Many dogs really love the sound of their own voices, and will bark and vocalise for all sorts of reasons, such as excitement, boredom, to get your attention, to alert you to someone coming, and to warn other dogs or people off their territory.
Most dog owners will have witnessed their dogs barking at absolutely nothing at some point, or possibly, have been woken up in the middle of the night to search the house for the armed intruder that your dog is frantically telling you about, only to realise that there is nobody there… so why do dogs bark at nothing at all, seemingly for absolutely no reason? Read on to find out.
Before you write off your dog’s barking as without any genuine trigger, remember that the hearing attenuation of the dog is very different to that of people, and the range of sounds that dogs can hear is not the same as ours.
Humans can hear sounds within the range of around 20-20,000Hz, while dogs hear from 40-60,000Hz, giving them a different range of hearing and allowing dogs to pick up sounds at a much higher pitch than we can normally hear. This is how silent dog whistles, and silent dog deterrents work; they are not actually silent, just outside of our own range of hearing!
It is entirely possible that your dog is barking at a sound that is outside of your range of hearing, such as a silent whistle, the squeak of a rodent, or even the sound of someone’s dog-repellent fence. Dogs can of course also smell many more scents than we can, and so the trigger that leads to barking may not even be aural at all!
As mentioned above, your dog might be barking at nothing (particularly if they are staring at a blank wall, barking at a “ghost”) if they can hear small rodents inside of the walls, or other small animals moving around that they cannot get to.
This can include animals not just inside of the house, but also outside; a slinking, virtually silent fox, hedgehog or badger may be invisible to your naked eye in the garden in the dark, but your dog will almost certainly know that they are there, and respond accordingly!
Dogs will often bark or whine to get your attention, and this can occur both when you are in their presence and when you are not. If you are in the house with your dog, you will usually know when they are trying to get you to notice them, as they will follow you, bark at you, or bark from behind a closed door. Training your dog to be left alone happily and stay quiet when alone for a reasonable amount of time can help with this.
You may also find out the hard way from your neighbours that your dog barks when you are out; again, make sure that you are not expecting your dog to stay alone for too long, provide them with things to do, and train them to tolerate some alone time.
Frustrated barking can occur for a whole host of reasons. If your dog is inside and wants to be let out they may well bark and clamour at the doors, or if you are not paying them enough attention, or denying them a toy or something that they want, they may bark then as well.
Frustrated barking may also occur if your dog sees something outside, such as another animal, that they cannot get at; if a fox is scent marking all over your garden as bold as brass and your dog can do nothing but watch the intruder take this liberty from behind the patio doors, they are likely to become extremely frustrated about it and vocalise to let everyone know this!
Various different health issues can cause your dog to bark for seemingly no reason, such as if your dog is in pain or discomfort, or otherwise finding it hard to settle down. Dogs cannot tell you when something is wrong, and so making a noise and generally letting out their discomfort in this way is one of their forms of communication. If your dog barks at nothing on a regular basis, it may be worth getting them checked out by your vet.
Age-related degeneration can also lead to a range of neurological changes in your dog, as their brains begin the gradual slowdown in old age. This can lead to your dog losing some of their short-term memory and feeling uncertain about things, forgetting things, or imagining threats and challenges that are not there. This too can manifest as barking at things that are not there, as well as acting out in other ways, so once your dog reaches old age, a senior health check with the vet is a good idea.