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Why Does My Dog Growl at Nothing?

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite pastimes is watching a dog’s hilarious behavior. Of those is when a dog starts growling at the air. It got me thinking—why does my dog growl at nothing?

In this article, I’ll help you understand why your dog is growling at seemingly thin air and when you should get concerned about it.

why does my dog growl at nothing
Why does my dog growl at nothing?

The Behavioral Inconvenience of Dogs Growling at Air

Depending on the situation, your dog growling at the air can add a little comedy to your day or become a nuisance. The good news is that there are ways to cope when a dog growls at nothing. 

But first, it’s important to figure out why your dog is growling in the first place. Some reasons may surprise you, and most are harmless. 

Why Does My Dog Growl at Nothing?

Ready to get to the bottom of why your dog is growling at nothing? I’ve got you covered!

dog growling

1. They Hear Something

Just because you don’t hear a noise doesn’t mean your dog can’t. In fact, not only can your dog hear softer noises than you, but they can also hear noises much further away—up to 2/3rds of a mile (one kilometer), in fact.

Your dog may also start growling at seemingly nothing when they hear something they associate with a negative situation. For example, if your dog doesn’t like the sound that your local ice cream truck makes, he might start growling when he hears it, even if he can’t see it.

Needless to say, when your dog growls at “nothing,” he might actually be growling at something real that you can’t hear. 

2. They Spotted Something You Didn’t

do dogs have night vision
Can dogs see in the dark? Do dogs have night vision?

Plenty of people believe their dog sees a ghost when he growls at nothing. I’m not about to argue for or against that thesis, but I can tell you this—your dog can see real things that you can’t.

That’s because dogs can see in dimmer light than humans. They also have higher flicker fusion (how quickly the retina responds to different images) and a better field of view. 

That’s right, dogs have night vision. A superpower!

So, if you’re walking your dog outside at dusk or dawn and your dog starts growling at seemingly nothing, there’s a high chance that there really is something lurking near. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d trust your dog on that one and move to a new spot!

3. They’re Afraid

Just like humans let out a shriek when they’re scared, dogs may let out a growl. And, as we learned in the first two points, your dog could be scared of something you can’t see, making it seem like he’s growling at nothing.

If a dog is afraid, it’ll often sit near its owner and growl at the air. That’s because sitting is a way to show that the dog is backing down (or obeying its owner). Thus, your dog believes the noise will go away if he behaves.

Another reason why a dog may growl when they’re afraid is to alert its owner of danger. Therefore, before you reprimand Fido for growling at seemingly nothing, remember that in his mind, he might be trying to protect you.

whoodle dog
Whoodle dogs are an increasingly popular Poodle Mix for families

4. An Illness

Unfortunately, when your dog growls at nothing, it can signify that he isn’t feeling well.  

Most commonly, growling at thin air may happen if you try to hug your dog when he has an injury you don’t know about. Your dog doesn’t want to growl at you, so he does it at the air instead.

Injuries aren’t the only medical reason that a dog growls at nothing, though. If your dog experiences any of these symptoms, it’s time to take a trip to the vet:

  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Excessive panting
  • Hot nose (indication of a fever)
  • Doesn’t want to eat or drink water

5. Dog Dementia

Although dementia isn’t as life-threatening as certain other diseases, canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is nevertheless difficult on the dog and owner.  

You’ve probably already painted the picture here—when a dog suffers from dementia, he may growl at nothing. And, this time, your dog truly might be growling at nothing.

Sadly, you might also find that your dog starts growling at you. At first, you might mistake him as growling at nothing, thinking he couldn’t possibly growl at his beloved owner. However, dementia can permanently alter a dog’s memory.

6. They’re Frustrated

Let’s face it—we’ve all let out sounds of irritation when we’re frustrated. Dogs can do this, too, and it’s in the form of a growl.

Most likely, your dog will start whining if they’re frustrated. However, if the frustration persists, his whine will eventually transfer over to a growl. 

Often, this happens with objects. For example, they might stick their nose under the fridge and start growling if they see that a yummy morsel of food is out of reach.

7. An Attention Grabber

Picture this: You get home late after a long day of work and start trying to put a meal together while helping your kids with their homework. Meanwhile, out of the blue, your dog begins growling at nothing. 

Dogs sense when you haven’t been spending as much time with them, and after what are likely more docile attempts, they may resort to a stronger method like growling at the air to get your attention.

That said, you should consider where your dog growls. If your dog ever growls at the door, there’s a strong chance that someone they don’t know is on the other side of it.

8. An Animal Runs By

If an animal runs by that you didn’t see, but your dog did, it may feel like he’s growling at nothing. Even if you saw the animal, but your dog doesn’t usually react by growling at it, it may feel like his growling is strange.

However, it’s a dog’s instinct to chase an animal that’s running fast. So even if they don’t want to eat it as a meal, it’s something fun and challenging for them.

So, if the squirrel that normally hides behind your tree suddenly makes a dash through the open yard and into the brush, don’t be surprised if your dog begins growling in that direction.

9. Another Dog is Around

Dogs are sensitive to all animal’s surroundings, but especially other canines. Did you know that dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, whereas humans only have about six million?

Therefore, if, for whatever reason, your dog can’t hear another dog in the area, he might be able to smell it. And, as a result, it could cause your dog to start growling at nothing—especially if your dog believes the other dog is a threat.

pug dog with curly tail
Pugs are famous for their curly tails

10. Old Age

I already covered dementia, but while most cases of dementia occur in older dogs, many dogs begin growling at nothing when they get older without losing their mental capacity.

You’ve likely met a senior citizen or two that has less patience and complains a lot. Well, some dogs become the same way when they age. It’s just that they end up showing these signs by means of growling at nothing.

Studies also show that senior dogs may growl at thin air because, after so many years of living with their owners, they expect them to understand. So, they get frustrated when their owners don’t do what they ask and respond by growling at the air.

Should I Be Worried If My Dog is Growling at Nothing?

You should worry that your dog is growling at nothing if he’s also showing signs of health issues. Otherwise, there’s likely a non-medical reason that your dog is growling, and it’s nothing to worry about.

How to Stop a Dog That’s Growling at Nothing

If your dog growls at nothing once in a blue moon, it likely doesn’t bother you. However, if it’s a recurring issue, you probably want to know what tactics you can use to help calm your dog.

Below are some excellent strategies you can use that revolve around positive reinforcement techniques. 

  1. Mask the noise. There’s a good chance your dog is growling because of a noise they hear, so try turning on the radio or television to help drain out the sound. 
  2. Change rooms. It could be that the room your dog is in sits closer to the noise than another part of your house.
  3. Remove triggers. If you put a new decoration or another object in your house and notice that your dog starts growling after that, try removing it to see if it solves the problem.
  4. Encourage your dog to think. Distractions can work beautifully to stop a dog from growling at nothing. So, give your dog a toy with a treat hidden inside or some other exciting puzzle that he has to solve.

Above all, make sure to give your dog a lot of love. Sometimes, he may growl because he doesn’t feel included. You’d be surprised how far some belly rubs can go! 

Frequently Asked Questions About Dogs Growling at Nothing

If you still have questions about why your dog is growling at nothing, the answers below should help you out.

Is it normal for my dog to growl at nothing?

It’s quite normal for your dog to growl at nothing since there’s usually a reason for it. Often, your dog can see or hear something undetectable to the human eyes or ears.

Should I encourage my dog to growl at nothing?

You shouldn’t encourage your dog to growl at anything, but you shouldn’t reprimand him, either. Instead, use positive reinforcement techniques and distractions to encourage your dog to stop growling.

When should I worry about my dog growling at nothing?

If your dog seems lethargic, has an injury, or appears to get confused easily, there could be a medical condition causing him to growl at nothing. In that case, you should take him to the vet.