One minute you’ve got a cute little puppy in your lap and the next minute your dog is all grown up with graying hair and creaky joints. These physical signs of age are normal yet heartbreaking and signal that you might not have much time left with your canine best friend.
And as dogs can’t speak, their physical changes are accompanied by behavioral ones that let you know when something is up. Older dogs barking for no reason is also one such behavioral change and hints at a deeper medical issue, especially if your dog is barking involuntarily.
Why is my old dog barking for no reason?
Are you worried about your senior dog constantly barking for no reason? Dog barking significantly increases in old age and is often a sign of an underlying problem. Your old dog may be barking for these reasons:
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD)
Canine cognitive dysfunction is an Alzheimer’s-like disease that results due to a slow cognitive decline with age and can cause old dog barking.
How to diagnose: if your senior dog constantly barks at nothing or a wall, then he could be suffering from CCD. Such a dog will also be disoriented, restless, irritable, lethargic, and slow to learn new tasks.
Is it serious: The disease is progressive and has no cure. Proper management is key to the quality of life.
How to treat: You can stop your old dog from barking due to CCD by feeding it food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, making lifestyle changes, and conducting behavioral modifications.
As your dog gets older, his senses weaken. Most old dogs have at least partial hearing and vision loss which can cause them to start barking more.
How to diagnose: If your dog is experiencing sensory loss, he will stumble, easily startle, and have changed interests in food.
Is it serious: Partial sensory loss is normal in old dogs and nothing to worry about unless caused by a deeper medical issue.
How to treat: Identify what kind of sensory loss your dog is suffering from and adapt accordingly. Keep the environment consistent and train your dog in hand gestures to help.
Dogs’ brains change as they grow. As the way their brain processes information changes, they cope with their environment differently, which results in more barking in older dogs.
How to diagnose: An aging dog will be restless, forgetful, anxious, and prone to house soiling. He may also experience changes in his sleep-wake cycle.
Is it serious: Such changes are normal as dogs grow older and not a cause for concern in most cases.
How to treat: Help your aging dog by being patient, keeping their day-to-day routine consistent, and giving them sufficient mental and physical exercise.
Your old dog may also be barking out of pain. An old dog’s body undergoes a fair degree of wear-and-tear over the years which can cause them pain and discomfort.
How to diagnose: A dog in pain will show symptoms like agitation, yelping, growling, hiding, limping, and depression. While it could be his aging bones, but it’s best to set up an appointment with your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the origin and cause of pain.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Is it serious: Depending on the origin of the pain, the condition could be serious or nothing to worry about.
How to treat: You could temporarily help your dog with a natural pain reliever like turmeric for quick pain relief. Alternatively, an Aspirin, Tylenol, or Benadryl could also help but my sincere recommendation would be to consult your veterinarian first.
Does your old dog bark when you leave the room? A dog barking repeatedly when he’s left alone could be suffering from separation anxiety, a common condition in old dogs.
How to diagnose: An anxious dog will pant, pace, dig, shiver, destroy furniture, and bark or howl when the owner isn’t home or in the same room.
Is it serious: As a dog gets older, he tends to start experiencing separation anxiety but it’s not something to worry too much about.
How to treat: Train your dog through out-of-sight stay exercises. Give him a kong stuffed with something tasty whenever you leave to associate your absence with something positive. Say goodbye several minutes before you leave and don’t make a big deal about your departure. Another way to help your dog be a ‘good boy’ is to leave him with a recently worn shirt that smells like you.
If the barking happens during specific activities, then it could be due to frustration at not being able to complete certain tasks.
How to diagnose: Your dog barks in specific scenarios where he struggles with an activity. For example, if your dog barks at the foot of the stairs, he might be frustrated at not being able to climb them.
Is it serious: As long as the cause of the frustration is normal and age-related, there is nothing to worry about.
How to treat: Help your dog by making the activities he’s having trouble with easier for his aging body. If that’s not possible, you should distract him from the cause of frustration and redirect him to another activity.
How to stop dog barking?
If you’ve ruled out the possibility of a deeper medical condition and are still wondering how to stop your old dog from barking, below are some tips to help.
Never yell when dealing with your old dog barking for no reason. Put a finger to your lips and calmly repeat the word ‘quiet’ in a firm voice until your dog stops. When your dog stops barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, reward him with a delicious treat. Repeat the process to get your dog to respond to the command and stop barking at will.
If you’ve figured out that your dog is barking for attention, the only way to discourage this behavior is to ignore him. Attention-seeking dogs want attention regardless of whether it’s positive or negative and will continue to do it as long as you keep acknowledging it.
Teach him other ways to communicate
Dogs can’t communicate verbally and are limited to barking as their means of communication. You can discourage demand barking (barking to get something) by making your dog believe that his barking isn’t effective and teaching him other ways to communicate. For example, you can train your dog to ring a bell tied to the door instead of barking when he wants to go out and then reward the new behavior.
The final word
Your old dog barking for no reason causes both frustration and concern. A visit to the vet should be the first order of business on your list. Once you’ve figured out the reason, you can start training your dog towards changing his behavior. An important thing to remember here is that while all the techniques mentioned above can be successful, don’t expect them to work overnight. Be patient and allow your dog to take his time.
Related Article: Our Top 5 Tips to Care for Your Senior Dog
by Veterinarian Alex Crow.