Why Does My Dog Howl & Bark At Nothing?

Dogs bark and howl for all sorts of reasons — whether they're excitedly greeting you at the door or growling a warning at the suspicious stranger at the window, it's usually pretty obvious what they are responding to. But if there isn't anything there, you might wonder why your dog keeps barking and howling at nothing at all.

Small dog barking
Is your dog barking at nothing? It might actually be something, you just can't see it.
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There's Actually Something, But You Can't See It!

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If this happens occasionally, there's no need to worry. Your dog's senses are much more sensitive than your own. In fact, they might be responding to a howl heard half a mile away, according to Vet Street. Dogs may bark because they're feeling territorial, or are warning people of perceived danger, or even just because they're excited. Just because you can't pinpoint the reason they're barking isn't necessarily a cause for alarm; they could be excited about a squirrel you can't see, or just trying to express how excited they are.

It's Not Nothing, It's You!

Dog at home, with his friends
Dog barking and howling with his friends
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One of the top reasons why dogs bark is to greet people and to say hello. Are you playing music or chatting with your friends? Your pup might want to join in on the fun! Barking is one of the ways dogs can communicate, according to the ASPCA. If your dog is barking when you get home, he isn't barking for no reason, it's because he's happy to see you.

Your Pup Needs Something

Russian Toy Terrier barking at home
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Is your dog barking and whining but doesn't seem to be responding to anyone or anything? Your dog may be trying to let you know that he needs something, whether it's food or water or just some attention. Imagine that you were hungry or sad but the only thing you could say is "apple," and the only way you could communicate with others was to say apple over and over again. According to Psychology Today, dogs bark to try and communicate many things, including expressing their needs. Being observant can help you figure out why your pet wants attention, whether your pet is hungry or tired or simply wants to play.

Hypersensitivity and Compulsive Barking

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Barking is a normal canine behavior, but if your dog seems to bark all the time at nothing, he could be hypersensitive. A dog that is overly sensitive to stimuli may bark and howl more frequently and at high volume to their environment, especially if they are stressed or anxious. You can consult with an animal behaviorist or a competent dog trainer to determine the cause of your dog's stress and help work with them to reduce their frequent barking.

Old Age

Dog barking
As dogs get older, they may get dementia.
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Though old age brings wisdom, it can also unfortunately introduce new challenges — both to humans and to pooches. If you have a senior dog, it's not uncommon for him to howl and bark at seemingly nothing, or walk into a room and look confused. Your dog may become hard of hearing or easily startled, or may become forgetful. Though you can't rule out other possibilities, it is very possible that your dog may have cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) — often called doggy Alzheimer's. CDS is a form of dementia that affects your dog's memory, learning ability, and awareness.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Happy Old Dog
Caring for your elderly dog includes watching out for signs of dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
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Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a form of dementia in older dogs, similar to Alzheimer's in humans. The International Veterinary Information Service reports that dogs suffering from CDS suffer from confusion and disorientation, they can forget their house-training, slow down or stop eating, get lost in their own house or yard, and fail to sleep at night, only to rest during the day. Some dogs whine and cry or bark, forgetting where they are. Sometimes they show no interest in their humans, forgetting who their humans are. Some sleep too much, become anxious, lick themselves excessively, or forget to groom themselves altogether.

Dog at the vet
Taking your dog to visit the vet regularly can help with maintaining optimal health.
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There is an effective treatment for CDS called selegiline, marketed under the brand name Anipryl. This medication has been found to be 77 percent effective treating cognitive dysfunction syndrome, with many owners reporting changes within two weeks, according to studies cited by veterinarian Diane Frank in her paper "Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs," published by International Veterinary Information Service. Some dogs, however, needed at least two months for changes to occur. This treatment can help your dog extend and also increase the quality of life.