Why Do Dogs Bark At Nothing?

We have all been there: it is finally time to settle down for an afternoon marathon of Netflix when the dog starts barking. After a long day of work we step into that warm bath of bubbles, only for the dog to bark non-stop. You get the picture.

It is not unusual for Rover to bark at what appears to be nothing, and anyway, for some breeds it is even more common to do so. A fair number of generations ago, dogs alerted humans of enemies and potential predators, but now it is seen as something of a nuisance.

Whilst your dog’s barking may appear as the latter these days, there are reasons why he or she may be making all that noise. So, let us see what that could possibly be. 

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Dogs Can Hear A Lot

Before we get into why a dog appears to be barking at nothing, it is helpful to know about our sweet canine’s ears. Whilst we assume he has seen a ghost or is just being noisy due to lack of attention, more than likely he has heard something you have not.

Dogs have amazing ears that can detect noises we as humans simply just cannot. A dog can hear ultrasonic sound, meaning he is able to pick up high pitched noises.

Humans on the other hand do not have this ability, hence why it may seem like he is barking at absolutely nothing whilst you are trying to sleep. 

As a human we can hear frequencies between 20 to 20,000 Hertz, whilst for dogs that is 40 to 60,000 Hertz. Truly awesome, right?

Sense of Smell

Whilst dogs have a superior sense of hearing, they can also pick up scents in an incredible way. They have around 220 million olfactory receptors within their noises which help them pick out even the smallest of smells.

This means that when they are laying in bed about to enter the Land of Nod, all of a sudden they can smell a wild creature outside that they cannot get to, so the barking begins. 

Whilst he is probably shouting that there is something he can tease outside, you then make your sleepy way downstairs which makes him bark even more – after all, he wants to tell you that there is something he can smell somewhere outside that he just needs to go and see. Do not fall for those puppy dog eyes.

Superior Eyesight

Whilst we as humans cannot see a thing in the dark, and struggle to make it to the kitchen in low light for that late night snack, a dog can see quite well in these conditions. 

What we see is utter darkness if we take a peek into the backyard, but a dog can pick out shapes, and this includes movements from wild creatures that might be roaming.

This happens because a dog has a reflective layer behind their retina called a tapetum lucidum. It bounces the light back through the retina increasing the amount of light it receives, hence why they can see better in darker conditions. 

They also have extra rods within the eye which allows a dog to see in extremely low light. Again, this means they can pick out an outline of something like a mouse making its way to its nest only lit by the moon being washed out by the clouds. 

We do not have this ability, which causes it to look like your dog is barking at nothing, whilst there is likely to be something in the backyard we just cannot see.

Let Your Dog Bark

A dog barking during the night is seen as a nuisance and you will want to silence the problem, but the first thing to do is to acknowledge and accept it. 

Your dog’s instinct may be to alert you of potential danger, therefore it is not necessarily a bad thing that he decides to bark at 3am in the morning.

Whilst it can be frustrating to have to get up and see what the matter is before the neighbors complain, it is always worth seeing what the fuss is about.

If you appear annoyed and upset, a dog may take that as you are also reacting to whatever he is. He does not understand the language of a human, so will not recognize the words you are telling him. 

Being upset at him may actually make the problem worse, causing him to bark more as he thinks you are also alert to the same situation as him.

To help silence and calm him, let him know you have acknowledged the issue and that you are thankful for his reaction.

For some dogs, this is enough to settle them back down, so it is worth trying if this is something you are struggling with. 

Barking In The Daytime

Even though it can be obvious why a dog barks at night, they also do it during the day. If you leave Fido at home alone whilst you work for 8 hours, there is no doubt that at some point he is going to start barking.

Dogs are like humans, they need social interaction and mental stimulation. If you are too exhausted to do anything but give him a walk, then soon you are going to find out that it is not enough.

If a dog starts to struggle with these areas of his life, then bad habits might form which include excessive barking, the need to dig and chew anything. 

Also, if your dog is barking at night and you do not spend much time with him during the day, it could be due to wanting attention. He will bark because you are at home, upstairs, and not with him. Never get to this point in the first place if you can help it. 

If you do end up in that kind of situation, then plan ways you can spend more time with him. Perhaps an extra walk in the morning, or sitting with him all evening. He needs love, otherwise he is going to bark all night in the hope that you will see him.  

Final Words

There are many reasons why a dog is barking, day or night, but most of the time it is always about something. Their ears, eyes and nose can pick up a multitude of things which can cause them to focus their attention on it – for example a coyote outside.

Whilst it might seem like a nuisance, it is actually really helpful that a dog is alerting its owner to potential danger, even if it is just a mouse.

If barking is affecting your day or night, then it is always best to find the root of the cause. Keeping the dog calm and thanking him for any alert, and making sure he is not lonely, are all ways to help counteract the problem.

Just remember, he is likely trying to communicate with you, even if it is just him shouting about wanting to go outside to tease a mouse. You cannot hear it, but he sure can.

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.