Why Does My Dog Growl At Nothing? (8 Causes & What To Do!)
I was lucky enough to be raised with pet dogs as part of the family. Which means, I was also fortunate enough to know at a young age that having a pet dog can be one of the most enriching parts of life.
So, as an adult, when we decided to adopt our first pup Duke, I knew it would change my family’s life for the better in so many ways. Waking up and being greeted by someone that’s just so enthusiastic about life is a fantastic way to start the day!
Sure, some things are more chaotic now, (especially now that we have 2 dogs!) but even the wild experiences have only enhanced our family.
To make sure their dogs are happy and healthy members of the family for as long as possible, good dog owners take the time to check out the strange behaviors their pooch might have.
For instance, if your dog liked to sit high above you, or if she whimpered all night, or watched you shower, would you know what the behavior meant or how to make sure your good girl was okay?
So, what about dogs that seem to bark at ghosts? Why does my dog growl at nothing? The reason your dog is growling at (seemingly) nothing could be rooted in the fact that your dog does, in fact, hear, smell, or see something worthy of a growl. Your dog could also be growling at nothing due to frustration or jealousy, trying to get your attention, being grumpy or afraid, trying to play, being in pain, or even being sick or injured.
Why Do Dogs Growl At Nothing?
If you read through my quick rundown and know exactly what’s afflicting your good girl, feel free to jump ahead to that section. And then, if necessary, read through my tips on how to get your dog to stop.
For those of you who still aren’t sure why your dog is growling at nothing, I’ll go through each possible reason in more detail.
It Might Not Be Nothing
Hmm….’It Might Be Something’….might be a better title for this section…but that’s not as fun, right? No matter the title, though, I think you get the point I’m trying to make.
There might actually be something that has caught your pooch’s attention that she thinks deserves a growl.
Sure to you, it looks like she’s growling at nothing but your goofy dog may be more aware of the world around you two than you are!
Your Dog Hears Something You Don’t
It can be easy to forget that our beloved canine companions have a heightened sense of hearing compared to us. In fact, dogs have such incredible hearing that they can detect noises that we as humans cannot.
What does this mean? It means that your canine companion will often respond with barks or growls before you’ve even noticed something. For example, if a delivery person is approaching your home or a fly is buzzing around the room, then your pup may pick up on it long before you do.
Your Dog Might Be Growling At Something She Sees
Dogs see differently than us. Of course, when this is brought up, the person saying it usually means that dogs see worse than us. But that’s not always true. Dogs can see better in low levels of light but generally not as well as us when it is brighter.
So, if your dog is growling at ‘nothing’ in the broad daylight, don’t discount the chance that your good girl could be growling at a shadow or something else benign that she perceives as a threat.
However, back to dogs seeing better in low light than we can. This means that your dog can see various things in the dark while we are left…well…in the dark!
So, again, like that sneaky delivery guy your dog heard but you didn’t, it is possible that your dog is growling at something that is actually there but that you don’t possess the ability to see.
Your Dog Has A Better Sense of Smell Than You
Just like your dog is more aware of the audio world than you are, she’s also more aware of how the world smells. This means she can smell things from farther away than you can and she can smell things that might be too faint for you to smell. So don’t discount that your good girl smells something that is making her growl before you are even aware of it.
My dog Duke is an excellent example of this. We don’t know a lot about Duke’s first 10 or so months, but we’re pretty sure he was a city dog.
Shortly after we adopted him and brought him to his new home Duke managed to get sprayed by a skunk – TWICE IN 5 DAYS! (Poor dude!)
Still, years later, anytime there is the slightest hint of a skunk smell, Duke will start showing his unease. These days, it’s mostly with quiet growls as he perks his ears up to listen for more clues.
For us, it’s like a warning siren alerting us to a skunk somewhere in the neighborhood!
Frustration And Jealousy
Sure, dogs seem to be all fun and games, but they have strong emotions too. And on top of that, they aren’t afraid to express their frustration or jealousy with a little growl. After all, what’s the harm in that? It’s not like they’re doing something that you don’t like, right?
So, maybe you’ve brought a new dog into your family. Or worse, you adopted a kitten! Your dog might simply be growling out of jealousy of the new pet because she knows better than to act on her jealousy.
My sister’s poor dog might have been one of the sweetest but most jealous pups I’ve known. He was always so jealous of the family cat. Every time anyone would give that cat love and attention, you could see the disappointment in the dog’s eyes. He’d let out a low-key growl to show just how frustrated he was with all the ‘extra’ love the cat was getting (he got far more love and attention than her cat ever did!). It always made everyone chuckle a little, but we knew he was serious!
Hey! Pay Attention!
Dogs are smart, especially when it comes to communicating with their owners about everyday needs. For instance, my dogs, like so many dogs, have mastered how they tell me they need to go outside to go potty. Of course, we do our best to let them out regularly, but with a busy family, sometimes our pooches need to remind us that it’s been a while.
But what about when your dog needs to tell you something new? She’ll have to guess and test different methods until something sticks. If your dog is growling at ‘nothing’ watch your body language to see if she’s trying to tell you something.
There’s also the possibility that you haven’t spent enough time with your good girl lately and she could use some love and pets. As much as we love our dogs, I think every owner is guilty of going a couple of days without giving our dogs all of the love and attention they want and deserve.
If your dog is seemingly growling at nothing, make sure she isn’t trying to communicate with you. It could even be as simple as your dog trying to tell you: ‘Pet me! I need some love!’.
(Grumpy?) Old Dog
Okay, your dog probably isn’t actually grumpy…at least you hope not…but some dogs do start to have less patience and growl more as they age.
One of the dogs I grew up with got really bad in her old age. In fact, she’d only let my mom near her (even for food!) for her last year or two of life.
And while sometimes it’s just part of getting older. Other times dogs can suffer from things like dementia that can have them growling at nothing at all.
Sure, we think of most dogs and these big ol’ tough animals that will protect us. But the reality is, dogs get scared too.
If your dog isn’t in a full-on angry bark mode (or running away) she’s probably not afraid for her life, but that doesn’t mean she’s not nervous.
Pay attention to when your dog growls at ‘nothing’. You may notice a pattern. Like, perhaps, she only growls at ‘nothing’ when the neighbors are extra noisy. Or maybe when your boyfriend brings over his dog that happens to not get along with your good girl.
As a fellow dog owner, I’m sure you are well aware of the first fact of Dog World: Dogs love to play!
Your dog might growl as a way to try to initiate playtime, either with the other dogs that are around, you, or even other non-dog pets!
If your dog is growling to try and get you or someone to play with her, you’ll probably see other signs, like a wagging tail or even a mischievous look on her face with slightly perked-up ears.
Your Dog Hurts
Just like us humans, dogs will groan (growl) when they’re in pain. If this is the case with your good girl, hopefully, you’re already aware of what is bothering her and are working on taking care of it!
Illness Or Injury
On a similar but separate note, a new illness or injury can lead to your dog growling at seemingly nothing. Even though this could probably be lumped in with the point about your dog hurting above, I want to keep it separate since I’ll talk a little more about it below.
Is It Okay For My Dog To Growl At Nothing?
This really depends on the reason, doesn’t it?
If your dog, like my dog Duke, is growling at a smell you can’t yet detect, then maybe you would prefer she keep growling at ‘nothing’ as an early warning system.
If your dog is growling because she’s in pain, then it’s probably not okay – unless of course, you’re working on helping your dog manage the pain already.
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Growling At Nothing?
If any of the reasons I covered already have suddenly appeared in your dog’s life, then it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that that is the cause of your dog’s sudden need to growl at ghosts.
However, there is one thing that can be hard to detect, and you should be aware of it; when dogs get sick or hurt they often will try to hide it. Fortunately, a lot of the time you can still tell when your good girl has come down with a serious illness or has gravely hurt herself because her behavior may drastically change.
So, if your dog is suddenly growling at nothing, and there is nothing else that has changed in her life, it might be time to examine her (or even better, have a vet do so) to make sure she’s physically okay.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Growling At Ghosts?
If your dog’s growling at nothing is bothering you – say by keeping you awake at night or otherwise disturbing you, then you probably want to put a stop to it.
Figure Out Why
The first step to changing any unwanted behavior in your dog is to figure out what is causing it in the first place.
If your dog is growling (at nothing) because she’s injured you’re going to take a different approach than if she’s growling (at nothing) because she’s jealous of another dog.
Remove Unwanted Stressors
As best you can, remove whatever is causing your dog to feel the need to growl. Obviously, some things will be easy to remove, others impossible, and most somewhere in the middle.
Do your best to address the issue that is causing your dog to growl at nothing in the first place, this is the most important thing you can do to stop unwanted phantom growling.
Comfort Your Dog
Dogs that are in pain or that need attention will greatly benefit from you comforting them.
This might seem like a quick fix, but the more you do it, the more relaxed and calm your dog will be. Of course, this will likely need to be done along with other ways to stop your dog as well.
And be sure to talk to your vet about affordable medication so that you can help your dog cope with her pain.
Distract And Redirect
Depending on why your dog is growling at nothing, a little distraction will go a long way to help your good girl forget all about her ‘need’ to growl. Try using something that will break her concentration like a quick and loud clap or whistle.
Then redirect your dog’s attention to something acceptable, like a chew toy.
Normally, when I help people change their dog’s behavior, we talk about the basic commands your dog already knows (‘no’, ‘off’, etc.) and discuss ways to train new commands.
When a dog is growling, I think it’s best to get to the root cause and address that rather than have your dog keep quiet and possibly suffer through something.
Call The Pros
If all else fails, call your vet or a professional dog trainer. You may need some personalized advice that is unique to you and your dog’s situation.
Final Thoughts: My Dog Growls When Nothing Is There!
Growling at nothing can be a sign of playfulness, fear, or pain in dogs, or it can be a sign that your dog can see or smell or hear something that you can’t.
It’s important to determine the cause of your dog’s growling before attempting to stop it. If you don’t know what is causing your pet’s behavior, then consider consulting with a veterinarian or professional trainer for help and advice.
Several methods may work when trying to stop a dog from growling at nothing. Start with figuring out what the cause is and then removing any unwanted stressors, comforting your pooch, distracting and redirecting their attention away from whatever they’re growling at, and seeking assistance from professionals if needed.
With patience and understanding of why dogs feel the need to do this strange behavior, you can learn how best to help your furry friend so that everyone is happy!