This article was updated on February 13th, 2024
Your old dog suddenly starts barking at night. You get up to investigate. You breathe a sigh of relief: there are no intruders in the house. Your dog was well-fed before sleeping, and doesn’t seem to be in pain, either. Everything is fine, and you can’t figure out why your old dog is barking every other second, seemingly for no apparent reason.
As a veterinarian, I often get asked by owners of senior dogs why their furry best friend has suddenly started barking at night and how they can make it stop. In this article, we will talk about things you should know and tips to help your dog enjoy a better night sleep!
Things to Know about Senior Dog Barking at Night:
1. Don’t give your dog too much attention.
“When your dog barks at night, it’s best to avoid giving them too much attention. This is because giving them attention can reinforce the barking behavior and cause it to continue. If your dog has learned that barking will bring you running, they may be doing it just to get your attention.”
The only way to end this behavior is to give your dog as little attention as possible, or even ignore your dog entirely. That means no shouting at them, no looking at them, and no talking to them. If you do want to check on your dog and your dog appears to be fine, keep your visit brief and uneventful.
Of course, we are not suggesting that you ignore the problem entirely. Understanding the root cause behind your dog’s barking is crucial. Let’s explore the most likely reasons to determine the best way to help your furry friend.
2. The most common reasons for nighttime barking include separation anxiety, boredom, or changes to your dog’s surroundings.
“Senior dogs do not start barking without a reason. The reason your old dog is barking at night is likely behavioral or environmental, but it could also indicate an underlying medical concern.”
Let’s discuss the most common reasons:
Aging dogs may experience nighttime separation anxiety, leading to barking and stress. Separation anxiety in senior dogs is quite common and not something to worry too much about unless it starts disrupting your dog’s everyday life.
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs: pacing, pawing, panting, following the owner, and demanding attention.
How to treat: Let your dog have an old piece of your clothing during the night, or move their bed closer to your bedroom. Another solution is to make your house feel less empty by turning on a light or playing soft music. The objective is to alleviate your dog’s anxiety by making him feel less lonely.
Read more about Senior Dog Anxiety.
Dogs may bark at night out of boredom, caused by a lack of physical exercise and playtime during the day. Senior dogs in particular are more prone to waking up at night and becoming bored.
Sign that your dog is bored: bored dogs will chew, dig, pace, excessively lick, and be prone to over-excitement.
How to treat: Longer walks, puzzle toys, and games like hide-and-seek and tug-of-war can help prevent boredom and keep dogs physically active. View our list of 21 great toys for senior dogs.
Dogs are much more sensitive to outside smells and noises and might start barking when introduced to unfamiliar stimuli. This is also likely to be the case if you recently changed their sleeping environment. Dogs adapt to changes pretty quickly, so this situation should be nothing to worry about.
How to treat: Make sure your dog’s sleeping space is suited to their needs and give him time to acclimatize to any unfamiliar sounds and smells.
Good to know:
“Punishing or intimidating your dog for barking can increase anxiety and worsen behavior”
3. Your senior dog could also be barking because of a medical problem, such as Dementia, Poor Vision or Urinary Tract Infections
If you still haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for your older dog’s night barking, you should discuss the situation with your veterinarian to ensure that there is not a serious medical condition causing the excessive barking.
Here are a few medical conditions that could be to blame for your senior dog’s nighttime barking:
“A slow cognitive decline causes an Alzheimer’s-like disease in old dogs known as ‘Doggie dementia’ or ‘Canine Cognitive Dysfunction’ (CCD). This senior dog condition is quite common and could be the reason behind your dog’s night barking.”
Dark rooms at night can make things worse by causing additional confusion.
Signs of doggie dementia: An older dog barking at night because of dementia will be disoriented, restless, irritable, lethargic, and slower to learn new tasks. They may also have a decreased desire to play.
How to treat: The disease is progressive and does not have an effective cure. It is important to figure out ways to manage their anxiety: nighttime barking can be managed by feeding your older dog food rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and behavioral enrichment are also vital in managing the disease.
Learn more: Doggie Dementia: 4 Ways to Help Your Dog
Poor Night Vision
Dogs in their senior years often experience vision loss, just like humans. Senior dogs with impaired vision tend to bark at night due to their inability to see.
Signs that your dog is barking because of vision loss: An old dog experiencing poor night vision will be nervous at night, reluctant to go into dark rooms, and likely to bump into things in dim light.
How to help your dog: If you notice vision problems, you can help by providing more lighting for dark areas. You can also help your dog navigate the house by keeping your layout consistent.
Learn more: Helping a Dog Who Barks Because of Vision Loss.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections can cause dogs to urinate more often. Your dog might be barking because he needs to go outside to relieve himself.
Signs that your dog has an UTI: Symptoms of UTI include blood in urine, straining, whimpering, house soiling, and frequent licking of the genital area.
While UTIs in dogs can be uncomfortable and even painful, they are generally not serious. However, recurrent UTIs may signal underlying issues like diabetes or kidney problems. If you suspect your dog has a UTI, consult your vet promptly.
Things you can do at home to help
The first step is to make sure that your dog is not suffering from a medical condition so getting a diagnosis with your veterinarian is important. There are also things you can trying at home to help your dog:
4. Before bedtime, take your dog outside for a long walk.
The old saying “A tired dog is a good dog” holds true, as regular exercise is one of the best ways to stop your dog from barking at night.
As long as the issue isn’t rooted in a deeper medical issue, sufficient physical and mental exercise will make your dog sleep throughout the night and put an end to the barking.
5. Let your dog sleep in your bedroom.
If your dog is locked away by himself at night in a separate room, their nighttime barking could be a sign of loneliness or separation anxiety. If you don’t have a legitimate reason to have your dog sleep in a separate room, then you should consider letting them sleep with you.
Studies show that dogs who sleep with their owners are less likely to bark or whine, meaning you can catch up on that much-needed sleep without any disturbance. As dogs age, they may experience a decline in vision or hearing and feel more comfortable sleeping in your bedroom.
6. Let your dog have an old piece of your clothing during the night.
Allowing a senior dog to sleep with a piece of your clothing can provide them with a sense of comfort and familiarity, which can help ease their anxiety and promote better sleep.
If you prefer not to have your dog sleep in your bedroom, you could consider moving their bed or crate closer to your bedroom. This will make your dog feel closer to you and may also help promote a better night’s sleep.
7. Provide more lighting for dark areas.
Poor night vision or doggy dementia are two potential reasons why your senior dog is barking at night. Pitch-black darkness worsens both of these issues, causing your already confused dog to become even more perplexed when the lights go out at night.
A little bit of extra light at night may help your senior dog feel less anxious and navigate their surroundings more comfortably, potentially minimizing nighttime barking.
Your dog has spent a lifetime making you happy and giving you their unconditional love. Now is the time to be more understanding and patient with them than ever. While the continuous barking in the middle of the night may be frustrating, there is no reason to believe it can’t be stopped.
The first step is to accurately diagnose the reason with the help of your vet and take it from there. Exercise, dietary therapy, behavioral enrichment, a consistent routine, and an overall improvement in their quality of life can help your dog change this habit and help everyone sleep better.
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.