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 may hint at a deeper medical issue, especially if your dog is barking involuntarily.
Why is My Old Dog Barking for no Apparent 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:
1. 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. However, symptoms can be well managed and many dogs will continue to have an excellent quality of life.
How to treat: CCD symptoms can be helped by feeding food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and selenium. You may be able to find these as brain-boosting senior dog supplements, or in diets specifically developed for neural care. You may also find that it helps to make lifestyle changes to adapt to the new situation.
2. Sensory limitations
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.
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 not always show symptoms, 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, lethargy, depression, or even aggression and other behavioral changes. While it could be his aging bones, it’s best to set up an appointment with your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the origin and cause of pain.
Is it serious: Depending on the origin of the pain, the condition could be serious or nothing to worry about.
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 and this would make many OTC pain relief unsafe. Unfortunately, natural methods do not provide a reliable response, and when they do help the effect is mild and usually takes several weeks to take effect. You may be inadvertently leaving your dog in pain if you trial these before seeking professional help.
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, bark or howl when the owner isn’t home or in the same room.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Is it serious: As a dog gets older, he may start experiencing separation anxiety. Whilst this can be seen in dogs of any age, early doggy dementia and a reduction in the senses can worsen it in old dogs. Separation anxiety can cause your dog distress, so it’s something worth dealing with.
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, or your arrival back home. Another way to help your dog be a ‘good boy’ is to leave him with a recently worn shirt that smells like you. In moderate to severe cases, a behaviorist input is generally a good idea, as these dogs will get worse without proper treatment.
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 Can You Stop Your Old Dog’s Sudden 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.
1. Stay calm
Never yell when dealing with your old dog Never yell when dealing with your old dog barking for no reason. When your dog stops barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, reward him with a delicious treat. Repeat the process often, eventually adding the word ‘quiet’ as you reward him. Soon, the word ‘quiet’ will be associated with silence, and you’ll be able to use it to get your dog to stop barking.
2. Ignore him
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.
3. 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.
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Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not a substitute for veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment. We recommend taking your pet to the veterinarian for a full medical exam. Do not give supplements or medication without first consulting with your veterinarian first.