Old Dog Barking for No Reason: Our Vet Explains What to Do

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This article was updated on October 17th, 2023

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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 aging changes are often accompanied by behavioral changes that let you know when something is amiss. Older dogs suddenly barking for no reason is one frequent behavioral change and may hint at a deeper medical issue.

Why is My Old Dog Suddenly Barking For no Apparent Reason?

Barking significantly increases in old age and is often a sign of an underlying problem. Your old dog may be barking for one of these reasons:

1. Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD)

labrador barking at the park

Canine cognitive dysfunction is a disease similar to Alzheimer’s that causes a slow decline in cognitive ability, which can result in senior dogs barking for no apparent reason. About 14-35% of dogs over 8-years-old are impacted by CCD. This percentage increases significantly as dogs continue to age.

How to tell if your dog has CCD: If your senior dog constantly barks at nothing or a wall, then they could be suffering from CCD. Dogs with CCD will also often:

  • be disoriented and walk aimlessly,
  • be restless or irritable,
  • become lethargic or slow to learn new tasks.

How to treat: The disease is progressive and has no cure. However, symptoms can be well managed, and many dogs will continue to have an excellent quality of life. There are a number of lifestyle changes, as well as pharmaceutical and nutritional interventions that may ease the signs of CCD.
Learn more about CCD (Old Dog Syndrome).

2. Hearing or vision loss

senior dog with vision loss looking sad (closeup on the eyes and face)

As your dog gets older, their senses weaken. Most senior dogs have at least partial hearing and vision loss which can cause them to start barking more.

How to tell if your dog has hearing/vision loss: dogs experiencing sensory loss may:

  • stumble,
  • easily startle,
  • stop responding to commands, and
  • have changed interests in food.

How to treat: Partial sensory loss is normal in old dogs and nothing to worry about unless caused by a deeper medical issue. Identify what kind of sensory loss your dog is suffering from and adapt their environment accordingly. Read the tips provided by our veterinarians to Help a Dog Who is Suddenly Barking Because of Vision or Hearing Loss.

3. Pain

dog xray showing signs of arthritis

Your old dog may also be barking for a reason that is not visible to owners: they could be barking out of pain to signal distress and to get help. A senior dog’s body undergoes a fair degree of wear-and-tear over the years which can cause them pain and discomfort. For example, arthritis is estimated to impact as many as 80% of dogs over the age of 8.

How to tell if your dog is barking because of pain: A dog in pain will not always show visible signs of pain, and it can be hard to decide if your dog is in pain or not. You might spot signs like:

  • limping or a mild gait change,
  • a reluctance to move or lethargy,
  • depression, or even
  • aggression and other behavioral changes.

How to treat: Pain should be diagnosed by a vet first and treated with prescription pain relief. In a senior dog, the risk of underlying issues is higher than in a younger pup. You should never give any Over-the-Counter human pain medications to a dog without your vet’s explicit instructions (many of these medications are toxic to dogs).
Learn more about Pain Relief for Older Dogs or read our article: Is My Dog in Pain?

4. Anxiety

chichuahua who appears to be shaking with anxiety

Do you notice your old dog barking excessively when you leave the room or when they are left alone? If yes, your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety, which is a common condition in senior dogs.

Separation anxiety can exacerbate in older dogs due to early doggy dementia or a decrease in senses. This condition can cause your furry friend a lot of distress, so it is important to find ways to deal with it.

How to tell if your dog barks due to anxiety: An anxious dog will also often pant, pace, dig, shiver, destroy furniture, bark, or howl when the owner isn’t home or in the same room.

How to treat: Train your dog through out-of-sight stay exercises. Give them 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, or your arrival back home. Another way to help your dog is to leave them with a recently worn shirt that smells like you. Learn more about Anxiety in Senior Dogs.

5. Frustration

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, they might be frustrated at not being able to climb them.

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 them from the cause of frustration and redirect him to another activity. As long as the cause of the frustration is normal and age-related, there is nothing to worry about.

How to help your senior dog

If you’ve ruled out the possibility of a deeper medical condition and are still wondering how to stop your old dog from barking for no visible reason, below are some tips to help.

1. Identify and address any medical issue

A lot of medical conditions could cause your dog’s behavior. This is why we recommend visiting your vet to identify or rule out any medical issues.

2. Stay calm

Never yell or raise your voice. When your dog stops barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, reward them with a delicious treat. Repeat the process often, eventually adding the word ‘quiet’ as you reward them. Soon, the word ‘quiet’ will be associated with silence, and you’ll be able to use it to get your dog to stop barking.

3. Ignore your dog

If you’ve figured out that your dog is barking for attention, the only way to discourage this behavior is to ignore them. 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.

4. Teach them 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 their barking isn’t effective and teaching them other ways to communicate. For example, you can train your dog to ring a bell tied to the door when they want to go out and then reward the new behavior.

The final word

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 to change their 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 their time.

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  • Dr Woodnutt, Veterinarian

    Dr Joanna Woodnutt, BVM BVS BVMedSci MRCVS, worked as a Veterinary Surgeon for the Shepherd's Vet Center, before joining Vet-AI to help develop a new app to allow pet owners to video call a vet from home, and founding "The Veterinary Content Company". She holds a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (BVM BVS) from the University of Nottingham.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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