Growling is one of the ways dogs express themselves. In fact, it is an excellent way to let pet parents know their pup might need some attention. But it does feel baffling when they do so in the absence of any obvious trouble. It happens frequently enough to make you wonder, why is my dog growling at nothing? It is not just growling, dogs sometimes even bark at nothing.

You have been feeding them on time, taking care of them as usual but out of nowhere, they would start making that grumbling sound. In all fairness, it is a reason to worry.

But hey, we got you.

Let us ponder over the possibilities and see if they are trying to ask for help.

Why is My Dog Growling at Nothing?

Hmm, so dogs growl for several reasons, some in need of your attention, others not so much. But before you decide whether or not they need some intervention, it would be prudent to get a better understanding of what bothers them. Dive in.

1. Dog Growls to Seek Attention

Your furry friend could be growling because it is demanding the attention have been denying. Keeping pets means you need to be present for them and offer, besides other necessities, your loving company. While some may be more easy-going than others like these calmest dog breeds, all seek your love and attention and would ask for it by growling if it does not come. Another possibility is that the dog may be trying to draw your attention toward any of their imminent need, such as food or a toy.

If it is indeed growling to get your attention for something here is what you should do:

2. Dog Growls Because It is Scared

Dogs may also display this vocalization when they fear something. You have to take the whole picture into account. When a dog encounters a scary situation, it will run away in the opposite direction, try to hide, and as you might have guessed, growl.

Is your locality experiencing a thunderous storm or a cause for celebration has sent a load full of fireworks into the sky? These and other situations may force your dog to hide under a chair or table and growl in fear. If it is fear that has made your dog anxious, here are a few calming treats for your scared dog.

3. Dog Growls Out of Separation Anxiety

Dogs are sensitive creatures and must not be brought into homes where the dwellers are not ready to put in the work. Either that or a sudden change in your work demands has forced you to stay out longer than usual, leaving the dog alone.

Whatever the reason, dogs and several other species of pets may develop separation anxiety, if left unattended for long. Growling and other changes in behavior are some of the most visible signs of such anxiety. Word of caution, if left unattended, the anxiety may develop into a full-blown depression.

4. Dog Growls Because of a Sickness

Dogs may also be making the growling sound because they are hurt or sick. Look for other signs such as a change in the way it walks, lack of ease in using the litter box, loss of appetite, decreased water intake, and excessive scratching or licking of a certain body part. Do observe them more closely and see if they have injured themselves, or show signs of trauma from hitting something hard.

5. Dog Growls Because It Heard Something

It so happens that people assume their dog growls at nothing when they are actually growling something their human companions cannot hear or see. You see, dogs have far more sensitive hearing than us—to be precise, they are capable of hearing sounds four times further away than the human ear can discern. Simply put, they can sense a sound and hear at frequencies we cannot. Enabling them to detect sounds bother too loud or too low for the human senses.

This heightened auditory skill can be a source of minor trouble sometimes when they seemingly growl at nothing but might actually have heard someone they perceive as a threat. The list may include a stranger going about their business near your home, a mouse scurrying in the shadows, an ice cream truck that plays music your dog detests, or a sound coming from a long distance. 

6. Dog Growls Because It Saw Something

For a moment try to put yourself into your dog’s shoes, or paws if you prefer. It is much smaller than you, has very sharp senses, and has a plane of vision differing a lot more than yours, thanks to its small size. How could you even expect to catch the glimpse of everything it sees? So, when you might feel like it is growling at nothing, it may be growling at something you fail to notice. Just hope it is not a poor timid cat about to be harassed by your excited dog.

7. Dog Growls Because It is Annoyed/Frustrated

Imagine you are angry over something and have been trying to communicate but the person next to you would not get it; instead, they are playing dumb. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Well, that is exactly how your dog may be feeling when it drops all the hints but owners would not pay attention or would not understand. The emotions will build up, eventually forcing it to bare its teeth and let out an angry growl.

An Angry Brown Dog in Snow, Snarls At the Camera

And right before the dog grew frustrated, it got annoyed. There could be a million reasons for the feeling, another animal or fellow dog bothering them, something they have accidentally dropped and is out of reach, or a game that is not working out for them.

Here again, you need to remain composed and try to figure out what’s annoying the little guy so much before you do anything to help.

8. Dog Growls Because It Detected Something/Someone

Canines are not just great with their hearing, they are also blessed with an extraordinary sense of smell. So they can tell the presence of another individual even without seeing one, thanks to their highly sensitive olfactory senses. You already know that pups perceive any stranger as a threat.

Naturally, when they suspect that someone is around, they growl to alert you. Or it may be that it is a fellow dog on the other side of the wall/hedge and the two are kind of in a standoffish situation, growling at each other without coming face to face. You might come across this sort of growling more often if your dog is a guard dog.

9. Dog Growls Because of Dementia

As your beloved pup ages, its cognitive skills are susceptible to a major decline, to the point where the dog might forget its way around the house. Other implications include forgetfulness with the location or even usage of the litter box. Not to mention the weaker cognition overlaps with slowing body systems and age-related medical issues.

Naturally, all of it can be too much for the dog and just as old people complain and whine because of their troubles, old dogs growl to communicate their problems.

10. Dog Growls Because of Inadvertent Encouragement

Among the many explanations for dogs’ growling, one involves an attention-seeking behavior.  In certain scenarios, it could only be temporary and situational; in others, your clever pet has identified that you drop everything and turn to it wherever it growls.

Short Brown Dog Sitting in the Grass Growls at Something
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

While you meant well, it has encouraged the dog’s behavior and a habit like this is harder to break. But worry not, if you have indeed encouraged the growling, there is still a way out of it, albeit replete with loads of effort and patience.

How to Help Your Dog If It Growls At Nothing?

One thing we know for sure is that it is not ‘nothing’ that your dog growl at. It is always growling at something, for something, or because of something. There is a myriad of reasons and each needs investigation for you to be certain and then, of course, look for a solution.

Rule Out Medical Issues

First of all, see if the dog is alright. If it is injured or suffering from pain, it may show some other signs of poor health such as wincing at your touch. In a situation like this or whenever you cannot tell what’s wrong, it is wise to seek medical attention.

The vet may be able to identify if there is any medical problem at the root of the behavior and how best to address it. As the old adage goes, better safe than sorry, even if there is no ill-health, it is better to be certain.

Two Volunteers Assist a Vet to Examine a Brown Dog Sitting on the Table
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Remove the Trigger

If you feel like there is something in the surroundings that is bothering the dog, remove the trigger to bring your pup some peace. If it is a fellow dog, some really loud sound, or a new item in the home that upsets the dog, remove it from the immediate vicinity.

Emotional well-being is part and parcel of the overall well-being of your pet. You do not want to cause any stress to the poor pet by forcing it to stay in a distressing environment.

Change Its Proximity to Trigger

It is easier to remove the trigger when it is something moveable, such as a new piece of furniture, or the sound of particularly loud music. But far more complicated when it is a new pet, family member, or something out of your control such as fireworks on New Year’s Eve. In such cases, it is wise to change the location of your pet. Provide a safe space where the dog can still exercise considerable freedom while removed from the trigger.

It is best to first make the introductions and create separate zones before slowly and systematically introducing a new pet. Follow the same set of tips when a new baby or family member is arriving at home.

Divert Its Attention

If something otherwise harmless, as in it does not pose any threat to your dog, disturbs the furry guy, try to get its attention away. You could do so by giving it an interactive toy or asking it to help you do something.

An engaging puzzle could also be an excellent way to divert its attention while simultaneously stimulating their minds. If you taught your dog the leave or quiet commands, you may also try to practice them here. Do not forget to shower praises on the little guy and reward it with a treat when it does so.

Mask the Noise

Your dog is growling because it picks up far more than us, thanks to their sensitive senses of smell and hearing. When you do know that there would be triggers like fireworks or a rowdy party next door, you could do better by masking the loud sounds with white noise. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it refers to a sound with the same intensity of sound at varying frequencies.

Such sounds help individuals, whether people or pets, to peacefully go about their business undisturbed by the sounds that are otherwise very disturbing. You could turn on a fan or the vacuum machine or get a device to do the job.

Stop Encouraging/Rewarding the Behavior

If the dog is simply being clingy and has learned to get your attention by growling, discourage it by paying no attention at all. Not only do you wish to prevent this habit but also for your dog to find a better way to communicate with you. You could do so by not acknowledging such growls at all, and pretend to not notice.

Enlist the help of a dog behaviorist to help you with breaking the old habit and developing new ones.

Final Word: Why is My Dog Growling at Nothing?

Dogs may apparently growl at nothing because they hear, see, or smell things we might not. They might also do so when they wish to warn you, are frustrated, scared, agitated, injured, or feeling separation anxiety. Always investigate and try to remove the source of trouble to bring them emotional security.

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