Our dogs bark to communicate with the world around them. While we tend to expect them to bark at passing dogs or distractions, it may be alarming to see our dogs bark at absolutely nothing. So are they truly barking at nothing, or are they barking at something we cannot see?
It’s actually quite common for dogs to bark at something that doesn’t appear to be there. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a little bit scary when they start barking at something in your bedroom in the middle of the night. So what is it that actually causes this curious canine behavior?
In this article, we will dive into the details of why our dogs bark for no reason. You might be surprised to learn that there are actually a few different reasons this happens, most of which have no cause for alarm. Let’s jump in!
Understanding the Barking Behavior
Barking is normal canine behavior. Obviously, dogs are unable to speak directly to us. They can only communicate through barking and other forms of body language. Barking is ingrained behavior that dates back to their wild ancestors. This behavior was how they alerted other members of their pack on incoming dangers and changes in their surroundings.
Whether your dog is barking due to environmental or behavioral triggers, this is a normal response that can be tailored with specific training. To help you better understand your barking canine friend, let’s discuss the many reasons your dog could be barking below.
What is My Dog Barking At?
As we mentioned above, our dogs have many triggers that could cause them to bark. While it may seem like they are barking at nothing, there may be a cause we just can’t see. To help you get to the bottom of your dog’s barking, let’s discuss the unseen causes you may be unaware of.
Animals in Your Neighborhood
One of the most common reasons for unexplained barking is the presence of animals near your home. Ranging from roaming dogs in the neighborhood to rabbits frolicking your property, our dogs can sense the presence of these creatures before we can.
If your dog thinks an animal is near your home, they may gaze out the window, barking into the distance at an unknown sight. It may look like they are barking at nothing, but they are actually warning the unknown critter to stay away from their territory.
Dogs are unable to distinguish the cause of certain sounds. While we may immediately tie a sudden boom of thunder to a passing storm, our pups are unable to come to this conclusion. Any new sound can be daunting to our canine friends, causing them to bark.
Even the smallest of sounds can cause a dog to alert us to something we cannot hear. This could be something as small as a leaf blowing in the wind, a truck down the road, or even an animal making noise in the distance.
New sounds can seem quite strange to our canine friends, causing them to bark and bark until the sound disappears. If we cannot hear their current trigger, it may seem like they are barking at nothing.
They Want Attention
If you have a vocal pup on your hands, they may bark to gain your attention. Just like other attention-seeking behavior, it’s possible that your dog has learned vocalization can get them what they want. If barking behavior is unprovoked, frantic, or precedes an action they desire, they may just be doing this to get your attention.
Some dogs may bark when they are hungry. It’s also common when dogs need to go to the bathroom. But sometimes barking simply happens when they are bored, or when they simply crave your presence. We often encourage this behavior by immediately giving them what they want, causing them to carry this behavior into other wants and needs.
Alerting to Potential Danger
Dogs often feel a need to protect their home and their loved ones. Due to this, they may alert to any noises they see as a potential danger. As we mentioned above, our dogs can’t often discover the source of the strange sound they hear in the distance. Because of this, they may bark to warn you about this ‘approaching danger.’
Dogs may bark in response to passing people or dogs, unknown noises, or any sounds that are unfamiliar to them to alert you of a possible threat. Your pup may also run to your side, trying to pass this urgent information onto you before the unknown danger arrives.
Barking Due to Medical Conditions
Some medical conditions can cause a dog to bark without an apparent cause. This can be due to a medical condition that causes cognitive dysfunction in dogs or even a painful condition that causes a dog to cry out. These conditions often present suddenly in our canine friends or come along with other concerning symptoms.
A dog barking due to a medical condition may also experience a decline in other cognitive functions, change in behavior, lack of appetite, anxiety, lethargy, and more. If you think a medical cause is behind their barking, it’s best to contact your vet for further advice. Medical conditions can also cause anxiety in your pup, which is a cause of barking in and of itself.
How to Limit Unexplained Barking
We don’t always understand the exact cause of unexplained barking in our canine friends, making it even more complicated to put an end to. To help you better address the situation, let’s discuss a few training options to limit their vocalizations for good.
Option 1: Change The View
If you think your pup is barking at a potential distraction outside of your home, there are a few ways to limit this behavior. The first option is to close any curtains or block off viewing ability when your dog is triggered. This can help remove the trigger from their sight, decreasing the likelihood of constant barking.
Option 2: Train Certain Commands
The next option involves training your pup to avoid potential distractions when they occur. This can take time but is often successful when owners are consistent. The best way to tackle this issue is by redirecting their barking when it occurs, and then rewarding their silence when they walk away from the trigger.
You can do this by asking them to perform a command, pulling them away with an incompatible behavior. This could be such as calling them to their bed, or to another area of the house. Or you could simply cease paying them attention by leaving the room. Once your pup actively avoids the distraction and walks away from the behavior, reward them for their silence.
Option 3: More Exercise
The last option involves increasing your dog’s daily exercise to help tire them out and offer more mental and physical stimulation in the process. A bored pup is more likely to bark at nearby sounds, increasing the chance of excessive barking. You can increase exercise frequency by taking them on daily walks, engaging in games like fetch or tug of war, or offering them mentally stimulating toys.
No matter which option you choose to decrease the behavior, it’s important to avoid yelling when your dog is barking. Yelling at them may encourage the behavior in the end, as some dogs think you are participating in the barking with them. While your dog’s barking may be frustrating, it’s best to avoid negative reinforcement and stick to the methods we discussed.
When Should You Be Concerned?
If your canine companion continues to bark at nothing despite your corrective training, it may be time to visit your veterinarian. Some dogs can struggle with excessive barking as a result of developing medical conditions, requiring professional intervention to put an end to the behavior. You should contact your vet if your dog is currently experiencing any of the following behaviors:
- Change in their normal behavior
- Change in cognitive function such as confusion, disorientation, memory loss, vision changes
- The onset of canine anxiety or anxious behaviors
- Changes in their normal health such as newly diagnosed conditions,
- Changes in their appetite, changes in their bathroom habits, or any other abnormal behaviors
- Constant barking that cannot be stopped using distraction methods
- Sudden onset of aggression or sensitivity to triggers that did not bother them before
If your pup is experiencing any of the above behaviors, it may be time to visit your veterinarian. Your vet can rule out any potential health complications and hopefully get to the bottom of their strange behaviors.
It may seem like our dogs are barking at nothing. But, they may be simply barking at something we can’t yet hear or see. While it may be a bit concerning, in most cases, it’s simply more of an annoyance. It’s usually not something to be overly concerned or worried about. However, if you happen to notice behavioral changes, it’s important to make time to visit your local veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.