Why do dogs stare and bark at nothing at night?


Jul 30

Posted by Barkibu editors

Dog staring and barking at nothing? When our dog begins to bark or growl for no apparent reason, it is very surprising to us. The first thing we do is look at the spot which he is barking at to see if there is something or someone; if we don't see anything, a combination of strangeness, worry or even fear may arise, is there something or someone there that I can't see?

This type of behavior may be due to different reasons. We will see them with a little detail in this article.

My dog keeps staring at the ceiling and barking

One possibility that our dog barks or growls at "nothing" is that there is something or someone that we cannot perceive but he can.

We must remember that dogs see the world differently from us. For example, they can hear high frequency sounds that we are unable to detect. This means that they can listen to a rodent that walks between the wall and that we neither see nor hear. Or they can hear sounds outside the home that we do not perceive (or we will begin to hear them later).

The same goes for the sense of smell, which for dogs is up to 100 times more sensitive than ours. The olfactory memory is very important for dogs, so our partner could start barking or growling if he senses a smell that reminds him of something unpleasant.

Therefore, if we think that there is nothing and no one to bark at, it does not mean that it is true; it is just a case that we do not perceive it but our dog, which has certain more developed senses, does.

Barking may be due to medical problems

As always, in the presence of strange or abnormal behavior in our dog, we must assess the possibility that there is a medical problem that is causing it.

In this type of behavior such as barking or growling at nothing, we must assess the possibility of neurological diseases. Some pathologies that affect the nervous system may give behavioral symptoms of this type.

From what we mentioned in the first point, sensory losses (for example, blindness, deafness, loss of the sense of smell,...) can also trigger this type of behavior by modifying how our dog perceives his surroundings.

Therefore, it would be highly recommended to take our dog to the veterinarian for a review and neurological examination if he shows this behavior regularly.

Cognitive dysfunction syndromeor or CDS

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects older dogs and cats. It is similar to Alzheimer's in people and involves a series of behavioral changes, including disorientation and alteration in social interactions. Among the many symptoms with which it can manifest there is one that is described as the dog stares at a fixed point where, apparently, there is nothing.

Learning and demand for attention can motivate barking

Barking is one of the behaviors most used by dogs to get our attention. Since they are often annoying for us, when they bark in certain circumstances we tend to scold them; in others, if they ask us for attention or pampering, we give them to them.

Thus, our hairy learn quickly that if they bark, they get us to listen to them and they start using the bark as a way to get our attention. Therefore, the dog could bark or growl at nothing to get our attention (in fact, it barks at us even if it does not look directly at us).

As you can see, there are several reasons why our dogs can bark or growl at nothing. On some occasions, it will be necessary to go to the veterinarian to rule out medical problems and sensory deficits. In others, it will be helpful to turn to a behavior specialist.

In any case, if your dog starts barking or growling at nothing, you shouldn't be scared if he does it very sporadically. On the contrary, if he starts doing it regularly, it will be time to seek the help of a veterinarian or a behavioral specialist.


Borja Ros Villanueva, veterinarian and ethologist in Adetcan.

Adetcan is a project formed by two veterinary ethologists and canine educators that provide advice, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of behavioral problems in dogs and cats. We provide our services at home. We are in Santiago de Compostela but we work throughout Galicia.