Why is My Dog Growling at Nothing?
Hearing your dog growling when another dog walks by isn’t enjoyable, but it is at least understandable. However, when your dog growls at nothing, you may feel confused, or even concerned that something is wrong.
If you’ve been asking, “why is my dog growling at nothing,” you’re in the right place! We’re going to take a look at the possible reasons your dog could be growling at what seems like nothing and share some ideas that may help you put a stop to this strange behavior.
What Do Dogs Growl at Nothing?
Why do dogs growl at nothing is one of those mysterious questions of dog ownership. It is right up there with why do dogs eat dirt, and why do dogs lick your feet?
While it might seem that your dog is growling at nothing, the chances that they are indeed growling at nothing are pretty rare. Most of the time, when a dog growls, there is a reason for it. As you may know, a dog’s senses are more powerful than ours.
With these more heightened senses, they may hear, smell, see, or feel things that we don’t. So, if you don’t perceive something, but your dog does, it could be the reason behind their growling.
Before we go into the various reasons your dog may be growling at nothing, let’s take a second to explore a canine’s heightened senses to gain a deeper understanding of why they may be perceiving things that we miss.
Dogs Have Heightened Senses
A dog’s senses are much more powerful than those of humans. You may have noticed that your dog is always up and by the door ready to greet (or bark) at whoever is approaching, even if you hadn’t heard them coming up yet.
Not only is a dog’s hearing much stronger than ours, they also have a heightened sense of smell, better night vision, and increased sensitivity to changes in the pressure of the space. These more powerful senses are only some of the reasons your dog may appear to be growling at nothing. We’ll take a deeper look at them, along with the other possible explanations for the growling you’re hearing, in the next few sections.
Reasons Your Dog May Seem to Be Growling at Nothing
So, why is your dog growling at nothing? As we mentioned above, the chances that they’re actually growling at absolutely nothing are pretty slim. The reason for the growling may not be immediately clear to you. However, it doesn’t mean that your dog doesn’t have a reason for it. Let’s explore some of the possible explanations for the mysterious growling.
They Hear Something You Don’t Hear
As we shared above, your dog’s senses are much more heightened than yours. It is entirely possible that they are growling because they hear something you don’t hear. A dog’s ears have much stronger muscles than ours. Think about how dogs can move their ears up and down, or even in the direction from which a sound is coming.
In addition to having a better sense of hearing, dogs are also capable of hearing at higher frequencies than we are. This means that your dog could be picking up a very high-pitched sound that you can’t even hear (think about dog whistles).
There are many possible sounds that your dog may be hearing that you can’t hear. These sounds could be too far away, too high-pitched, or even something you’re just drowning out. Some of these include:
- Other dogs barking
- People talking or walking outside
- Construction or truck noises
- Water dripping
- Buzzing from electronic devices
- Animals or pests in the wall or around the house
They Smell Something You Don’t Smell
A dog’s sense of smell also far surpasses that of a human. While humans have approximately 6 million olfactory receptors in our noses, our dogs have an astonishing 300 million! When a dog smells something, the flap on the nose also holds that smell in their nose. Plus, a dog’s brain dedicated about 40 times as much power to sensing smells than a human’s brain.
This should help you understand that even if you smell absolutely nothing, it is entirely possible that your dog is smelling something that is causing them to growl. Some possible things your dog may be smelling that are causing them to growl include:
- New smells on items that were just brought home
- Animals or animal droppings nearby
- The scent from someone who was recently in the home
- Grilling or cooking scents from nearby houses
- Fertilizer and other chemicals
- Toxic gasses
They See Something You Don’t See
While our daytime vision is better than our dogs (overall), a canine’s night vision is far superior. Because dogs have larger pupils they are able to absorb more light to see better when it is dark. Their eyes also have a special feature that works like a mirror and reflects light against their pupil.
If you notice your dog growling more at night, it could be caused by some of the following:
- Animals or pests (inside or outside)
- People walking up to the house
- Something they see but don’t quite understand or see clearly
They Sense Something That You Don’t
Dogs are also more sensitive to pressure changes and changes in magnetic fields. Many dogs are able to sense when a storm is about to come. If they are growling, this could be the reason for it.
Additionally, dogs can pick up on other types of pressure around them. For example, if one of the members of the house is feeling stressed or anxious. Even if there isn’t any yelling from household members, your dog may be able to tell that something is off and could start growling.
They are Being Protective
Dogs can be very protective. This is especially true for certain breeds. However, even if your dog is a traditionally ‘protective’ breed, it could still be the reason for their growling. If your dog is growling out of being protective, they may be trying to ‘protect’ their food, toys, or beds from other dogs, or even other people in the house.
Additionally, they may also be trying to protect you or other members of the household against other people. These other people could include unknown people knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell. However, they could also include friends you invite into your home. Your dog may not always understand that they are someone to trust. Or, they could be picking up on something that is making them nervous.
They are in Pain or Sick
Growling can also indicate that your dog isn’t feeling right. They could be experiencing pain or be feeling off. In this case, their growling is their way of trying to communicate their pain to you. Or, it could be their way of expressing their discomfort (similar to us crying).
If your dog is growling due to pain or feeling sick, it will likely sound different than when they growl for other reasons. The volume will likely be lower. You may also notice some other signs of pain or illness. These can include yelping, shaking, dry nose, lack of energy, licking at their paws or their ear, or acting strange.
They are Frustrated
Just like people can get frustrated, so can dogs. When a dog is frustrated, they may whine, but they can also growl. Frustrated growls often sound shorter or quieter than some of the other growls a dog could make.
For example, your dog could be feeling frustration if they are trying to get their toy that is stuck behind the couch. They may growl as they try, unsuccessfully, to get it.
Dogs can also become frustrated or annoyed with their owners. Some other signs that your dog is frustrated by something you’ve done (or haven’t done) include:
- Not being as interested in getting attention from you
- Chewing on some of your favorite things
- Staring at you
- Trying to stay away from you
- Urinating on your belongings
They Are Suffering from Canine Dementia
Some older dogs may develop canine dementia or other types of cognitive impairments. Growling at the wall can be an indication that your dog is developing canine dementia. If you are concerned that your dog is developing canine dementia, some other symptoms to look out for include trouble going through doorways, shaking, pacing, decreased energy, and acting less social than they used to.
They are Happy
Some dogs tend to growl when they’re feeling happy and loved. If you think your dog is growling at nothing when you are giving them attention, they may actually be telling you how happy they are and how much they like being pet. This type of growling is similar to a cut purring.
You’re most likely to hear these ‘happy’ growls when you’re rubbing your dog’s belly or petting or scratching their head.
They are Asking for Attention
Some dogs may growl as a way to ask for attention. If you’ve noticed that your dog is coming up to you and growling, and maybe is even putting their paw up on you, this may be what is happening.
In some cases, your dog may also be growling at you to make sure you’re noticing something they are. For example, your dog may start lightly growling at you to alert you to the fact that someone is outside.
They are Tired
Toddlers get grumpy before bed. Heck, us adults do sometimes, too. Well, the same can be true for dogs. If your dog is tired, they may be more irritable. Their growling is just their way to show how they’re feeling. When a dog is tired, they are also more likely to act more possessive or territorial.
The Different Types of Growls Dogs Make
In addition to understanding the various reasons your dog may growl, it is also important to be able to distinguish between the different types of growls they may make. While most people associate growling with an aggressive or threatening dog, that is just one type of growl your dog may make. The other types of growls include warning growls, playful growls, and growls to express their pleasure.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Growling at Nothing?
Depending on the frequency with which your dog appears to be growling at nothing, you may decide that you want to try to put a stop to the behavior. As we’ve shared, they’re not actually growling at nothing. So, the technique that will work best to stop the growling may vary based on the actual cause. Here are a few strategies you can try to see if they’ll help stop your dog from growling at ‘nothing.’
Eliminate the Cause of The Growling
If you’re able to uncover the reason why your dog is growling, one way to stop the growling is to remove the cause behind it. This may not always be easy to identify (especially if you’ve been thinking that your dog is growling at nothing). However, now that you know there is a reason for their growling, you may be able to pinpoint it.
In some cases, you won’t be able to eliminate the cause of their growling. For example, if they’re growling at the natural sounds your heater makes or dogs walking by outside, you clearly can’t just get rid of those things.
However, in some cases, you may uncover something you can get rid of. For example, if your dog’s been growling at the wall, further investigation could reveal that you have a mouse. Calling an extermination would not only help your dog stop growling, but it would eliminate another potential problem you’d have to deal with later.
Mask the Noise
If you can’t eliminate a noise that is causing your dog to growl, try to cover up the noise to prevent it from bothering your dog. Using a white noise machine, turning the fan up a notch, or playing some soft music may be enough to prevent the sound from bothering them anymore. You may find these ideas especially helpful if your dog is growling at night, when the house is much quieter than it is during the day.
Distract Your Dog
If the growling is pretty infrequent, you could also try to distract your dog until whatever is bothering them passes. Calling them over for some attention, taking them outside to play, or giving them a treat are all good ways to help your dog take their mind off of whatever is making them growl.
Make Sure Your Dog is Getting Plenty of Physical and Mental Exercise
If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, either in the form of physical activity or mental stimulation, they can feel anxious or frustrated. Dogs that feel this way can be more likely to get upset by external stimuli, which can result in increased growling. Try to add an extra short walk to your daily routine and work in some additional play time with your dog to give them the added stimulation they need.
As we’ve shared above, one potential cause for a dog growling is fear. If you think this is the reason your dog is growling, you can try to comfort them to help them feel less afraid. Petting or touching your dog is a great way to help them feel less afraid. However, you’ll want to be careful to make sure that your dog knows it is you that is touching them. If they’re already stressed out and afraid, and then feel a random touch, they could have a more negative reaction.
Once you let your dog know you’re there, start petting them and talking to them using a calm and peaceful voice. If your dog knows that you’re there and that everything is OK, they may stop growling.
Some dogs growl just looking for attention, when they are hungry, or because they are bored. If you think one of these is the reason why your dog is growling, you may find it best to simply ignore the behavior. Giving them attention will only reinforce that growling works and will make them more likely to growl more in the future.
If you’ve tried all the ideas above and nothing is working, you might want to consider reaching out to a dog behaviorist or your veterinarian. A dog behaviorist could help you determine the underlying cause for the growling and then offer solutions to address it and modify the behavior.
Reaching out to your vet may be a good idea if you believe that their growling is being caused by an illness, pain, or canine dementia.
Should I Be Worried When My Dog is Growling at Nothing?
In most cases, there is nothing to worry about if your dog is growling at nothing. As we shared above, it likely isn’t that he is growling at nothing, but that he can hear, see, or sense something that you can’t. If your dog is acting strangely in other ways or seems like he may be sick, then there could be reasons to be concerned about illness or dementia.
Why Does My Dog Bark at Nothing?
Similarly, you may now be wondering, what does it mean when your dog barks at nothing? Both growling and barking are forms of communication for dogs. They differ in how active they are and the audience that they will reach. For example, when a dog is growling, the dog is only trying to communicate (whatever they’re feeling) with those around them.
When your dog barks at nothing, they are trying to increase their audience and get their point across even more. Just as there are different types of dog growls, there are many different types of dog barks as well. So, when your dog barks at nothing, they’re likely just trying to communicate something to you, another person, or another animal.
Some of the possible explanations for why dogs bark at nothing, or at least appear to bark at nothing include:
- Barking out of fear
- Territorial barking
- Barking due to feeling anxious or bored
- Barking for attention
- Social barking to greet another dog or a person
- Barking after sensing a wild animal nearby
- Barking to communicate pain
As you can see, there are many possible explanations to answer the question, “why does dogs bark at nothing.” Determining the reason why the dog randomly barking at nothing isn’t always easy. Many of the same strategies shared above to help stop your dog from growling may also be helpful for when dog staring at barking at nothing.
When to Contact the Veterinarian
So, when should you contact the veterinarian for a dog barking at nothing or growling at nothing? Hopefully now you realize that in most cases your dog isn’t really growling or barking at nothing. Since they have much more heightened senses than we do, they probably are picking up on something that you don’t notice.
In most instances, you don’t need to bring your dog to the vet for growling or barking at nothing. However, if you have a dog barking uncontrollably at nothing or suspect that your dog’s barks or growls are sending the message that they are sick, then you should contact the veterinarian. You may also decide to contact the veterinarian if the growling or barking continues for long periods of time, even after you’ve tried some of the strategies shared above to address it.
Final Thoughts – Dog Growling at Nothing
Even if your dog appears to be growling at nothing, they are probably actually growling at something. Whether it is something that you can’t see, smell, hear, or feel, or your dog’s way of communicating that they need attention, feel sick, or love you, there is almost always a reason for that growl you hear. Hopefully we’ve helped you get an understanding of what a dog growling may mean so you can get an idea about what is going on with your pup.
Dogs typically don’t growl at nothing. If it appears that your dog is growling at nothing, it could be that they see, hear, smell, or sense something you don’t. Dogs may also growl appear to growl at nothing if they are happy, tired, frustrated, sick, asking for attention, being protective, or developing canine dementia.
If your dog is growling at the wall, he may hear animals in your walls or outside. A dog growling at the wall could also be a sign of illness or dementia.
Your dog likely isn’t growling for no reason, so to stop their growling, you may need to identify the exact cause. This could mean listening closely for any sounds that your pup may be picking up on and working to address them. For other causes that you can’t identify or do anything about, you can try to help your dog get used to the noises or smells, comfort and pet them if you think they are afraid, try to distract them and take their attention away from whatever is causing them to growl, or just ignore the growling to avoid giving it attention and keeping it from continuing.