Dog behaviour: Why Do Dogs Bark at Nothing?


Dog behaviour: Why Do Dogs Bark at Nothing?

Barking at nothing may be a frustrating and odd problem for some dog owners. However, the truth is, it’s most likely 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 that is 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 with about 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs are also blessed with a superior sense of smell, especially when compared to humans, who have a mere 5–6 million receptors in people.

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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 the frustration of not being able to get to it.

Is Your Dog Barking at Nothing?

What May Be Causing Unexplained Barking?

So, what is causing Rover to bark 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, make some assumptions at times. The following are some common causes for otherwise unexplained barking in dogs.

Wild Critters: One of my client’s German Shepherds 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 as 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, 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 on 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.

A 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.

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How to Reduce Unexplained Barking

Because at times it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the 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 getting 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 into 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; the truth is, barking is one of his ways of communicating that 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 into 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 into our home. She will announce its presence with a disgusted yelp. The truth is, our dogs are talking; are you listening? It may be worth it!

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