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Why Old Dogs Bark Too Much & 6 Veterinarian Tips To Stop It

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Dog barking

Older dogs bark for various reasons. Some of the reasons are apparent, but some are not. Your older dog might be:

  • Barking randomly or for no apparent reason
  • Barking more than usual
  • Barking in the middle of the night

Extra barking can be caused by many different reasons. It can be both worrying and frustrating, but it is pretty common in older dogs.

In this article, we will explain the 6 most common reasons and show you 6 ways to prevent your old dog from barking excessively.

Older Spaniel barking

If your dog’s excessive barking is taking place mostly at night, please view our page on older dogs barking at night.

So why is your older dog barking excessively or for no apparent reason?

He could be:

  • scared,
  • anxious,
  • in pain,
  • having sensory issues (such as loss of vision or hearing)
  • confused

Barking could be the only way he knows to get your attention.

Even if you’re exhausted or your nerves are jangled, it’s important to realize that your senior dog’s barking is a sign that all is not well with him. If he barks for no reason or if he is barking in the middle of the night, he is NOT doing this just to irritate you.

Do Dogs Bark More as They Become Older?

dog barking

Excessive barking is indeed one of the most apparent signs of aging in dogs. However, this is not true for all senior dogs. Some dogs continue to remain very calm and quiet even in old age. On the other hand, some dogs start barking more often as they grow older because they start feeling confused, anxious or frustrated, or start experiencing new pain or sensory problems (such as loss of vision or hearing). All of these factors are typically more common with senior dogs and can lead to unusual and excessive barking.

6 Common Reasons Causing Old Dogs to Suddenly Start Barking

You might wonder why your dog is barking randomly or for no apparent reason, especially if you can’t see anything wrong with your old friend. Excessive barking (or howling/whining) is pretty common in older dogs, and, depending on the cause, there are often simple things you can do to reduce the amount of noise and disruption.

The first step toward resolving an excessive barking problem is to figure out what caused it in the first place. The following are some of the most frequent causes of incessant barking with older dogs:

1. Confusion

Unusual night-time barking is a classic symptom of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (aka ‘Old Dog Syndrome’ or CCD). This condition is pretty similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. If your older dog has CCD he might seem lost, confused, dazed or ‘out of it’ for periods of time.

He might…

  • ‘Forget’ to eat (or that he has eaten already).
  • Forget where the furniture is, or what door he’s supposed to use to go outside.
  • Forget that he’s supposed to eliminate outdoors (or that he’s not supposed to just pee/poop whenever he gets the urge, regardless of where he is at the time!).
  • Be confused about where he is, or who you are.

All of these can make him anxious, and end up causing barking ‘episodes’.

Sometimes, he may simply bark at nothing at all.

There are lots of other symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and as it’s very common in senior dogs, with varying severity, it’s worth being aware of what to look out for.

If you think your old dog is barking because he is confused, click HERE to find out how to help.


WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]


2. Incontinence

As your dog ages, controlling his bladder (and even his bowels) becomes more of a challenge. This is especially true for spayed female dogs, but it can happen to either gender.

If Fido is waking you up by barking in the middle of the night, he may be trying to tell you that he needs to pee or poop. Remember how as a puppy he needed night-time potty breaks because he couldn’t ‘hold it’ for eight hours? Well, he may be having the same problems again now.

If he has enough control, he may be able to keep himself from wetting his bed, crate, or the floor… but it’s difficult and painful for him to do. When he’s not able to hang on long enough you’re going to be met with a mess in the morning, which can also be upsetting for him and cause him to bark for your attention.

Incontinence in older dogs isn’t unusual, and your senior citizen can’t help what’s happening to his body, it’s simply part of the natural aging process.

If your old dog is barking because of incontinence, click HERE to find out how to help.

3. Pain

Our older dogs have bodies that have seen a fair bit of wear-and-tear over the years. The deterioration of the body is a natural part of growing older, and major organs and joints often don’t work as well as they used to.

This can cause pain or discomfort, as well as other symptoms, and when the house is quiet at night and Fido’s brain isn’t busy, that pain or discomfort comes to the fore and he starts barking or howling to let you know something doesn’t feel right.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your local veterinarian for health decisions. Learn more.

Barking due to pain is often sudden in onset and may be associated with certain movements such as jumping or getting up off of the floor. If you are not used to your dog barking and they suddenly start barking excessively then they may be trying to tell you that they feel pain somewhere.

If your dog is barking because of pain, click HERE to find out how to help.

4. Anxiety

Senior dogs can go through some personality/behavior changes as they get older, and many become more anxious than they were when younger.

Your older dog might start barking at strangers more often (or even at people he knows), he might bark at loud noises, or cars, or when you step out of his sight.

Separation anxiety is common in older dogs, even if they’ve never been worried about you being gone before.

It’s all just part-and-parcel of getting older. Also, a dog who is feeling generally anxious or upset might bark just to release that pent-up emotion. It’s a way of ‘sounding off’.

Find out how to help your dog HERE

5. Frustration

Another possible cause of older dog barking problems (if the barking happens during specific activities) is that your dog is frustrated because he’s having difficulty managing some task.

For example, if he stands at the foot of the stairs and barks… barks…. barks, he may want to go UP those stairs, but his old joints won’t let him. He is trying to ask you for help.

Get tips to help him HERE

6. Sensory Problems

As the body ages, nothing works as well as it used to, and this is true of senses such as sight and hearing. Poor vision, or cataracts, can mean that your older dog is seeing the world from a very blurry, or foggy, viewpoint.

This is scary, not to mention it makes life extra difficult when it’s combined with other problem such as creaky joints, or a twitchy bladder.

Hearing loss is fairly common as well, and if Fido can’t see or hear properly, it changes his world in an even bigger way.

It’s not difficult to see how this can make any underlying anxiety problems worse or make even a confident dog more nervous. Also a noise or movement that they didn’t quite get the full picture of might make Fido bark just to make sure people are aware he’s there.

Also, bear in mind that older dogs can’t regulate their temperature the way younger dogs do. So, they can get too hot, or too cold, quite easily which is uncomfortable. If Fido wakes up because he’s uncomfortably hot or chilly, he’s going to let you know about it.

Learn how to deal with this HERE

6 Strategies from Our Veterinarian Team to Prevent Excessive Barking with Your Older Dog

Now, there’s no way I can promise you that any action you take will stop your old dog from ‘sharing the language of his people’ loudly, and often.

BUT, there are some simple things you can do that may help the problem that’s causing the barking… and in turn that might reduce the amount of noise he makes, or the frequency with which he makes it.

So, let’s take a closer look at what you can do to minimize your older dogs barking IF

1. If Your Old Dog Is Barking Because He is Confused…

Canine cognitive dysfunction can wreak havoc on your senior dog’s personality, routines, attitudes, and behavior. Although it’s quite common, CCD doesn’t happen to all dogs, and there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. These include dietary changes, behavior modification, lifestyle changes, and medications.

If you can lessen his confusion, you’re likely to see a reduction in symptoms – which include the strange or chronic barking behavior (Click here to learn 4 ways to help your dog with Cognitive Dysfunction).

Meanwhile, you can help Fido by not ignoring his barking. He’s making all that noise because he’s confused and anxious. You can try the following:

  • If it’s night-time barking, sometimes just a few quiet words, or some gentle TLC can help him settle back down.
  • Or try to figure out what will quieten him down… Is it a handful of his favorite kibble? A special ‘comfort’ toy or blanket?
  • A quick trip outside (even if he doesn’t need to ‘go’, because the change of scene can sometimes short-circuit the barking cycle)?

This may only stop the noise for a short time, but with consistency it could be that little bit ‘extra’ that makes all the difference.

2. If Your Dog Is Barking Because He Is Incontinent…

A leaky bladder, or ‘dodgy’ bowels, can mean that your older dog needs one, two, or even several, night-time potty trips. If he’s barking to let you know that he needs to ‘go’, ignoring it will only lead to problems.

Obviously, the first step towards stopping the noise is to take him outside so he can relieve himself. But waking up several times a night is exhausting for both of you, and is far from ideal long term.

Here is what you can do:

  • There are several treatment options for incontinence, and your veterinarian will be able to help you figure out what’s at the root of Fido’s problems, as well as how to minimize them. Medications or even surgery can help.
  • There are ways to ‘manage’ the problem too, such as ‘doggie diapers’ or ‘belly-bands’.
  • You could also put a puppy pad in his bed to absorb leakage and prevent that damp discomfort feeling that comes with an accident. See our recommendations for incontinence products.

3. If Your Old Dog is Barking Because He Is In Pain…

Excessive barking in older dogs which is due to discomfort or pain is upsetting for both of you. But with the range of medications and treatment options available for pets today, there’s really no need for your senior dog to be in pain on a regular basis.

If there’s a chronic condition (such as arthritis) which is causing Fido to hurt, discuss it with your veterinarian and get your golden oldie the help he needs to live comfortably. View our page on pain relief for senior dogs.

4. If Your Dog is Barking Because He is Anxious or Scared….

If your older dog’s excessive barking is triggered by anxiety or fear, you need to get to the root of the problem in order to improve the situation. Maybe Fido has always slept on his bed (or in his crate) in the kitchen, but now he’s upset every night. Here is what you can try:

Senior Golden Retriever lying down
  • Try moving his bed/crate into your room. Sometimes just knowing that the people he loves are close by can settle him down.
  • If this is an absolute no-no (maybe due to allergies, or something similar), then try putting one of your old  (worn) T-shirts or (used) pillowcases into his bed or crate. The scent may be enough to calm him.
  • Puppies often are less stressed if they have a ticking alarm clock and a soft toy to cuddle up to. This can also help senior dogs.
  • You can also try ‘Snuggle Pals’ or ‘Cuddle Puppies’ which are specifically designed for calming puppies.
  • Tips-n-tricks used for separation anxiety in dogs of all ages can also be helpful. These include leaving a radio or the TV on at low-volume (providing your dog’s hearing is good enough to pick it up).
  • A night-light, or a pheromone diffuser or pheromone collar might also help.

If none of these work and you know that Fido’s distress is caused by his nerves, there are natural treatments that can reduce anxiety as well as medications your veterinarian can prescribe if he feels it’s necessary.

5. If Your Old Dog is Frustrated…

Older dog barking that’s triggered by frustration often happens during the daytime when your dog is active, rather than at night. It’s probably the easiest one to diagnose, because the source of the frustration is easy to recognize.

The example of stairs which I used earlier in this page is a classic example. Other sources of frustration may be being unable to chase a ball or play actively with a toy, having difficulty chewing treats or food, being unable to join in play or activities with other dogs and so on.

The only answer to this type of barking is to help your dog overcome his limitations as far as possible (for example, by giving softer treats, or buying more sedentary but interesting toys), and then use distraction and substitution for the things he simply can’t manage.

If you’re empathetic, creative, and persistent you’ll be able to make life less frustrating for your senior dog with a bit of extra effort.

6. If Your Senior Dog’s Senses Are Deteriorating…

Sometimes there are things you can do to improve the situation – for example, cataracts can be corrected surgically.

But the normal age-related deterioration of sight and hearing is just something that you and Fido will need to learn to live with.

Still, if this is what’s causing him to bark excessively, there are still things you can do to help.

If your older dog is having trouble with his eyesight, he might have trouble finding his way around at first.

Older dog with cataracts

He needs to commit the layout of his home and yard to memory so that he can navigate it properly.

Things you can do to help with this include resisting the urge to move furniture around, keeping doors open as much as possible (so that he won’t walk into them), and putting up baby gates at the bottom (and top if necessary) of the stairs.

Also, don’t allow the kids to leave toys lying all around the house (or in the garden).

Outside, try not to change the layout of paths, or flower beds, and don’t add a water feature (or a pool!) unless it’s securely fenced in.

If your dog still has some sight, leaving a low light on where he sleeps at night may make him less anxious if he wakes up. After all it’s pretty scary to wake up and not be able to see anything!

If the problem is with his hearing, unfortunately there’s less you can do to help.

If your dog can still hear a little, a TV or radio to keep him company at night (if he sleeps in a separate room from you) can ease his worries as he won’t feel so alone and isolated if he wakes up.

One of the signs that your dog is going deaf can be that he barks more loudly than normal.

He may also seem to ‘ignore’ you when you call him, or seem startled when you pet him or disturb his day-dreaming (because he didn’t hear you coming.)

If Fido wakes up at night because he’s too hot, or too cold, these are things that you can usually fix pretty easily.

You can buy heated, or cooled, dog beds and if your dog is crated you can even use a small cooling fan, or space heater.

Adjusting the thermostat in your home to meet your dog’s needs might sound a little extreme to some, but most doggie parents are quite okay with doing this.

After all we’re not the ones who are old and suffering, plus we can adjust our own clothing, bedding and so on to make sure we’re comfy too.

A warm blanket or a snuggle/cuddle pal (some have inserts that you can heat or cool) can help too.

Or you can throw a blanket or comforter over the crate as an extra layer of insulation if a chill is the problem.

What Questions Will My Vet Ask Me?

Your vet may ask you some questions in order to determine why your senior dog may have suddenly started barking, including:

  • When did the barking start and is it becoming more frequent and/or louder?
  • Is there a particular time of the day when your dog barks more?
  • Does the excessive barking seem to be associated with any specific activites or stimuli?
  • Have you noticed any other changes with your old dog that seem to coincide with the excessive barking?

How Will My Vet Diagnose My Old Dog’s Excessive Barking?

Your vet will perform a thorough clinical exam to assess your dog’s overall health, focusing on specific areas depending on your dog’s barking patterns.

For example, if excessive barking seems to be related to your dog’s urination habits, analyzing a urine sample and kidney function will be useful.

If your dog barks when performing specific movements, your vet may want to perform X-rays to look for possible musculoskeletal causes of pain. Once a likely diagnosis is reached, your vet can prescribe medication where appropriate.

And finally:

If your older dog’s barking SOUNDS different from the way it used to (whether or not he’s barking more), then it’s important to have your veterinarian check him out. There are some health conditions that can cause this and are seen most often in senior dogs.

The most common one is laryngeal paralysis, which can cause other problems as well as the strange-sounding bark. Luckily there are treatment options available. Other possibilities include a tumor, or an underlying health condition, perhaps even heart disease. Your vet will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and get treatment started, so if your older dog’s voice sounds ‘funny’ – make sure he gets a check up.

Read More About Dog Barking Issues:

barking at night with the moon Old Dog Barking At Night: Top 6 Reasons & What to Do - Your old dog suddenly starts barking at night. You get up to investigate. There are no intruders in the house… [...]

Authors

  • Alex Crow is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world).

  • Dr. Winnie earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. She is a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom. My sister’s sweet Bella is 10 and has begun to bark and whimper during the night. It’s been frustrating on all of us and now we have a better understanding of what’s going on in Bella’s world. She’s also been licking more than she has in the past and has hot spots and sores. We are forever grateful for your article.

  2. I have a 14 yr old labradoodle who has just started barking at night over the past couple of months. We’ve tried calming medicine, making sure he goes out later at night. He has been on keppra for a seizure disorder for quite a while now, so I don’t think that’s the issue. Lately he has been barking short whiles in the day time, but nights are very frustrating and we’ve actually taken in out the last two nights at 2am when he wakes us barking. Most of his barking takes place in early to mid evening. We hate not being able to make him less anxious and are now going to discuss with his vet who has cared for him since birth.

  3. My 13 year old Shih Tzu has been barking excessively throughout the day and night. Just this morning he barked for over 2 hours. I tried everything to get him to stop. Picking him up will quiet him for a moment. But as soon as I put him down he starts barking again. We are losing sleep over this because he barks all throughout the night. He starts to cry and then the barking begins. We are at our wits end. Please someone help.

  4. My Nearly 16 yr old Jack Russell barks constantly from approx 5 pm until I give in and go to bed with her in my bedroom; she then settles well. Alas I don’t want to go to bed early but she is so persistent that I feel so tense as the barking is constant. We walk approx 10k steps a day and she’s really happy with that. Her sight and hearing are very bad but she copes well.. it is just so frustrating and whilst she had medication for dementia it’s not proved successful. I’m at a loss as what to do. It makes me so tense and I feel so inadequate with my inability to calm her. Is it time for euthanasia I ask myself.

  5. I’ve found great help with My 13-year-old labradors reoccurring barking problem it’s kind of an anxiety issue I think and he has bad arthritis so it’s hard for him to get around but I found great relief and CBD oil to relieve his anxiety it quiet some down and make some calm I love it

    • What CBD oil did you get and where..my older collie starts barking the moment I walk out ic the room. Its driving me crazy..I am so worn out. I know he has dysplasia in his hips and on the slipper floor planking he slips and falls and getting traction. On the is difficult. I want to get him a good CBD oil that actually works . Can u help me where to purchase it, I don’t trust many adds and I know from personal use for myself there’s alot of rip offs actually the best I ever had was in Europe. Two drops and I slept like a baby. I had to go back to Ireland and the oils I bought there were useless. I am in the states and want guality oil for my fur baby. I hope u cam advise me who to buy from. None of the oils are cheap and I don’t want to get ripped off. I just want his anxiety to stop and this crazy barking to end. Thank you Kathleen

  6. he is anxious about walking on the floors because he slips. Also if he has hip arthritis the last thing you want him to do is slip and slay out. He may not be able to get up if you’re not at home. You can buy a topical that you put on his feet so he wont slip on the floors. There are other slip preventive products, so look into it.

  7. My 15 year old dog barks constantly it’s really bad. He’s blind and deaf and I am at the point to put him to sleep. I dont want to as I love him but its stressing me out. My husband takes him out for a walk at night but my husband has mild strokes and I can’t cope.

  8. Thank you! My Chocolate Lab turns 15 y/o in 5 days. In the past week, he’s been barking excessively. Usually when I’ve left the room and he can’t figure out where I am. I step back to where he can see me and say “I’m right here buddy”, then he’s ok and follows to where I am. He’s always had a bit of separation anxiety, but based on your comments, I believe the problem is he can’t hear nor see well anymore. So difficult to deal with, but now I know what the problem is. Thank you.

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