Why Do Dogs Bark At Nothing

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Introduction

All dogs bark, it is their main form of communication and it is completely normal. Their reasons for barking, however, are not always obvious to humans. Often it seems they are barking at absolutely nothing and you may think they are crazy or have a sense of the supernatural. Rest assured, they are perfectly sane. Dogs simply see, hear, smell, and feel things that you do not because they are dogs. Some dogs can develop a problem with their barking if their reason for barking stems from a specific need or their incessant barking is tolerated longer than it should be. Training your dog to limit his barking is possible with consistency and the assistance of a licensed trainer.

The Root of the Behavior

Dogs bark for a multitude of reasons. He may be barking because of separation anxiety, to establish and maintain territory, due to illness or injury, as a form of alarm, from frustration or seeking attention, as a greeting or as part of a social situation. The Beagle, German Shepherd, Chihuahua, New Zealand Huntaway, Shetland Sheepdog, and Parson Russell Terrier were all bred to bark. Yorkshire, Cairn, and Fox Terriers, as well as Miniature Schnauzers, also have a reputation for barking a lot. Dogs who are left alone often can develop separation anxiety. When alone, he barks to hear himself bark. Those with separation anxiety also tend to move back and forth and in circles while barking almost compulsively. He will whine and his bark will be high-pitched. Dogs are by nature territorial. He will bark if a stranger enters his area to warn them to stay away. His bark will be authoritative, loud, and sharp. Dogs can hear frequencies in ultrasonic range that you cannot. He also can sense through smell things you cannot, as his olfactory senses are forty times better than yours. He can hear and smell a fox when you cannot, so he will bark. 

Dogs that are hurting from brain disease or bee stings or perhaps are starting to suffer from dementia will often bark and pace because everything is hurting and misfiring in their brains. If your dog sees or hears someone or something outside, he will bark to alarm you of the possibility of an intruder. Dogs will bark if they need something or want your attention, just as you would communicate with another person for the same reasons. Typically he will look you directly in the eyes when he wants your attention or wants you to do something for him. Socially, dogs bark in response to each other, as a form of greeting, or a call and respond form of communication similar to wolves howling in the wilderness. He will also bark out of excitement and playfulness while playing with you, another dog, or in anticipation of something fun like going for a car ride or walk. This bark will even sound happy and musical.

No one should ever expect a dog to not bark as that would be similar to expecting a baby to never babble. At some point, however, barking can become excessive. Often, excessive barking is a result of how the dog has been treated and how you have responded to his needs and his barking. Dogs will always take any type of attention as encouragement of a behavior, even if you are not intending to enforce the undesired behavior.

Encouraging the Behavior

Excessive barking is not going to go away on its own. The longer a dog exhibits a behavior, the more ingrained it can become. Barking also can give your dog an adrenaline rush, which makes barking feel good. Allowing a dog to bark in certain situations, such as when a stranger comes to the door, can lead to frustration and aggression. Curbing your dog’s barking will take basic training, a lot of exercise and mental stimulation for your dog and often the assistance of a behaviorist or trainer. In general, a tired dog is a quiet dog. Give him plenty of exercise and do not leave him alone for long periods of time. If you do need to leave him alone and he is suffering from separation anxiety, consider hiring a dog walker who can visit him during the day to give him social and physical stimulation. If your dog is barking to get your attention, do not respond and do not look him in the eye. If he is barking at you to let him out, fill his water or feed him to not respond immediately. Teach him other ways to communicate with you such as banging his water or food bowl, or sitting at the door to go out. When he stops barking, you can perform his desired task. Do not scold him for baking for any attention is acknowledging him and telling him the barking is acceptable. Keeping your dog inside and having a white noise machine near him can decrease his barking as a form of warning or territory establishment. A dog that gets overly excited during greetings can be trained to remain quiet in a certain spot during an introduction. First train him to go to and stay in the spot, rewarding him with treats when he performs the desired behavior. Then begin introducing people and other dogs while he remains quietly in his spot, again rewarding him heavily.

Please note that shouting at your dog often only motivates them to bark more as he thinks you are just joining in. You need to speak firmly and quietly, not yell. He also does not know what you mean when you yell ‘quiet’ or ‘shut-up.’ He needs to be trained what the word quiet means. When he is barking, you can firmly and quietly say ‘quiet’ and the minute he pauses from barking, reward him. Teach him that he receives a reward when he is quiet. Alternatively, you can teach him the command to ‘speak’ and then the command ‘quiet’ so that he can learn to control his communication. Consistency is key; so do not allow barking in some situations and not in others.

Other Solutions and Considerations

There are products on the market that are sold to discourage and extinguish barking. Bark collars can be worn but are not always effective. Those that spray citronella are not harmful to the dog but many learn to quickly empty the collar so they can bark endlessly. Shock collars send an electrical shock when they bark, but can backfire and make them aggressive. Do not ever muzzle a dog for a long period of time to control his barking. Debarking is very controversial, is inhumane and does not address the underlying issues.  All dogs bark, but there are some breeds that are more quiet or are too friendly to ward anyone off.  They include the Golden Retriever, Italian Greyhound, Saluki, Whippet, Borzoi and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. There are even some breeds that may not bark because they tend to howl or yodel, such as the Shiba Inu and Basenji.

Some people wonder, when their dog is barking at seemingly nothing, if they are seeing a ghost.  There has been research into whether or not dogs have a ‘sixth’ sense. While studies are not conclusive, most scientists believe dogs barking at ghosts has more to do with the fact that they can hear four times farther away than you and they also have a sense of smell up to 10,000 times more sensitive.  Simply, they are barking at what we do not see and hear.

Conclusion

Dogs bark from an innate need to communicate. They are telling you they are anxious, hungry, bored, happy, protective, or hurting. Often you can tell what your dog is trying to tell you by the volume, pitch, and speed of his bark. Allowing your dog to bark incessantly or to demand things from you will only increase the behavior. It is important to teach your dog how to be quiet and communicate with you with an appropriate amount of barking. Do not punish your dog for barking or expect the problem to go away. Offering exercise, attention, stimulation, and proper training can keep your pup's bark to an acceptable level.