Why do dogs bark at nothing? We are so used to seeing our dogs bark at the mail man, at other dogs walking by the window, at the construction workers across the street, that when we notice our dogs barking at nothing we are often baffled by the behavior.
Some people may just categorize this type of barking under the "one of those weird things dogs do" but some people grow concerned about it wondering if Rover is going crazy or if perhaps there may be some eerie paranormal activity going on. Fortunately, there are several explanations for dogs barking at nothing and they are often more down to earth.
Presence of Critters
Instead of considering hiring a spirit releaser or some religious official to rid your home of ghosts, you should put your local exterminator's phone number on speed dial.
Chances are high that your dog's barking is triggered by some critter living under your deck, in your basement or roof.
Typically mice, raccoon and other types of rodents are active mostly at dusk, so if your dog seems to be barking intently especially when lights are out, there are chances he may be hearing these critters.
Some Distant Noises
Dogs have a sense of hearing that is far superior to ours so it's not surprising if they may hear things that are barely audible to us. It could be your dog hears another dog barking at at distance, perhaps there's a siren wailing some miles away or it could be that some wild animal is walking around your property.
Barriers such as doors, windows and walls may muffle noises for us, but our dogs are instead still capable of detecting sounds with little problems. Also, consider that dogs may also bark as a response to smells.
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History of Reinforcement
Dogs tend to repeat behaviors that are reinforced, and sometimes barking behavior gets inadvertently reinforced by well-meaning dog owners. The typical dog that barks for attention is a dog who is bored, under stimulated and is looking for something to do.
If the moment your dog barks, you look at him, talk to him or get up to check what's the matter, it could your dog's behavior falls down the attention-seeking category.
Dogs who bark for attention typically do so while they're looking at the owner and they're usually hoping for the owner to interact. Whether the owner scolds the dog for barking doesn't matter, any form of attention will do--even the negative type. So if your dog looks at you and barks, he's likely not barking at anything, he's barking at you to get his daily dose of attention!
Obsessive Compulsive Behavior
Sadly, in some cases, dogs who bark at nothing may be affected by an obsessive compulsive disorder. In this case, the affected dog often barks at nothing for prolonged periods of time. The dog's barking is often repetitive, exaggerated and out of context, meaning that it occurs for no obvious reason.
Dogs who are high-strung and impulsive are commonly affected and their behavior is often a sign of deep stress and conflict that makes these dogs miserable. Obsessive compulsive disorders are often noted in herding and sporting breeds. If you suspect this type of barking, see your vet.
Early Canine Dementia
If you own an elderly dog and his night-time behavior is changing over the course of several days, there may be chances he may be showing the first signs of the canine cognitive dysfunction, the canine version of Alzheimer's disease.
Dogs suffering from this progressive condition may start pacing at night and it's not unusual for them to also bark, whine or howl for no apparent reason. If your dog is older and you notice these new behaviors, discuss these behavior changes with your vet.
When caught early, the progression of canine cognitive dysfunction can be slowed down.