Why Do Dogs Bark at Nothing?


Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Is Your Dog Barking at Nothing?

Is My Dog Going Crazy?

Barking at nothing may be a frustrating and odd problem for some dog owners. However, truth is, it's most likely your that your dog is not going crazy nor are they seeing paranormal activities you are incapable of witnessing. If Rover is barking and you get up to check what all the big deal is about, only to find nothing, there may be something our ears are simply unable to capture.

Equipped with ears capable of detecting frequencies between 40 to 60,000 Hertz, dogs are blessed with a state-of-the-art hearing system far superior to humans. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of hearing between 20 and 20,000 Hertz. Frequencies humans are capable of hearing are often referred to as sonic. Frequencies that are higher in pitch and not detectable by humans are known as ultrasonic. Dogs are capable of hearing frequencies in this ultrasonic range and this includes the pips and blasts from a silent dog whistle to the small squeaks emitted by mice. This causes dogs at times to bark at noises in frequencies we cannot detect.

However, dogs do not bark only as a reaction to noises. Their other senses may also detect stimuli which may cause a big barking spell. Equipped about 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs are also blessed with a superior sense of smell, especially when compared to humans to the mere 5-6 million receptors in people. Dogs have also been used to detect explosives, drugs, and even bed bugs. It is not unusual, therefore, for a dog to smell a wild animal and then bark from frustration of not being able to get to it.

What May Be Causing Unexplained Barking?

So what is causing Rover to bark at repeatedly when there is nothing there? It is hard to say, if only we had the powerful ears and noses and the mind of a dog! We can however makes some assumptions at times. The following are some common causes for otherwise unexplained barking in dogs.

  • Wild Critters: One of my client's German Shepherd's was having odd barking spells in the evening. He used to seem to go crazy. And the owner's question "What is it?" seemed to be making it much worse as the dog went into a frenzy pacing and whining as if trying to explain something. The mystery was solved months later when they discovered to have a family of mice living right under the front deck and parts of the basement. Their dog was right and now that the mice have been exterminated, the dog is much calmer in the evenings.
  • Distant Noises: You may not hear noises from a distance but your dog does. It could be your neighbors just parked their car a few homes away from you or that another dog is barking from a distance. There are many noises that we cannot hear while our dogs can. Often, barriers such as doors and walls make it difficult for us to detect distant noises while dogs can hear them with little problems. Dogs often are even able to detect the origin of a sound; for survival purposes it is important to determine the exact location of a rabbit so to have a meal for the day!
  • Attention Barking: This is a totally different type of barking, but at times, dog owners believe the dog is barking for no reason. If your dog is looking at you and barking, chances are, he may be looking for attention. If your dog is an attention-seeking dog, he will love to see you notice him and make eye contact. If you talk to your dog or pet your dog too, you will further enforce this type of barking. Dogs that do not have much attention during the day may even appreciate negative attention. Scolding him is in his eyes may be much better than no attention at all!
  • Barrier Frustration Barking: If your dog detects exciting stimuli outside beyond the fence, your dog may engage in barrier frustration barking. Eager to get at what is at the other side of the fence, but unable to, barking is a way for the dog to manifest its dissatisfaction. The stimuli detected are not always detected by humans, the dog indeed may smell a female in heat or hear a dog barking a few feet away. This form of barking is "distance decreasing barking" in other words the dog wants the other stimuli to come closer and make contact but unable to do so, the dog gets frustrated. Territoriality, on the other hand, is distance-increasing barking, the dog wants to send the stimulus away. The stimulus in this case, is as well not always perceptible to humans.
  • Health Problem: It never hurts to have a veterinarian check a dog exhibiting unexplained barking. At times, pain may cause a dog to bark but there are also other explanations. Senior dogs at times engage in aimless pacing and unexplained barking as they roam the house disoriented. This may be a sign of canine dementia which can be relieved with medications.

There are many other triggers that may cause dogs to bark. Therefore, your dog is not seeing ghosts but is most likely detecting something your senses cannot detect. This is a good reason why humans appreciated the company of dogs eons ago; the dogs were fast to set the alarm when threatening animals were getting too close for comfort.

Is your dog barking only at night? Here are some reasons why dogs bark at night.

How to Reduce Unexplained Barking

Because at times it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of barking, solving unexplained barking may pose some challenges. If your dog is barking for attention, the best course of action is to ignore the barking and pretend it is not happening. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise, mental stimulation and all his needs are met.

At times, playing some white noise may help reduce barking. There are many CDs for dogs who need relaxation. A pheromone diffuser may be helpful if you recently rescued a dog and it is having a hard time adapting to new noises and smells. Dogs tend to bark less if allowed to stay in the home versus kept in the yard all day. Dogs are pack animals and thrive with human companionship. It is important to put some effort in determining why your dog is barking so to help reduce the barking in the first place. Going to the root of the problem is key.

If your dog is barking, try to listen and find out what is going on with your best friend; truth is, barking is one of his ways for communicating something might be amiss. Many people have scolded their dogs for barking only to find out they had a very reasonable excuse for doing so. Just the other day, my male Rottie was whining and I could not figure out why...I went in the kitchen only to find out water was pouring out from the pot on the stove. My female Rottie instead alerts me when some nasty bug makes its way in our home. She will announce its presence with the most disgusted yelp. Truth is, our dogs are talking, are you listening? It may be worth it!

Questions & Answers

Question: Today my dog was barking at my door which was open. No one was there, though. I tried to stop him, but he just continued. I put him on the floor, but he just kept on barking and stood there. Is unusual for him to do that. Why is he like this?

Answer: There may be distant noises or smells coming from the outside that you may not be aware of that may have triggered the barking. Or perhaps he's not used to seeing the door open and was distressed by that or trying to alert you?

Question: Today my dog was running around my front yard barking at seemingly nothing. He would stop barking occasionally and start sniffing the ground. Is there an explanation?

Answer: Sniffing the ground when running can point to the fact your dog may have caught some scent lingering in the air, and this scent has caused him to become reactive. Dogs react to smell as well as sight, so it's not unheard of for a dog to become upset for catching the scent of an animal. That would explain why it sometimes appears to us that dogs are barking at nothing considering our weaker sense of smell.

Question: My dog has woken up the whole family by barking in the kitchen at 2am at nothing as my dad went and checked downstairs and outside out and nothing and no one was there. Do you know what it could have been that’s caused him to act up like this at such an odd hour in the night and he’s never done it before?

Answer: Hard to say considering that a dog's ears are a lot more sensitive than ours. It could have been a nocturnal critter in the basement/attic or under a deck, perhaps somebody working night shift who slammed a car door, something misplaced that moved and fell, or a plane passing by. Lots of possibilities.

Question: My puppy barks every time I leave my apartment. He does this even if I have been home all day. Why is he barking like this?

Answer: Your puppy sees you as part of his social group. You are his family. It sounds like isolation barking. This can become problematic as he grows up and may develop into separation anxiety. Try to get him desensitized to brief departures and leave him with some goodies to stay occupied (stuffed Kong toy).

Question: I have five dogs, and one out of the five will randomly bark loudly and only once. Why is my dog doing this?

Answer: It's most likely now and then there's some stimulus that triggers the barking. If you observe your dogs, you may notice what triggers this pattern of barking. When several dogs are together, there is often one who is more alert.

Question: Why is my dog barking at one spot in the yard and digging and nothing is there?

Answer: We may assume there is nothing because we are limited with our senses. There are chances your dog smells traces of some animal or perhaps hears the ultrasonic sounds produced by some critters living underground.

Question: Every night my dog just barks and kind of growls out at the back fence and I don’t know what to do?

Answer: Have you tried to bring your dog inside? Once inside, your dog may have less to bark about. Many dogs left out in the yard on their own devices feel tempted to bark in response to sounds. Not always those sounds are detectable by the human ear. Provide your dog with a nice sleeping area and perhaps an interactive toy such as a stuffed Kong. Keep the TV on so to buffer the outdoor sounds.

Min on July 22, 2020:

My puppy won’t stop barking. We will just be sitting down and he’ll go barking at me for no reason. I ignore but he keeps getting stronger

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 18, 2020:

Hi Ann,

Some elderly dogs sometimes suffer from cognitive dysfunction a sort of Canine Alzheimer's. Pain too can cause a dog to vocalize more. This kind of barking needs a veterinarian visit for evaluation. Sorry your dog is going through this.

ann houghton on June 18, 2020:

my elderly dog barks intermittently all day and part of the evening and I worry he is in pain and we don't know how to help him. do you have any idea what it could be, he does have underlying health problems.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 14, 2020:

Hi BobC, I can feel your frustration. I am currently working with a dog who was left outside for most of the time and barked at everything. Inside, we keep the TV on or radio on to buffer outdoor sounds while also working on the 'hear that' method where I make a smacking sound with my mouth and deliver a treat/kibble when the dog hears specific noises. Here's the hear that method if you want to give it a try./dogs/Dog-Noise-Sensitivity-...

BobC on May 14, 2020:

Our dog barks at everything. We put a fence up, and it didn't stop his barking. Eliminating the source of the barking isn't an option, because someone can be walking on the next street over, and he barks. Also, ignoring the barking won't work, because he refuses to stop barking. Is we let him, he would bark all day. As soon as we put him out, within a minute he's barking.

BobC on May 14, 2020:

Are dog won't stop barking.

Somebody on July 20, 2019:

The other day my dog was sitting on my lap when she randomly started barking at the treadmill. There was clearly nothing there but it really spooked me.

Marlena Jeffers on June 19, 2019:

Our dog stays at one spot and barks at the ground seems like all day long he just come to us as a stray a few weeks ago but he is full German sherpard and he is very smart he knows how to heal sit fetch lay. Clearly someone has taught this dog these commands please help

Vince on August 25, 2018:

My dog was attacked by the cat next door and now every time he goes to the back door or goes into the garden he barks as if to warn off the cat and I can't stop him no matter what I do please help

Amanda on July 09, 2018:

I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT he barks and whines A LOT… So, leaving home is always a challenge for us. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to 'doggy school', but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest 'doggy school' is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 23, 2015:

Could be there are critters in your home, which are common this time of the year. Dogs can sense them, while we often don't.

linda lemken on October 22, 2015:

four dogs that I have and each and every one of them were barking and staring at something in the kitchen. this has happened before but only one dog did it at that time. he seems to see something we don't and gets upset and barks

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2015:

I don't see any face in the picture, where is it? So that dog is actually barking at something?

Jon on May 23, 2014:

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed but did anyone manage to spot the face in the picture?

FullOfLoveSites from United States on January 10, 2013:

I know that dogs have super-sensitive hearing powers, much much more sensitive to humans', that's why whenever they hear just a distant rustling from outside they bark and bark -- good for guarding your property, needless to say.

That's why when my dog hears loud sounds (like booming sounds from a firecracker) she runs aimlessly and howls pitifully. In the end she hides under a table or even inside my bathroom. For us humans it's just a normal volume but to a dog it's an aural torture.

Great hub you've got. Voted up, interesting/useful and shared.

Roberta McIlroy from Ontario, Canada on March 08, 2012:

That is so cute. I know a little dog that used to do stupid funny stuff but we never thought to put a curtain up. Thanks for the idea.

Marturion on March 08, 2012:

I used to own a Chow that would bark incessantly at the TV when it was turned off. It took me a while to realize he was actually barking at his reflection. (He was NOT a smart dog.) We eventually had to resort to putting a curtain across the TV when not in use.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 04, 2012:

Thank you Jkenny.

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on March 04, 2012:

A very useful hub. My Dog will sometimes just seemingly bark at nothing, but as you say there our hearing is poor compared to a dog's. So its something worth bearing in mind. Thanks and Voted up etc.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 04, 2012:

Very true, thanks for sharing!

Roberta McIlroy from Ontario, Canada on March 04, 2012:

My pooch is forever barking. He is either hungry, wants to play, sees someone walking by, sees another dog, or wants loose because he smells a female dog in heat?

There is always a reason for the barking. We only have to find out what the reason is.

Just because there aren't any female dogs in the vicinity does not mean that he cannot smell her pheromones. A male dog can scent a female in heat within a 5 mile radius. Drake gets all jittery and bouncy when there is one around.

Brandon Lobo on March 03, 2012:

Yes, that's a possibility as well. I've even noticed them barking when they hear noises especially fireworks. We may not be able to hear the ones at a distance but they can.

BluesLady8 from Little Rock, AR on March 03, 2012:

Also dogs have better vision then us. They can see things at a greater distance that we can't see with our limited range. So, Fido might be barking at a rodent in bush 50 yards away!

Mooncatcher from Planet Zorgula on March 03, 2012:

they are very sensitive critters true

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 03, 2012:

You may be interested in this hub:https://hubpages.com/animals/How-to-Stop-a-Dog-Fro...

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 03, 2012:

My male at times while I am watching a horror movie does this sudden bark that sounds like "Boo!" it scares me terribly each time!

Shasta Matova from USA on March 03, 2012:

Great hub. My dog does bark at the neighbors, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure out which neighbor is out and about at the time. He has a very loud bark and it does startle me when he starts.

Brandon Lobo on March 03, 2012:

Thanks for this wonderful hub, it's got some great information and I'm surely going to pass it on to my neighbor.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on March 03, 2012:

Great hub. I didn't realize the hearing sense of the dog, though I know it's definitely better than mine. Funny how it can be nice and quiet in the house and I'm concentrating on something, then wham, the barking begins and can give me a jump from the sudden bark! I imagine my dog thinks it's funny, but she gets me every time, and sometimes it's all the dogs at once. But they are barking at something, which I sure didn't hear-I was enjoying the peace and quiet-then I let them out and sometimes they continue and sometimes they run out and stop with a quizzical look on their face. Never a dull moment.


Final Thoughts

Having a dog that is barking at nothing can be extremely frustrating, but don’t lose hope. You can teach your dog not to bark no matter what is causing the behavior. Take the time to identify why your dog is barking and meet her needs as well as teaching obedience commands centered around “speak” and “quiet”, and soon constant random barking will be a problem of the past.

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Why your dog growls at nothing

Each of the different reasons that your dog growls at nothing will likely come with a number of clues in the way that it does it.

Below, I will mention a number of reasons why your dog might be doing it and what would make them more likely.

It hears something

Dogs have much more sensitive hearing than humans do and they can hear things from up to 4 times further away than us. Dogs are able to hear much higher frequency noises than we can as well. Humans can hear frequencies up to 20kHz but dogs can hear up to 45kHz.

This means that even if you can not hear anything, it could be the case that your dog can. This would be much more likely to be the case if there are things such as construction works going on in your area or if you live in a busy area. However, even if you live in a quiet area it could be that it hears an animal outside.

It saw something

Dogs have better night vision than humans do and they have better motion visibility than humans do (source). The reason that your dog growls at nothing could be that it saw something that you did not. This would be more likely if it does it in situations such as when growling at a window at night.

It smells something

Along with better hearing, dogs also have a much better sense of smell. The reason that it growls at nothing might actually be that it smells something that you do not. This would be more likely to be the reason if you have a dog whose breed is known for its strong sense of smell such as the Beagle.

It is fearful

It could be the case that it is growling at nothing because something is causing it to be fearful. This would be more likely if it seems to do it when something might be causing it to be fearful such as thunder, lightning or sirens.

It is ill or injured

The reason that it growls at nothing could be that it is ill or injured. This would be more likely to be the reason if it has been showing other signs of being ill or injured. It would also be more likely if it never used to randomly start growling. If it does seem like it might be ill or injured then the best option for you would be to take it to a vet.

It might actually be growling at something

Just because it doesn’t seem like it is growling at anything to you, it could still be the case that it is actually growling at something.

It could be that someone walked past the door or it saw or heard a pet in the yard.

It wants something from you

The reason that it growls at nothing might actually be that it is trying to get you to give it something. This would be more likely to be the reason if it tends to start growling when you would normally do things such as to feed it, give it attention or take it for a walk.

You have inadvertently rewarded the behavior

A common cause of dogs doing things that seem unusual is that their owners have inadvertently rewarded the behavior and this could be why yours growls at nothing. This would be more likely to be the reason if you tend to give it things that it wants such as toys, attention or treats when it growls.

Instead, it would help to avoid rewarding it when it growls and to follow the tips mentioned below.

It is actually being aggressive

It could be the case that your dog is actually growling because it is warning you or someone/something else not to approach it. This would be more likely if it shows signs of aggression such as baring its teeth, stiffening its legs and moving its ears back.

If it does seem to be doing it aggressively then it would help to avoid approaching it and to get the help of a dog behaviorist who will be able to help get it to stop in a safer way.

An issue with its diet

It might be the case that an issue with its diet is causing it to act unusually. This would be more likely if it suddenly started growling at nothing at around the same time that its diet changed. You can look here to see what you should and should not be feeding your dog.

Things to consider

Below, I will mention some particularly helpful things to consider when trying to figure out why your dog growls at nothing. Once you have a better idea of the cause it will be easier to take the appropriate action.

When your dog first started growling at nothing

It would help to consider the timing of when your dog first started growling at nothing.

If it did not always do it then it could be that there was an event that caused it to start doing it. Possible triggers could have been that you rewarded it for doing it one-time or people started doing construction work nearby. It could also be that it was when a health issue started which would be more likely if it also started behaving unusually in other ways as well.

If it has always done it then it could be that it does it when it hears, sees or smells something that you do not or it could be that you did inadvertently train it to do it when it was much younger.

When your dog growls at nothing

The timing of when it does it would also be something to consider.

If your dog barks at nothing at certain times then it could be that it does it to get you to give it something such as food, exercise or attention. It might also be that it is also when people start doing construction work nearby.

Whether or not it does it aggressively

It would also be important to consider how aggressively it growls at nothing. If your dog seems to growl at nothing aggressively then it would be advised that you avoid approaching it and it would likely be worthwhile to get the help of a dog behaviorist.

How to get it to stop growling at nothing

There are a number of things that you can do about your dog barking at nothing. The best option for your dog will largely depend on the cause of it doing it.

Below, I will mention a number of things that you can do about it.

Try to remove the things that might be causing it

The first thing that you can do is to try to remove things that might be causing it to growl.

So, if it only seems to growl when it is in a certain room then it would help to make sure that you remove possible triggers such as a noisy window or the reflection of a light on the window or wall.

Let it stay in a different room

If your dog seems to growl at nothing in a certain room then another thing that you can do is to allow it to stay in another room.

If it does seem to growl in a certain room and you tend to leave it there then it could be that it is doing it due to separation anxiety which is where it does not like being left alone.

Get help from a dog behaviorist

If your dog seems to be growling aggressively, it would help to get the advice of a dog behaviorist in your area. This would be especially important if the growling seems to be directed at you rather than at nothing.

Take it to a vet

If you cannot figure out what is causing your dog to growl at nothing, it would help to take it to a vet so that you can rule out possible medical causes.

Train it to associate sounds with positive things

If it seems to be growling at certain sounds then it would help to train it to have positive associations with those sounds.

You can oo this by playing the sounds in the background and giving it rewards or by letting it interact with the thing so that it learns that it is not a threat.

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All dogs bark. Some dogs bark for good reasons, such as at strangers, while others apparently bark for little or no reason at all. If your dog barks at other canines, it cannot only be annoying, but it can pose a risky issue, especially if you're at a dog park or out and about walking.

Dogs bark for a multitude of reasons. He may be barking because of separation anxiety, to establish and maintain territory, due to illness or injury, as a form of alarm, from frustration or seeking attention, as a greeting or as part of a social situation.


Why Do Dogs Bark for No Reason?

This is a common question among dog owners, “Why does my dog bark at nothing?” It may seem like your pooch is barking at a ghost or his own shadow, but he has his own reasons.

The first and most important thing to understand about your dog is that he can hear what you cannot. Dogs can hear much higher frequencies than can humans, so what you think is nothing is simply a noise that is inaudible to you, such as a distant screech of a tire.

Along with their incredible sense of hearing, that cute nose can smell lots of things you cannot. Dogs have 40 times more olfactory receptors. The nose knows what that nose knows!

All of this can make for a very frustrated dog, particularly if he is getting scolded for what you perceive as a random bark. He may perceive a noise or smell as a threat or something to communicate with his pack (i.e. you). For some dogs, random “nothing” barks can turn into excessive barking.


Should you encourage puppies to bark?

Barking is an important skill to learn for puppies. But if they don’t learn when to do it correctly, it can become a bit of an issue. It’s important you listen to them if they’re hungry, scared, or trying to communicate with you, but you should reinforce quiet time when they stop barking with treats, petting, and positive attention.

There’s no straightforward answer to when a puppy starts barking, they’re all individual, and just like humans, some of them like to use their voice more than others! When did your puppy start barking? Let us know in the comments below!


Watch the video: Separation Anxiety in Dogs and Five Behavioral Myths that Can Harm Your Pet with Dr. Valarie Tynes


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