentiate between welcome guests, passer-byers, or threatening intruders at your home. This behavior is reinforced if he sees “the threat” walk away.

To curb this kind of barking, it is important to teach alternate behaviors like lying inside a kennel or specified area when guests enter your home. A great exercise to practice this kind of training is to ring the doorbell when there is no one at the door. Then when he is not barking and showing the correct response give him treats to encourage positive reinforcement.

Also, by using predictable passers-byers like a neighbor walking a dog to change your dog’s association from territory protection to something positive and acceptable. Offer your dog a treat or his favorite toy when you know this neighbor will be passing by.

Only reward your dog when he is calm and not barking. Over time your dog should begin to associate people passing your house with something positive rather than someone to protect you from.

Excitement

While out on walks your dog may let out an excited bark if he sees another dog in his path. You may also notice an excited bark when dogs are doing something they love, like chasing a small animal or running around chasing a ball.

The line between fear and excitement is often difficult but if your dog is backing away from something, then he is probably scared. If he is jumping up on you when you walk in the door or when he sees the leash, then he is excited and should not be punished.

Attention Seeking

Another reason your dog barks may be he is searching for attention. This can occur if you give your dog attention when he barks instead of when he does not. If this is the case, it makes sense to give attention to your pup throughout the day in the form of walks, training, and playtime.

Dogs seeking attention will often look you in the eyes while barking. To change this behavior, you should not only ignore but also avoid eye contact. It is best to offer rewards when they are not barking for attention and redirect them when they do.

Boredom

If your dog is not getting the physical and mental exercise and playtime that he needs during the day he may become bored. This can mean you end up with a dog full of pent-up energy without the ability to express it in positive ways. Bored dogs have also been known to struggle with being quiet at night.

Spending time with your dog every day gives him the physical and mental exercise he needs based on breed. A tired dog is more likely to be a quiet dog and can always benefit from a nice walk.

Dementia and Neurologic Symptoms

Like humans, dogs can develop symptoms of dementia as they age. Dogs that are suffering from dementia can be confused, get lost in well-known places, change their routine and sometimes even bark at nothing.

If you notice other symptoms of dementia like confusion or sundowners syndrome (which means your dog won’t settle down in the evening), there is a good chance that dementia is a huge factor in the random barking. Your veterinarian can help with diagnosing dementia, and some medications can help.

How to Reduce Unexplained Barking

Barking at what seems like nothing may be confusing if you do not understand the cause. Here are a few ways to reduce barking:

  • White Noise – If your dog barks at nothing at night he most likely hears faint noises that are only audible in quiet environments. During the day these sounds are not a problem, but once everyone is asleep only he can hear them. One of the best ways to prevent this is by using white noise. Try turning a fan on to a low setting and just enough to camouflage faint sounds which can allow your dog to sleep.
  • Ignore Attention Barking –  As discussed above, if your dog looks you in the eyes while barking, he is most likely trying to get your attention. This type of barking can be caused by Hunger, boredom, or wanting to go outside. When your dog barks at you, do not make eye contact because he will consider this attention and continue doing it. Do not discipline his barking either because he will still see it as a form of attention. Ignoring him is the best way to change his behavior.
  • Increase Exercise and Play – Bored Dogs are much more likely to bark. If your dog often barks at clearly nothing, it may mean he is not getting enough playtime and exercise from you. Just a short walk or some playtime each day could help reduce boredom and barking.
  • Eliminate Potential Triggers – If your dog seems to bark at nothing outside, he is probably hearing distant people or animals. Keeping your dog indoors and rewarding him when quiet can help calm this type of barking.

Final Thoughts

Just because you do not hear or see anything that explains your dog’s barking, does not mean something isn’t going on. Dogs do not experience the world the same way as humans do and they can sense things outside our perception. Your pup’s senses, like vision, hearing, and smell are tuned to different things and many of those things can trigger barking.

Amy Brown is a Certified NAVC Pet Nutritionist and pet lover. She is the proud owner of two cats and a dog and her love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care, nutrition, and product reviews.
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