If your older dog is barking a lot more than he used to, for no apparent reason or at odd times (like in the middle of the night!) or if the sound of his bark has changed, it can be both worrying and frustrating.
This sort of behavior is pretty common in older dogs, and there can be a lot of different reasons why it’s happening. Sometimes Fido may not even know why he feels the need to be waking you up at night.
On this page, you will find a detailed overview of all the issues related to older dogs barking. You can also view our page on older dogs barking at night, or older dogs barking for no apparent reason to read details on specific barking behaviors.
So why is your older dog barking excessively? He could be scared, anxious, in pain, confused… and this is 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 barks in the middle of the night, he is NOT doing this just to irritate you.
Why Is My Older Dog Barking So Much?
You might wonder if your senior dog is barking for no reason… especially if you can’t see anything wrong with him.
Excessive barking (or howling/whining) is actually pretty common in older dogs and, depending on the cause, lots of times there are simple things you can do to reduce the amount of noise and disruption this is causing.
Here are some of the most common reasons for an older dog barking:
Unusual night-time barking is a classic symptom of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (aka ‘Old Dog Syndrome’ or CCD). This is a condition that’s pretty similar to Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. Learn more about night-time barking in our article: why is my old dog barking at night?
If your older dog has CCD he might seem lost, confused, dazed or ‘out of it’ for periods of time.
- ‘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 (severity varies) in senior dogs, it’s worth being aware of what to look out for.
Find out how to help your dog HERE
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.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
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.
Find out how to help your dog HERE
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.
Find out how to help HERE
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
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
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
What To Do About Excessive Barking In Older Dogs
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….
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 jump to info. on treating this old dog syndrome.
Meanwhile, you can help Fido by not ignoring his barking. He’s making all that noise because he’s confused and anxious.
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.
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.
Luckily, 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. Plus, there are way to ‘manage’ the problem too, such as ‘doggie diapers’ or ‘belly-bands’. You could also put a puppy pad in his bed to absorb any leakages and prevent that damp discomfort feeling that comes with an accident. See our recommendations for incontinence products for dogs.
He’s 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.
He’s 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.
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.
Or one of the ‘Snuggle Pals’ or ‘Cuddle Puppies’ which are specifically designed for calming puppies are even better.
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.
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.
His 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.
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.
If your older dog’s barking SOUNDS different to 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 which 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.
Related Article: Our Top 5 Tips to Care for Your Senior Dog
by Veterinarian Alex Crow.