Sometimes it feels like your dog’s barking at absolutely nothing, at thin air almost, unless it’s a ghost. Sound familiar? If you have a dog barking at nothing, we’re here to help!
In this article, we’ll explain many of the reasons that dogs bark… they might even surprise you. We’ll dive into why your dog might be barking at nothing and how to stop it, and most importantly, what you shouldn’t do – us dog owners are often masters at making things worse.
Dogs often bark because they’re bored and it’s a fun thing to do. If this is starting to tick you off, you can get loads of training and brain-stretching done to prevent it with the Zigzag app. In it, you’ll have a personalised training programme for your puppy, and an absurdly amazing team of professional dog training experts to help you around the clock, 24/7. Just reach out to them via our in-app chat and they’ll do their best to problem-solve; whether your dog is barking, or you’re struggling with toilet training, they’ve got the answers for you!
Why do dogs bark?
Barking is a natural instinct for a dog. It’s their way of communicating, whether it’s with each other or with us. Just like with humans, they are usually trying to convey fear, protecting their territory, boredom, seeking attention, overarousal or excitement, or simply because it’s fun.
Fear and anxiety
Whether your dog is howling, barking or doing low-level woofing, barking when they’re scared is a common thing for them to do. Barking can be a dog’s way of making the scary thing go away, or it can have a self-soothing effect as it can make them feel better.
Barking can be amusing for dogs. Especially when they’re bored, barking feels great, just try it yourself. That said, if your dog chews a lot, destroys things or generally does ‘bad’ behaviour, this is usually a normal sign that they need more and better mental stimulation.
When dogs get excited and over-aroused, barking will be the best thing they can do to release and express their joy, oh and you might see humping too! It probably won’t sound like confetti and trumpets to you, but there’s nothing like knowing your dog is happy. You might even let this kind of barking slide.
To sound the alarm
Well, we know the postman isn’t coming in to murder us, but our dogs might think the opposite. If you have a dog who barks at visitors or your lovely delivery people, it’s actually pretty common – it’s typical dog behaviour that warns us about the potential danger lurking outside!
Why do dogs bark at nothing?
Although it might seem like your dog is barking for no reason, they probably aren’t. Dogs do what works for them and what they find rewarding, so they may hear, see or smell things we don’t, not realising they’re barking at it in the first place.
They can hear high-pitched noises
Dogs can hear things that we can’t due to their more sensitive hearing. Back in the day, they needed this skill to hunt effectively and keep themselves safe from potential predators. Don’t worry, it’s not like they’re “hearing voices”.
To learn more about how dogs were domesticated, read our article. It’s quite a nice read, actually.
They can see better in low light
Dogs have better vision in low light, as they would have hunted at dusk and dawn when they lived in the wild. When they bark at something at night in the garden that’s ‘not there’ to us, rest assured they can probably see something that we can’t. Probably better if we don’t see it; we’d shriek louder than they can bark.
There’s much to learn about dog eye anatomy, so if you’ve got some time to read our article on it, please do. It’s a good one to learn about.
They can smell things much better than we can
With their incredible sense of smell, dogs will often smell things before they see or hear them, and this can cause them to bark when you feel like there’s nothing there. If you fart and they bark, you know you’ve been caught.
If you have a stinky dog you’ll want to read our guide to why does my dog smell so much.
Barking in their sleep
You might hear your dog barking or woofing in their sleep. Dogs have similar sleep cycles as we do, and the barking occurs in REM sleep when there is a lot of brain activity. If you’re wondering if they’re dreaming of fields of green and raining treats, chances are they are.
Our full guide on how much puppies sleep will tell you more about that.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) or Doggy Dementia
If you have a senior dog who seems to be barking at nothing, then it can be an idea to get them checked out for CCD or doggy dementia by your Vet. Yep, it’s a bit sad that dogs also get dementia, but barking at nothing can be a symptom.
How do I stop my dog from barking at nothing?
To stop your dog from barking at nothing, you can train them to minimise the behaviour. Typically, this will mean checking for health problems, managing the environment to block out or muffle external noises, redirecting them onto something else and teaching them a quiet cue. You’ll love the quiet cue, we can tell already.
Acknowledge the behaviour
Your dog is trying to tell you or communicate something when they’re barking, so it’s very wise to not ignore it. Actually, just don’t ignore it at all. Look at why the barking is happening; what is your dog trying to say?
Rule out any medical issues
A senior dog may bark due to canine cognitive dysfunction, whereas a younger dog may be in pain. It’s always worth getting a vet check to rule out anything medical being the reason your dog is barking.
Play them white noise in the evenings
If your puppy is barking at night, playing a white noise machine or classical music can help to block or muffle outside noises that they might be reacting to. Humans love white noise too, just notice the sheer amount of playlists on Spotify.
Train them the “be quiet” cue
Teaching your dog to be quiet on cue is a great way to deal with your dog barking at nothing right there and then. With positive reinforcement training, we can train our dogs to stop barking when we ask them to, kind of like a magic spell.
In the Zigzag training app, we have a full breakdown of how to teach your dog to be quiet on cue…all secrets included.
Make sure your dog’s needs are met
Your dog has specific needs which, when they’re not met, can cause an increase in barking at nothing. Same as us to be honest, we tend to scream and complain when we don’t have what we need. At least I do.
Check off this list to be sure your dog’s needs are being met to reduce their barking at nothing:
- Give your pup the right amount of physical exercise by taking them on sniffy and enriching walks.
- Make their playtimes much more entertaining by using toys or embracing your inner silliness to meet their attention needs. Playing fetch with toys or brain games will give them great mental stimulation and get rid of boredom.
- Take your dog to the toilet regularly! They’ll likely bark if they’re busting for a pee. We’re sure you don’t want any more toilet training accidents that need cleaning up!
Feed them the right amount of a balanced diet. Whether you feed a commercial wet or dry food, a raw or BARF diet or you go all out and cook for your dog.
What not to do when trying to stop them from barking
It’s tempting to look for a quick fix to get your dog to stop barking at nothing. It’s sad to see our great human brains being used for things like shock collars, or simply telling them off – these actually make the barking worse… or cause a slew of other issues!
Bark collars generally work by setting off compressed air or citronella scent when they detect a dog barking. The idea is to startle the dog or spray something unpleasant at them in order to interrupt the barking. This method of training is aversive and can have long-lasting negative effects on your dog.
The other problem with bark collars is they go off when other dogs bark too. That isn’t very fair.
E-Collars or Shock Collars can work manually with a person pressing a button on a remote, or automatically when the dog barks. The collar delivers an electric current to the dog which hurts quite terribly. Even we hate the static from a shopping trolley…imagine getting it on your neck.
Bottom line is that using punishment-based techniques is never a good idea. They can emotionally damage your dog and create negative associations between them barking and the thing they were barking at. For example, if they see a dog and bark and get shocked, they will now fear the dog more and can become aggressive as they associate the dog with pain.
Shouting at your dog when they’re barking at nothing has a few problems associated with it as well. Firstly, it can scare your dog. They’re just being a dog at the end of the day, and don’t understand why you’re so cross with them. Secondly, shouting can make them think there’s DEFINITELY something to be worried about as you’re shouting too!
Okay. So now that you’ve listened to everything we’ve got to say, if you have a dog who seems to be barking at nothing, understand that they’re probably barking at something; it just can’t tell you exactly what it is.
To reduce your dog’s barking, make sure all their exercise and nutritional needs are met and that they’re not bored and just barking at nothing for fun.
Use positive reinforcement to teach your dog a quiet cue, and turn away from fear or punishment-based techniques to stop the barking. To succeed, you need to look at the underlying issue of their barking rather than being swayed by claims of quick fixes to have a happy and healthy pup. They never work!
If you’re struggling to sleep well because your pup seems to be howling at the moon, then check out our guide to why is my puppy barking at night, and get them into a perfect nighttime routine. You’ll see how much your mood starts improving after that.
Download the Zigzag app today and get access to much more training content. Our team of professional dog trainers are fantastic; they won’t bark at you for making any mistakes. They’re available 24/7 via in-app chat, or via a phone call.