When it comes to a dog barking at nothing, it can be either disconcerting or annoying. Sometimes, incessant barking for no reason can cause major problems with landlords and neighbors. Other times a dog randomly barks once, but the effect is still startling.
Those of us googling “my dog keeps barking at the corner of the room” or have a blind dog barking at nothing may be wondering about ghosts or paranormal activity. So what does unexplained barking mean? And what can we do to stop it when it becomes a nuisance?
So to deal with problem barking, we usually have to look at the root causes and provide our dogs with another outlet. This usually means more exercise, fun activities, and puzzle games like snuffle mats.
Why do dogs bark at nothing?
Dogs often bark in response to something we can’t hear, like other dogs barking in the distance. But they may also bark excessively when they are bored, frustrated, suffer separation anxiety, or try to get their owner’s attention.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most common reasons.
1. A dog barking at nothing is often barking at distant sounds
A dog barking at nothing outside is usually just barking at things we can’t hear or see. Dogs can hear noises at a much higher frequency than we can.
You may notice that barking tends to be a bigger problem at night. This is because of the ambient noise of the day from traffic and people that has died down. In the quiet midnight hours, sound travels further, and dogs can hear other dogs barking, which triggers their own barking.
2. Dogs bark when left alone
Dogs often stay home by themselves for long hours during the day. For dogs who suffer when they are away from their owners, barking incessantly can be how they deal with their angst.
3. Dogs bark from boredom and frustration
Dogs need exercise and activity. Dogs without an outlet often take up unwanted behaviors like barking and digging. Exercise is one the most effective tools in dealing with any problem behavior in a dog.
On a related note, specific breeds like herding dogs (such as Border Collies), hounds (like Beagles), earth dogs (like Dachshunds), or Terriers love to bark.
These dogs often need a lot more activity to keep them from taking up barking as a full-time hobby.
4. Dogs bark because of brain disorders
Sadly, dogs don’t start problem behaviors just out of boredom. Senior dogs with doggy dementia or canine cognitive decline may start barking suddenly for no reason.
Some dogs may start compulsive barking that is relentless and impossible to stop. This can be a sign of canine-compulsive disorder, the equivalent of human OCD.
5. Dogs bark at nothing when they are excited
Another reason a dog may begin to bark for no reason is excitement. This could be because they hear something like their owner’s car pulling up in the driveway and start to bark from happiness.
6. Dogs bark at nothing to warn others
One of the reasons a dog may take to barking is just to warn and tell other dogs (and people) where they are and where their territories are. When dogs bark at night, they claim their territory and share information, like how many dogs are in their “pack.”
7. Dogs bark to get your attention
Often dogs bark suddenly and relentlessly to get our attention. It may be a steady, trancelike bark of a dog asking to be let inside, or it may be more frantic if a dog is trying to warn us of something, like a fire.
How to stop dog barking at nothing
When dealing with a dog that barks at nothing, you can use some of these guidelines:
- Step up your dog’s activity. Bored and under exercised dogs need an outlet and often take to barking to voice their frustration. A properly tired dog rarely has the energy to be up all night barking.
- Deal with your dog’s anxiety over being alone through methods like place training and exercise. You can read in our article on separation anxiety.
- Provide your dog with puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and other forms of mental activity to keep them busy while you are gone.
- See our article on how to stop a dog whining in the car to learn how to teach the quiet command.
- Consider enrolling your dog in doggy daycare if they need to be alone for long hours during the day. You can mark the behavior for dogs that love barking and teach them the command “speak.” This way, you can start and stop the barking and give your dog an appropriate and limited time in which they are allowed to bark freely.
- If your dog sleeps outside, consider bringing them inside at night so that the sounds of other dogs barking are less distracting.
- Invest in lifelong dog training not only to help your dog with obedience but to improve your communication and your dog’s engagement with you. A dog fully engaged with their owner has a better understanding of what is expected of them and what the rules are. It also helps owners successfully communicate rules to their dogs.
- If your dog’s barking seems excessive, see your veterinarian check for conditions like canine compulsive disorder or canine cognitive decline in older dogs.
For extra tips on how to stop problem barking, see more in our articles on keeping your dog entertained while you are at work and giving your dog indoor exercise when the weather is bad.
What not to do to stop your dog from barking
Do not use shock collars or anti-barking collars to stop excessive barking!
The humane society warns against using anti-bark collars and anti-bark devices. These collars either work with an ultrasonic sound or a burst of citronella spray. To a dog’s incredibly sensitive nose, this is more than just unpleasant; it’s actively unbearable.
The problem with these devices is that it suppresses unwanted behavior but does not give your dog an alternative behavior. This increases their anxiety and frustration and can lead to more extreme behaviors like aggression.
Likewise, e-collars that produce electric shocks with remotes are not only punishing. They don’t provide a dog with a viable alternative behavior. In the long run, this only creates more anxiety and displaced frustration in the dog.
Another reason never to use anti-barking devices it that by stopping a dog barking, you stop their ability to warn you of intruders or communicate when there may be an emergency.
Do not shout at your dog to stop barking
Shouting at dogs to stop barking is highly ineffective. As barking dogs are usually excited, they do not register your displeasure. They typically assume you’re just barking with them if they hear you shouting. This reinforces barking problems.
Why is my dog barking at me?
Dogs usually bark at their owners to communicate. It may be to express excitement over something or press their owners into throwing a ball or sharing a snack. Dogs may also bark at their owners if they don’t recognize them, such as when their owner comes home in the dark or is wearing unfamiliar clothing.
Why is my dog barking at nothing all of a sudden?
If a dog suddenly starts barking for no reason, it is likely because they can hear something you may not. This may be someone passing by your house or another dog barking in the distance. However, it can also be an unwanted behavior that stems from boredom, frustration, fear, or aggression.
Why is my dog barking at nothing at night?
Dogs outside love to bark at night because it is quieter, so it’s easier for them to hear other dogs barking. If a dog barks at a passerby one block away, it can set off a chain reaction of barking dogs throughout the neighborhood.
Dogs who bark at nothing can sometimes give us the creeps, especially if they seem to be staring at something we can’t see. At other times, dogs barking at nothing outside may keep us awake or bother the neighborhood.
To stop this kind of barking, it’s best to address the core issue. If possible, bring dogs outside indoors, so they are not bothered by the noises of other dogs barking at night. Address anxiety problems, increase exercise, and keep your dog’s mind busy with puzzle toys and snuffle mats.
Do not resort to punishing or using anti-bark devices, as this can increase your dog’s anxiety and behavior issues. It also stops a dog from being able to alert you when they need to.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.