Why Is My Dog Barking at Nothing? Causes and Treatments for Your Noisy Pooch

Barking is one of the ways dogs communicate and can be even vital at times, as it alerts others of any dangers both to themselves as well as owners. But barking can be disruptive if it becomes excessive.

Each type of barking serves a different function for dogs, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

"Many owners can identify why their dog is barking just by hearing the specific bark. For instance, a dog's bark sounds different when he wants to play as compared to when he wants to come in from the yard," the ASPCA said.

It's important to understand why your dog is barking in order to know how the behavior can be reduced and will require time to teach your dog to bark less.

Why Is My Dog Barking For No Reason?

Speaking to Newsweek, veterinarian Dr. Katherine Houpt from the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, said while it might appear that your dog is barking at nothing, "there is usually something that stimulates the dog to bark, but the owner does not perceive it. I jokingly say, 'a leaf dropped a block away.'"

Speaking to Newsweek,Zazie Todd, the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, also said it could be that the dog has detected something you can't see," such as a certain smell.

Or it might be that the dog is afraid of something further away, such as perhaps fireworks in the distance, the author added.

Causes of Dog Barking

Houpt, who is also a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, explained excessive barking is usually caused by "too many stimuli" as well as anxiety (more on this later below).

Todd said: "It's normal for dogs to bark, so you can't expect them never to bark. But if they're barking excessively, there can be many reasons why and if you want to solve the issue, you have to figure out why they are barking.

"Sometimes people find it hard to work this out, so if you're not sure, seek advice from a qualified dog trainer," the author said.

Below are some reasons why your pooch could be barking.

A dog barking in a park.
Compulsive barking sees dogs bark excessively in a repetitive way and they often move repetitively as well. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Illness or injury

Your pooch may be barking due to pain or a painful condition. "Before attempting to resolve your dog's barking problem, please have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes," the ASPCA said.

Territorial

Your dog may be territorial barking in response to others, including humans and other dogs, encroaching on their territory. This includes the area surrounding their home and any place the dog associates with you, such as your car, the route they go on for walks or other places where the dog spends a lot of time.

A dog guarding a home.
A dog guarding the entrance of a home. Territorial barking takes place when a dog feels others are encroaching on the area around their home and places they associate with their owner. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Alarm

Dogs that bark at "any and every noise and sight regardless of the context," and not just when defending their territory, are probably alarm barking, the ASPCA says.

In such cases, dogs have a stiffer body language and often move or pounce forward an inch or two with each bark.

Seeking Attention

Some may bark at people or other animals to gain attention or rewards, such as food, toys or play time.

Greeting

If your dog's body is relaxed while barking, it may just be a form of greeting people or other dogs and a sign that they're excited, with their tail wagging. Dogs who bark when greeting people or other animals may also whine, according to the ASPCA.

Compulsive

Some dogs may bark excessively in a repetitive way, "like a broken record," and they often move repetitively as well, the ASPCA says.

For example, a dog who's compulsively barking might run back and forth along the fence in the yard or pace inside the home.

Socially Facilitated

Some dogs barks excessively only when they hear others barking, even at a distance, such as dogs in the neighborhood.

A dog barking at another dog.
A dog barking in the face of another dog at a park. Some dogs bark excessively only when they hear others barking. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Frustration-Induced

Some may bark a lot when they're in a frustrating situation, such as being confined or tied up so that their movement is restricted.

Separation Anxiety

Excessive barking due to separation anxiety can happen when the dog is left alone or the owner is away. The barking will usually occur along with at least one other separation anxiety symptom, such as pacing, destruction, elimination, depression or other signs of distress. See the ASPCA website for more detailed information about pets and separation anxiety.

A dog looking out a window.
A dog looking out a window. Dog barking may also be caused by separation anxiety. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Dog Barking Collars For Excessive Barks

Dog barking collars are often used to train dogs to reduce barking. However, "anti-bark collars are punishment devices and are not recommended as a first choice for dealing with a barking problem. This is especially true for barking that's motivated by fear, anxiety or compulsion," says the ASPCA.

Veterinarian Houpt also doesn't recommend dog barking collars because "some are ineffective and the shock collars can be cruel."

She explained there are three main types of collars. They include the ultrasonic (which usually works well at first but soon the dog habituates to it), citronella spraying collars (which can work especially for small dogs) and shock collars, which are "not as effective as citronella collars and hurt the dog, so I never recommend them," Houpt said.

Todd also does not recommend the use of dog barking collars and whistles, as "aversive methods like these have risks for dog welfare and research associates them with fear and anxiety."

Even if the dog collar or whistle may seem to stop the barking at first, the effect can wear off as the dog gets used to it. In the end, it doesn't address the real issue behind the barking.

For example, if your dog is barking because they are lonely and upset, the dog collar training will not resolve these issues. "That's why it's so important to consider why the dog is barking. The solution will be different depending on the reason," the author said.

Other Treatments for Excessive Barking

Houpt suggested trying other methods (instead of dog collars) to curb excessive dog barking, such as blocking the dog's view of the street, so it doesn't know when people are passing by or squirrels are in the yard. Using music or a white noise machine can also block outside noises, she said.

With territorial barking, shutting the curtains or fixing that hole in the fence can stop the dog from seeing whatever is causing them to bark, Todd said.

"If they're bored, extra exercise and enrichment is needed. If they have separation-related issues, it's often best to seek help from a trainer who can help you teach the dog to be okay when left alone," the author advised.

'Quiet' Training

With alarm and territorial barking, "quiet" training could also be effective, says the ASPCA. This entails teaching your dog that when someone comes to the door or passes by your property, they're permitted to bark until you say the word "quiet."

Let your dog bark three to four times before you say "quiet." Avoid shouting and just say the command clearly and calmly, the ASPCA says.

'Go to Your Spot' Training

This type of training teaches your dog to exhibit a certain set of behaviors when people come into your home, so that it "has fewer opportunities to alarm bark," the ASPCA explains.

This method will also teach your dog to associate performing these new behaviors with receiving rewards. So ultimately, they learn that people coming into the home and their space is a good thing.

A dog barking in a park.
Sometimes dogs bark to seek attention or get rewards. iStock/Getty Images Plus