Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Why Does My Dog Bark at Nothing? Is My Dog Going Crazy?
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.
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.
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 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.
Read More From Pethelpful
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!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
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: 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: 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: 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:
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. https://pethelpful.com/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://discover.hubpages.com/animals/How-to-Stop-...
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.