It can be extremely unsettling to see your dog barking and growling at nothing at night. Not only is the behavior disruptive, it is also concerning and normal to wonder what might be causing it and whether your dog is in any distress.
Let’s look at the causes of your dog’s nighttime growling and barking as well as some solutions.
Here’s why dog barking and growling at nothing at night happens
Dog barking and growling at nothing at night happens due to a heightened sense of sound, and smell, territorial behavior, fear, attention-seeking behavior, illness, and old age. It is important to identify the underlying cause of the behavior, so that you can then take appropriate action to fix it.
Is it normal for dogs to bark and growl at nothing at night?
It is not uncommon for dogs to bark and growl at seemingly nothing at night, but it is not necessarily normal behavior. While some instances of barking and growling at night may be harmless and simply a part of a dog’s behavior, other instances may be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Reasons Behind A Dog Barking And Growling At Nothing At Night
Heightened sense of sound and smell
Dogs have a much more heightened sense of hearing and smell than humans, which means they can detect sounds and smells that we cannot hear or smell. This heightened sensitivity can sometimes cause them to bark and growl at seemingly nothing at night.
Dogs are able to hear high-pitched sounds that we cannot, which includes a distant siren or the sound of a flying insect. Similarly, a dog’s sense of smell is much more sensitive than ours, therefore they can detect even the faintest smells such as the smell of an animal outside.
Therefore, from a dog’s point of perception, there may actually be a reason for their barking and growling at nothing at night, but it may be something that is not noticeable to us.
When a dog barks and growls at nothing at night, they may actually be alerting their owner to a potential threat or danger.
Dogs have a natural instinct to protect their territory and their pack, which includes their human family. So, if a dog hears or smells something that they sense is a potential threat, they may bark and growl to alert their owners and draw their attention to the situation.
For example, a dog may bark at the sound of someone approaching the house, even if the person is not yet visible to their owner.
This can be a useful warning signal for the dog’s owners to be aware of the presence of a potential visitor or intruder.
This is natural and they may bark or growl at nothing at night to protect their territory from perceived threats like other animals or strange people.
Territorial behavior can be particularly prevalent in dogs that have been raised to be watchdogs for their owners or trained to defend their homes.
A stronger instinct to defend their territory may make some breeds, such as guard dogs or herding breeds, more prone to it.
A dog that is showing territorial behavior may bark, growl at nothing, wag its tail, and exhibit other actions meant to dissuade or repel the perceived threat, such as growling, lunging, or showing teeth.
Frightening situations can scare a dog which results in barking and growling at nothing at night. This is a normal reaction to the stimulus which also includes coiling in fear, hiding or avoidance, defecation in the home, and aggression.
Loud noises, traumatic experiences such as mistreatment, and exposure to new people or pets are some examples of what can cause fear in a dog.
Attention seeking behavior
Barking and growling at night is also a way for dogs to get their owner’s attention, either for affection or to get something they want.
Dogs naturally crave attention from both their owners and when they don’t receive enough of it, they might turn to barking and growling to get it.
This is especially true for dogs that are left alone for long periods of time and it occurs due to anxiety or loneliness.
A dog can also bark and growl at nothing at night due to illness because of pain or discomfort they are experiencing.
Other changes in behavior due to illness can include a dog becoming lethargic, retching, disinterest in any activities, loss of appetite, irritability, eating of grass, abnormal gait, and other strange behaviors.
Older dogs may bark and growl nothing due to aging. Older dogs may experience sensory decline, which can cause them to become more easily confused or disoriented.
This means they may perceive sights, sounds, or smells that are not actually present. This leads to barking and growling at nothing at night because of a lack of understanding of their surroundings.
An aging dog can also bark and growl at nothing as one of the strange behaviors due to aging because of the decline in cognitive function commonly known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).
The condition is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, in that, when a dog gets older, their cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, audio or visual processing, and mental sharpness decline. This causes them to become more anxious or stressed, and can lead to increased barking and/or growling.
In some cases, older dogs may also experience physical discomfort or pain from illnesses, which can cause them to become more vocal, meaning they will bark and/or growl in response to discomfort or frustration.
Other strange behaviors in old age include sleeping a lot, sleep cycles disturbance, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, staring, getting lost, clinginess, disorientation, bathroom accidents in the house, or pacing for no reason.
What to do when your dog is barking and growling at nothing at night
If your dog is healthy with no signs of illness, there is no cause for concern because it is normal for dogs to show this behavior. However, it is important to know the meaning behind your dog’s behavior so that you can address the situation.
Find the trigger
First, generally assess the possible reason behind your dog’s behavior, whether it is due to illness, injury, or any other stimulus. Observe their behavior and try to determine the cause.
Is your dog barking and growling at nothing at night repeatedly in a certain situation because they’re scared, sick or they have seen or heard something? Are they barking and growling to get your attention? Are they behaving this way to protect their territory? Are they barking and growling at nothing at night because of aging challenges?
Once you have a better understanding of their behavior you can act in a way that is appropriate and meet your dog’s needs. This includes:
Paying attention to the situation
If they are raising an alarm due something they have heard or seen that is a potential threat to them or to you.
If the barking and growling is due to fear caused by a particular trigger. Also remove your dog from the situation and minimize exposing them to situations that may frighten them.
When to seek help
Consult a veterinarian if you are unsure of the cause of your dog’s barking and growling at nothing at night if you suspect that the behavior stems from an underlying medical issue, or if the behavior is causing distress to your dog or to those around them.
The veterinarian will determine the underlying cause and offer advice on how to address the behavior.
It is also particularly important to see a veterinarian if your dog’s barking and growling at nothing at night is:
- A sudden change of behavior: If barking and growling at nothing at night is sudden or unusual, it could be an indication of an underlying medical condition or psychological problem. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of your dog, and perform necessary diagnostic tests to identify the reason for the behavior and provide a solution.
- The behavior is accompanied by other symptoms: When barking and growling are accompanied by other symptoms, it is important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Symptoms such as loss of appetite, lethargy, or other behavior changes could indicate a medical problem that needs to be addressed.
- The behavior becomes problematic: If your dog’s barking and growling at night become an issue for neighbors, other people, or even for you, it is important to seek assistance. A veterinarian or professional dog trainer will offer guidance on stopping or minimizing the behavior.
The veterinarian may also refer you to a qualified dog trainer who can further help to adjust your dog’s behavior. A certified trainer can help you minimize and stop your dog’s behavior.
It is important to remember that it may take time and effort to address your dog’s barking and growling at night, and it may be necessary to try a combination of different approaches in training. With patience and consistency, it is often possible to adjust behavior.
Barking and growling at nothing at night is normal dog behavior and is used as a form of communication.