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Why Does My Dog Bark at Nothing?

We have all been startled by our k9’s sudden barking. Sometimes they will stand in the middle of a room barking for seemingly no reason at all. Other times, they face a window or door barking aggressively at something unseen outside. Sometimes, dogs have perfectly valid reasons for barking, such as a stranger approaching the door, but other times, there just seems to be no reason at all for this behavior. At TCAP, we want to help you unravel this mystery, because knowing why your dog barks at nothing is the first step to reducing its occurrence.

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Dogs rarely bark without a reason. Behaviorists categorize barking into the following categories: attention barking, separation anxiety, fear/territorial/protection, and excitement. Identifying which type of barking your dog is doing will help you encourage the right kind of barking while discouraging barking that is simply disruptive.

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Attention barking can be both good and bad. On one hand, it may serve as a reminder to let your dog outside to potty or to remind you to feed him. On the other, it may simply be an incessant cry for attention. Like with all attention-seeking behaviors, it is best to remain calm and ignore him while he is barking, especially if you have identified that he only wants attention. This may temporarily increase his disruptive behavior, but it is important not to acknowledge him until he has fallen completely silent for 15-30 seconds.

A dog that barks when she is alone needs help coping with separation from her owners. Separation anxiety needs to be addressed through a systematic and gradual process where the dog is left alone for very short periods of time at first. Giving your dog something to occupy her time like stuffed toys or remote treat dispensers can help her cope with being left alone. In some of the most serious cases, you may need to seek the assistance of a professional trainer or behaviorist.

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Territorial, protective, or fear-based barking may draw from differing emotional states, but all reactive barking should be treated the same way. Most often this behavior occurs if dog sees a person or dog walking past your home. This behavior is reinforced he watches “the threat” walk away. To treat this type of barking, it is important to teach alternative behaviors such as lying on a mat or inside a kennel when visitors enter your home. A great exercise to reinforce this is to ring the doorbell when there are no visitors. Then walk your dog through his new, desired response all the while giving treats and positive reinforcement.

Excitement barking can be treated in a similar manner to attention barking. Usually excitement barking occurs when a dog wants something. To remove this behavior, practice not giving your dog what she wants while she is  barking. This will take patience, but eventually your dog will calm down enough to reintroduce the stimuli causing excitement (for example, pulling a leash out to go for a walk). Apply this method with all stimuli that cause excitement. Only allow your dog to get what she wants when she is calm and quiet.

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There is much more to say about barking, but these simple tips will help give you the baseline to understanding your dog’s emotional state when barking and what stimuli tend to bring about barking. Once you know what to look for, it is considerably easier to work with your dog to calm him down and make life easier for you both.