Why does the dog bark at ‘nothing’?

Kövess Péter

2024. May 10 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Does it also happen with you that the dog suddenly "goes crazy" and barks as if there's no apparent reason? Although it may seem senseless, believe me, there is an explanation for it.


Almost every owner experiences that when they sit down to relax in the evening, their pet suddenly starts making noise – without seeing or hearing anything that could trigger it. Why does it bark when you don’t see or hear anything? Maybe it sees ghosts, or it likes to hear its own voice when it barks? Here’s the explanation.

There is usually a good reason why your dog barks

This is why the dog barks ‘nothing’

According to the American Kennel Club, unwanted barking is not actually unwanted at all. It’s just that people simply can’t perceive the visual, auditory, and olfactory signals that dogs perceive, which justify their behavior. Now let’s take a closer look at the possible reasons.

Dogs can hear high-pitched sounds

Thanks for the elaboration! Due to their predatory heritage, dogs have extremely sensitive hearing, allowing them to perceive higher-frequency sounds. Moreover, they can detect even the fainter noises that we humans may not process. So, it’s possible that when your dog appears to bark for no reason, it’s reacting to sounds that you can’t hear.

If a dog seems to bark without provocation at night, it could also be due to a decrease in environmental noise, causing it to become more attuned to the barking of other dogs. This can initiate a kind of chain reaction, prompting nearby dogs to bark as well.

They can easily hear external noises that may trigger them to bark

Dogs can see in low light

Dogs can see much better in low light conditions than humans, thanks to their enhanced vision. So, when your pet barks at the dark backyard where you can’t see anything, it might have been alerted by something, which could be a wild animal or even just a leaf blown by the wind.

Their special ability is also attributed to a reflective layer behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum. This layer enhances their vision in darker conditions by reflecting more light onto their retina.

Moreover, dogs have a higher density of rod cells, which are light-sensitive cells in the retina, further improving their ability to see in the dark. In practice, this means they can detect something with only a quarter of the light that we would need.

Why does it bark seemingly without reason, even when you don’t see anything?

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell

While humans primarily rely on their vision, dogs use their sense of smell to experience the world, which can be attributed to anatomical reasons. Firstly, they have many more olfactory nerves, and secondly, their noses have a larger surface area for detecting smells, corresponding to a larger area of their brain dedicated to this task. Lastly, but not least, they possess a special olfactory organ called the Jacobson’s organ, which detects pheromones, the chemical signals used for communication.

All of this forms a complex system that we can’t even fully grasp.

Dogs can even detect the scent of diseases such as cancer, a detection that requires complex machinery for us.

Shouting is not the solution

There are numerous methods that can help train a dog to stop barking. But it’s important to know that yelling is not the solution. Your dog will only interpret it as you being upset, and will assume that it’s for the same reason it started barking. In essence, you’re just reinforcing the behavior.

One way to handle this type of barking is to acknowledge it, as your dog might be trying to alert you to some danger, such as a nearby fox. A calm “thank you” or “I know” conveys the message that you’ve heard their warning and have things under control. For some dogs, this is enough to calm them down.

Often a few strong words are enough

Teach the silent command

Sometimes the above technique isn’t sufficient because the message doesn’t reach the dog, or it’s driven by the desire to investigate or chase whatever caught its attention from up close. In such cases, you need to teach them a cue – which could be the word “quiet” or “stop” – that lets them know it’s time to stop barking.

When they do so, reward them with their favorite treat. Then, try to elicit barking again, perhaps by using a doorbell or knocking, and repeat the above steps.

This way, over time, they’ll learn that being quiet earns them a reward.

It can also help to redirect your pet’s attention (if it’s reacting to a stimulus, you can close the curtains or turn on the TV), or place a treat on their nose: this will make them stop barking to inhale the scent. Additionally, clicker training can be effective.

It’s not uncommon for a dog to bark out of boredom or spontaneously. In this case, they probably need more exercise or playtime.

The opposite situation is when the dog doesn’t bark at strangers. Click here

to find out why and how to teach your pet to signal.

bark behaviour dog hearing senses smell Training vision

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