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Why is my dog barking at nothing? There’s often a really good reason

Your dog likely isn't barking at "nothing" after all

A dog barks in front of a yellow background
Robert Gramner / Unsplash

Virtually every dog barks every now and again, but sometimes that barking can get to be too much. It’s easier to address excessive barking when you can figure out what your dog is trying to tell you or alert you of, but dog owners know it’s not always obvious. In fact, it can be a bit unnerving when your dog is barking at an empty wall.

You’re certainly not alone if you find yourself asking, “Why is my dog barking at nothing?” This is a common question among dog owners, and it’s something that veterinarians and animal behaviorists have studied as well. There’s usually a reason behind dogs’ barking, after all, so it’s worth looking into to make sure your furry friend is alright.

Here’s what you’ll want to know.

Side profile of a Siberian Husky stands in the water at the beach and barks
Lucas Andrade / Pexels

Why is my dog barking at nothing?

If your dog is seemingly barking at nothing, you can’t assume there’s nothing to bark at. Remember, dogs can hear, smell, and sometimes see far better than humans can, so it’s likely that they’ve picked up on something you didn’t. As animal behaviorist and dog trainer Stephanie Gibeault explains, dogs have a very different perspective of the world, but that doesn’t mean anything spooky or paranormal is going on. So you can rest assured — your dog isn’t seeing ghosts!

Dogs can hear sounds that humans cannot

Because dogs were hunters only a few centuries ago (and technically, they still are), their ears are wired to hear incredibly high-pitched sounds. In fact, dogs can hear sounds almost twice as high as people can, so there’s a chance that your four-legged friend is locked in on a sound you just can’t hear. The American Kennel Club explains it in numbers: Humans can hear sounds up to 20,000 Hertz, while dogs can hear sounds up to 47,000 or even 67,000 Hertz.

Additionally, dogs’ ears are far more sensitive than humans’. They can hear sounds from 3,000 to 12,000 Hertz at far lower volumes than people can, and their hearing only gets better with sounds at higher frequencies.

Dogs can smell scents that humans can’t even fathom

It’s no secret that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Some dogs can detect chemical changes in the human body well enough to detect cancer, while others can detect even the slightest hint of food allergy contamination. These nose-led skills make many dogs excellent candidates for service or jobs, but they can also lead to barking at things only your dog can detect. Whether it’s an animal outside or someone coming home late, a change in scents can signal anything from prey to play — or even food!

Dogs have an excellent sense of low-light vision

Even though dogs are somewhat color-blind, dogs can also see very well in low light. This talent of theirs isn’t as famous as their mind-blowing sense of smell, but it can help dogs see in the dark for a number of purposes. Once upon a time, this skill was used for hunting, but now dogs’ excellent vision can help them see things that go bump in the night. So if your dog is barking at nothing, there could be something that you just don’t see.

Dog barks as woman works from home
Zivica Kerkez / Shutterstock

What to do if your dog is barking at nothing

Barking for no reason can be startling or annoying, but attempting to shush your dog won’t actually solve anything. Besides, aren’t you curious what they’re barking at? Gibeault explains that by calmly acknowledging your dog’s barking, you’re showing them that you understand the concern and that you are both safe. If the barking continues, though, you may need to investigate. Remember, only do so if you feel safe. For example, camping at nighttime may not be the best opportunity to see what your pup is barking at.

For dogs that can’t seem to stop barking, teaching them a silent cue could be a smart idea. However, this is something you’ll need to practice and plan for. You’ll want to use the same command each time (such as “hush!” or “quiet!”) to tell them it’s time to stop barking, then reward them with a motivating reward. Food-motivated dogs will love a small dog treat, while other dogs may be motivated by praise or playtime. Be sure to repeat the command, said Gibeault, and reward to help them understand what the desired action is (i.e., to stop barking), but they’ll get the hang of it in no time.

The next time your dog seems to bark at nothing, try not to get frustrated or annoyed. Your pup likely finds the trigger completely bark-worthy, even if it’s something you can’t see, hear, or smell.

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Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
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