This article was updated on May 1st, 2023
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. 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? Your dog could be:
- in pain
- having sensory issues (such as loss of vision or hearing)
Barking could be the only way they know 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 them. If they bark for no reason, or if they are barking in the middle of the night, they are not doing this just to irritate you.
Do Dogs Bark More as They Become Older?
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 or whining) is pretty common in older dogs.
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:
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 they might seem lost, confused, dazed, or “out of it” for periods of time.
- Forget to eat (or that they have eaten already).
- Forget where the furniture is, or what door he’s supposed to use to go outside.
- Forget that they’re supposed to eliminate outdoors (or that they’re not supposed to just pee or poop whenever they get the urge, regardless of where they are at the time!).
- Be confused about where they are, or who you are.
All of these can make a dog anxious, and end up causing barking “episodes.”
Sometimes, they 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. Therefore, it is good to now what signs to look for in your pet.
If you think your old dog is barking because they are confused, click HERE to find out how to help.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
As your dog ages, controlling its bladder (and even its 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, they may be trying to tell you that they need to pee or poop. Remember how as a puppy your dog needed night-time potty breaks because they couldn’t “hold it” for eight hours? Well, they may be having the same problems again now.
If they have enough control, they may be able to keep themselves from wetting the bed, crate, or floor, but it’s difficult and painful for them to do. When they are 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 them and cause them to bark for your attention. Incontinence in older dogs isn’t unusual, and your senior citizen can’t help what’s happening to their 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.
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 they start barking or howling to let you know something doesn’t feel right.
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.
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); they might bark at loud noises, or cars, or when you step out of their 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
Another possible cause of older dog barking problems (if the barking happens during specific activities) is that your dog is frustrated because they’re having difficulty managing some task.
For example, if they stand at the foot of the stairs and barks and barks and barks, they may want to go up those stairs, but their old joints won’t let them. They are 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 through very blurry glasses.
This is scary, not to mention it makes life extra difficult when it’s combined with other problems 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 their 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 your dog bark just to make sure people are aware they’re there.
Bear in mind, too, 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 your dog wakes up because they’re uncomfortably hot or chilly, they’re going to let you know about it.
Learn how to deal with this HERE
6 Strategies from Our Veterinary Team to Prevent Excessive Barking with Your Older Dog
There’s no way I can promise you that any action you take will stop your old dog from sharing the language of their 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 they make or the frequency with which they make it.
So, let’s take a closer look at what you can do to minimize your older dog’s barking.
1. If Your Old Dog Is Barking Because They are 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 their confusion, you’re likely to see a reduction in clinical signs- which includes 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 the 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 them settle back down.
- You may also try to figure out what things work to calm your dog. Is it a handful of his favorite kibble? A special comfort toy or blanket?
- Give them a quick trip outside (even if they don’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 They are Incontinent
A leaky bladder or dodgy bowels can mean that your older dog needs one, two, or even several night-time potty trips. If they’re barking to let you know that they need to go, ignoring it will only lead to problems.
Obviously, the first step towards stopping the noise is to take them outside so they can relieve themselves. 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 the bed to absorb leakage and prevent that damp feeling that comes with an accident. See our recommendations for incontinence products.
3. If Your Old Dog is Barking Because They are 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) that is causing Fido to hurt, discuss it with your veterinarian and get your dog the help they need to live comfortably. View our page on pain relief for senior dogs.
4. If Your Dog is Barking Because They are 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 they have always slept on his bed (or in his crate) in the kitchen, but now they’re upset every night. Here is what you can try:
- Try moving the bed or crate into your room. Sometimes just knowing that the people they love are close by can settle them 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 your dog.
- 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 and 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, a pheromone diffuser, or a pheromone collar might also help.
If none of these work and you know that Fido’s distress is caused by their nerves, there are natural treatments that can reduce anxiety as well as medications your veterinarian can prescribe if they 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 their 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 it 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 them to bark excessively, there are still things you can do to help.
If your older dog is having trouble with his eyesight, they might have trouble finding their way around at first.
They need to commit the layout of their home and yard to memory so that they 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 they won’t walk into them), and putting up baby gates at the bottom or top 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 they sleep at night may make them less anxious if they wake up. After all, it’s pretty scary to wake up and not be able to see anything!
If the problem is with their hearing, unfortunately, there’s less you can do to help.
If your dog can still hear a little, a TV or radio to keep them company at night (if they sleep in a separate room from you) can ease their worries as they won’t feel so alone and isolated if they wake up.
One of the signs that your dog is going deaf can be that they bark more loudly than normal.
They may also seem to ignore you when you call them or seem startled when you pet him or disturb their daydreaming (because they didn’t hear you coming).
If Fido wakes up at night because they’re 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.
A warm blanket or a snuggle pal (some have inserts that you can heat or cool) can help, too.
You can also throw a blanket or comforter over the crate as an extra layer of insulation if a chill is a 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 activities 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.
If your older dog’s barking SOUNDS different from the way it used to (whether or not they are barking more), then it’s important to have your veterinarian check them 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 they get a check-up.