Dogs, with their keen senses, allow them to view the world differently from humans. Ever wonder why your dog sometimes barks at nothing? Find out below the causes and solutions.
Dogs barking at nothing
Barking is a way for dogs to communicate their feelings and needs to their owners. These verbal cues are normal and are to be expected. The reasons why dogs bark varies depending on their emotions, surroundings, and health conditions.
From time to time, you might witness your dog bark at nothing. It may appear that way, but dogs have very keen basic senses that can detect something we can’t see. Their sense of smell, hearing, and sight is sharper than that of humans. So when they appear to bark at nothing, they are probably sensing something that makes them feel alert or stimulated.
No, they don’t bark at ghosts and dogs don’t sense evil
Dogs have an incredible five basic senses—but only five, not six. Unlike the eerie kid from the movie Sixth Sense, dogs cannot see ghosts nor can they sense evil. This is, obviously, coming from a scientific perspective observed by certified dog behaviorists. However, they also admit that the phenomenon is not entirely impossible because scientists have no way of proving whether or not dogs can detect paranormal activities in the first place. “The most interesting part of the science of dog behavior and understanding is that we simply don’t know so much,” says certified dog behavior consultant, Russell Hartstein. So, in short, we’re just as clueless.
On the other hand, scientists and dog behaviorists have conducted countless research on dogs’ five basic senses. These studies are proof of dogs’ extraordinary ability to detect things humans cannot see. This means that when dogs are barking at nothing there is a 99% chance that they are sensing something real and tangible.
The idea of dogs sensing the paranormal truly boils down to your personal beliefs and perception. Some cultures may believe it, and some may not. The bottom line is your dog is more likely to bark at a faint noise made by squirrels in pitch darkness than spiritual beings.
Dogs have better hearing than humans
Dogs have better hearing than humans this is due to their ears having deeper canals which allow for sounds to carry down to their eardrums.
They can hear high-pitched noises
Dogs can hear a wider range of frequencies, with sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hertz (Hz). They also have intense sensitivity to lower, softer sounds and can register sounds as low as -5 to -15 decibels (dB). Meanwhile, an average adult human can only hear high-pitched sounds higher than 20,000 Hz and soft sounds as low as 0 dB. Anything higher than 20,000 Hz is way too high-pitched for humans and a negative decibel rating is far too low for our ears to pick up. This is also why most dogs dislike loud noises like fireworks because the noise is too overpowering for them.
Their sensitivity to sound causes them to sometimes bark out of nowhere. Unbeknownst to you, your dog actually must have heard something (way before you can) that made them go on a barking spree.
They can see in low light
Similar to their sensitive ears, dogs have impeccable eyesight. They have the eyesight of a video camera in night mode. Their eyes, specifically their retinas, have a lining called tapetum lucidum. This lining is what allows them to see in darker lights, and it is also why dogs’ eyes glare when light hits them.
Even in pitch darkness, dogs can see through it all. You may not notice anything in a dark room, but your dog can see silhouettes that may or may not cause them to feel wary and territorial.
Dogs have better sense of smell than humans
As true nature hunters, dogs’ sense of smell is far more complex than humans. Their cute little noses have more olfactory receptors than humans—with approximately 300 million receptors compared to our 6 million. This makes them at least 10,000 times more sensitive than an average adult human. Additionally, a massive part of their brain is dedicated to identifying smells alone! Talk about keeping your priorities straight.
Health-related causes of their barking
Your dog may be barking at you because they are injured. Since barking is a dog’s form of communication, they will use this to grab your attention. If your dog looks uneasy and is incessantly barking, then maybe there is something wrong with them that needs immediate reaction or care. Check their body for any signs of injury, or bring them to a veterinarian if you’re still unsure.
Similar to injury, if your dog feels ill, it will bark at you to get your attention as if telling you to hurry up and help them.
Compulsive behaviors like OCD–or in this case, Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD)–will also make your dog bark at nothing. Think of it as like a person with OCD turning the light switch on and off for the nth amount of time. This behavior must be corrected right away with the help of a certified dog behaviorist and your veterinarian.
As mentioned, barking is a dog’s way of communicating. They will bark at you if they want to get your attention. Maybe they want to be taken outside to the bathroom or perhaps they want to play with you. Regardless, they will voice out their needs through barking.
Alarm (noises, animals in the neighborhood)
They will also bark if they hear unusual noises like a loud screech coming from your phone, critters scurrying through the neighborhood, or a little shuffle of footsteps coming from your upstairs neighbor. Unfamiliar sounds make them jumpy, hence why they would bark.
With that being said, dogs will also bark when they feel threatened or scared. They will do it to either scare off whatever spooked them in the first place or to soothe their troubling selves.
Obviously, as a type of verbal communication, dogs will bark at you to say hello!
Growling or barking can be heard whenever a dog’s territory is threatened. As territorial animals, they are very protective of their space and their owners. If they feel threatened by outsiders, they will show agitation through barking.
Whenever a dog is left alone for long periods of time, it will start barking to ease off its anxieties. Other symptoms of separation anxiety include pacing, destruction, and elimination.
An under-stimulated pup will sooner bark to initiate a “conversation” with you. This is somehow similar to getting your attention. All they really need is to be played with or to be taken out for a stroll.
An enthusiastic bark and speedy wagging of the tail are telltale signs of excited dogs. This bark in particular is more upbeat and filled with joy.
How to reduce barking at nothing
It might be totally impossible to reduce your dog’s barking to nothing, but with a few training exercises, your pup will sooner learn how to behave properly and quietly.
Quiet training is self-explanatory. You teach your dog to stop barking once they hear the “quiet” command you’ve set. If you don’t know how to start, San Francisco SPCA broke down the steps on how to practice quiet training with your dog.
Go to your spot training
According to Spruce Pets, your dog should first know the “lie down” command before teaching them to go to this command.
The “go to your spot” training helps set boundaries with your dog. It’s an easy and efficient way to calm your dog down whenever they feel distressed or overwhelmed. They will recognize their “spot” as a safe space for them.
If you have an anxious dog, frequent socialization with other dogs will help overcome their nervousness. Bring them to a dog park and let them play with the other pups until they feel comfortable enough not to get easily scared. Exposing them to other people will also help decrease their barking sprees. The more they get comfortable with people other than yourself, the easier it will be for the both of you.
When should you be concerned about excessive barking
If you notice that your dog still exhibits excessive barking no matter how much you try to correct it, it will be advisable to consult a veterinarian for a diagnosis. Pets Web MD suggests that bee stings, brain diseases, and canine senility are a few of the reasons behind a dog’s excessive barking.
As a dog owner, you can’t really stop your dog from barking. This is a natural behavior for them and it is their form of communication. As highly-sensitive and intelligent pets, dogs do not simply bark for no reason whatsoever. Their extraordinary senses are far more complex than humans, which allows them to hear, smell, and see things that are unnoticeable to us.