Why Does My Dog Growl at Nothing?

Stressed, frightened dog hides under chair trying not to be seen

Growling is the way a dog communicates that she is in pain, discomfort or frightened. Dogs have a much keener sense of smell and hearing than humans so it’s very likely that she either hears something or smells something that disturbs her. The answer to the question why does my dog growl at nothing is that your dog is not growling at nothing.

It is most often the case that you are unable to hear, smell, or see what she does. She has heard, smelled, or seen something that has caused her to growl. It is also possible that she is injured and in pain or is ill. Your dog is growling at something very real to her.

You should investigate the cause of her growling to at least try to determine what she is growling at. If she is growling due to pain or discomfort, then examine her. Check for any tender spots or visible sores or lumps on her that could be causing her pain or discomfort.

Also check her ears and feet to be sure there are no foxtails embedded in either. These can be a definite source of pain or discomfort.

Dogs can also have much better night vision than humans. It is very likely that your dog can see something that you can’t see.

Dogs May Growl Due to Fear

Frightened dog trying to get away

Another reason your dog may growl is due to fear. You might be walking her after dark and she suddenly stops and growls. However, you don’t see or hear anything. It would be a good idea to pay attention to your dog’s reactions.

If she is reacting in a way that is out of character for her, then you need to investigate why. She may see, hear, or smell something that could possibly be a danger to you.

She may be in protection mode as she fears for your safety. It would probably be a good idea to leave that area and see if she becomes more relaxed. Hopefully, you will get far enough away from any danger to make her relax.

Your Dog Could be Hearing Coyotes

Where I live, I can even hear it when packs of coyotes venture close enough to my back fence. I have seen my dogs run out the dog door, barking and growling like crazy when I can’t hear anything. It is highly likely that they can hear the coyotes, but they aren’t close enough for me to hear them.

I Know that my dogs can perceive sights, sounds, and smells that are way out of my range. This lets me know that they are able to hear something. The fact that coyotes are frequently heard in this area makes me believe that most likely they are hearing coyotes.

They do stop on their own and I don’t attempt to stop them.  They are doing what they believe to be their jobs, which is protecting their home.

Where I live there isn’t much crime. Therefore, I am not afraid of someone trying to break into my home. Also, where I live is not in a housing tract. It is in an area where the land was purchased first, then the home was built. Homes here range from very small homes with small lots, to extremely large homes on acres of land. If someone wants to find the mother lode of wealth, they will not select my home to break into.

Also, most of the homes around here have plenty of animals, especially dogs, and plenty of horses. Burglars typically don’t like breaking into homes where dogs are making a lot of noise. There are likely to be more dogs in this neighborhood barking and growling than in the average neighborhood.

Try to Find the Reason She is Growling

If your new dog suddenly starts growling or just growls seemingly for no reason right away. Check around for possibilities of reasons for her growling. For example, where is she standing when she starts to growl? Does she suddenly get up and go towards a cabinet and growl at it?

Since she has much more highly developed senses, she could possibly hear or smell the presence of mice or rats somewhere within your walls. This could be true of any dog for that matter if you suddenly or even gradually get an infestation of rats or mice, your dog will most likely detect this before you do, as you may not yet see the signs of their presence.

Is there Something Wrong with my Dog?

What could be wrong with my dog that might cause here to growl, other than sights, sounds, and smells she perceives? If you have a senior dog, she could be declining mentally or simply be a cranky old dog, like a cranky old person.

Many older people just get cranky, maybe due to chronic pain of arthritis or other issues due to age, and everything seems more difficult to accomplish when you are in pain.

It is possible that your dog may have arthritis and be experiencing more difficulty getting around and that this causes her to be cranky, or for dogs, to growl.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)

Elderly dog with Canine Cognitive Disorder (CDD)

CCD, often referred to as dog dementia, is like Alzheimer’s in humans. It can happen to a dog at different ages as larger dogs age faster than small dogs. Some of the symptoms include

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Forgetting things they previously have learned
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Growling or Barking at a blank wall

And much more. If your dog displays these symptoms, take her to the vet. These symptoms could also be the sign of another medical condition, so she needs to be seen by a vet.

There is currently no cure for CCD, just as there is no cure for Alzheimer’s in humans. However, there are medications, diets, and supplements that may help reduce her symptoms.


Preventing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

As the cause of CCD is not completely known, it is difficult to know how to prevent it other than what is also true for humans. Keep their minds active by teaching them new commands and tricks, make sure she gets a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and socialization.  Try to keep your dog away from stressful situations.

Another contributing factor in whether your dog will end up with CCD is genetics. Reputable breeders can help to control CCD in the dogs they breed. However, I don’t believe they have total control over this as much of it has to do with the aging process and the effects it has on the brain.

Your Dog Could have an Illness or be Injured

Sick dog at the vet

If your dog starts growling during the night, or suddenly for no apparent reason and doesn’t move or make any effort to investigate the source of what is causing the disturbance, this could indicate that she is in pain of feeling sick.

Additional signs of pain or illness can include:

  • Shaking
  • Yelping
  • Whining
  • Licking
  • Stiffness

And many more.  You will need to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible as she could be critically ill. She may growl when you touch her so it may be difficult to get her into the car to get her to the vet.

If you have someone who can help you to get her into the car, then get help. Maybe, if she is on the couch or on a bed, you can get her into a dog bed and carry the dog bed to the car. Hopefully, the person can go with you to the vet or drive you there with your dog in her bed and you next to her comforting her.

Once she is at the veterinarian’s office you will be able to get help for her.

Dogs May Growl Out of Fears Due to Past Experiences

Frightened Dog trying to pull away - Why does my dog growl at nothing?

If you have recently adopted your dog from a shelter, it may take her some time to become comfortable in her new surroundings and to get familiar with the people and routines of the home.

Adoption is a wonderful way to get a family pet. However, you do need to be patient with your new furry kid and do your best to keep her out of stressful situations. Many shelters don’t know that much about the background experiences of your adopted dog but find out as much as you can from them.

Adopted Dogs and Puppies May Experience More Fear

Also, with a shelter dog she could have lived in an abusive household in her earliest days or years, depending upon her age. Reputable shelters do their best to train abused dogs so they are adoptable, your new dog or puppy may have had some negative experiences and be reminded of them by a smell, a sound, or the presence of a new person that reminds them of someone that abused them.

Your dog could be reactive in certain situations. It could be many smells, sights, and sounds that stimulate a reactive response in your dog. The shelter may have only detected a few of them, but the rest are up to you to deal with as they come up. The best way to deal with it is when it first occurs.

If your dog suddenly starts growling, follow her and show her that you are aware something is wrong.

If she is growling at cabinets, open the doors of the cabinets. Look inside and show her there is nothing in there that will hurt her. If your dog goes outside, follow her to show her you are trying to remove the source of her fear.

Dogs can be very fearful, especially of loud noises. Some common noises that may cause a fearful response are listed below.

  • Thunder
  • Fireworks
  • Gunshots
  • Loud gardening tools such as leaf blowers

It is quite common for any dog to fear these sounds. However, if you have a recently adopted dog, it is possible that she will be afraid of many experiences as well as sight, sounds, and smells.

Some fears your adopted dog may have:

  • New places
  • Riding in the Car
  • People she doesn’t know
  • Other dogs

The dog may react in several different ways:

  • Hiding
  • Cowering
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Aggression

Responses that Require Immediate Help

Angry dog protecing his territory

If your dog reacts aggressively, this is serious and needs to be handled as soon as possible before it becomes out of control. If you are unable to control her aggression, then get the help of a reputable animal behaviorist.

Other reactions to fear are not as serious, but still must be dealt with so your dog doesn’t have to live in fear. Once you discover the source of the fear, such as car rides, you can begin to gradually train her using desensitization and destimulation.

What to do if your Dog is Afraid to Get into the Car

Dog afraid of riding in car

For example, if she is frightened of getting into the car, then gradually get her to not fear the car.  First walk her up towards the car and see how far she will go towards it. If she is even afraid to approach it, then get her to the closest possible distance from the car that she can handle without fear. Reward her and praise her for that distance. Gradually get her to go closer and closer to the car. Be sure to reward her at the point just before she reacts so she knows you are not rewarding the reactive behavior.

When you are finally able to get her to approach the car without reacting let her examine it and sniff it, rewarding her and praising her the whole time. Your next goal is to get her to go into the car without any fear.

Be sure you have put your back seat car protection in before going any further. then just open a door and sit in the car in the back seat and call her in to join you. She may just jump in and join you there.

If she is still displaying fear, then use the same gradual methods as explained above to get her to sit in the back seat wearing whatever seatbelt setup you have. Once she is comfortable doing this, then while she is still safely tucked into the car, you get into the front seat. Do this several time until she is completely comfortable with everything.

Keep Working with your Dog Until She No Longer Fears Car Rides

Once you are sure she is fine with just being in the car wearing her seatbelt with you in the front seat, start the car and just let it run for a few minutes to see how she reacts. If she starts to get upset at the sound of the car, reassure her, and give her more treats and wait until she calms down then start backing out of your driveway slowly and drive her to a nearby location where you know you will be able to take her for a nice walk.

Once you get to the location, she may start displaying fear again as she may associate car rides with something horrible at the end, such as being dumped off at a shelter, or going to a vet. Park the car and sit there for a while. Hopefully, she will calm down and you can treat and praise her for being such a good girl.

Then take her out of the car and just take her for a good walk. Now she has seen that all car rides don’t end up with horrible consequences. Be sure to take her on more car rides where you end up doing something fun with her so, hopefully, that fear will fade into the background.

Final Thoughts

This is my answer to the question of ‘Why does my dog growl at nothing”. My answer to sum it up, is your dog is not growing at nothing. Your dog could be growling at a lot of different things. Meaning your dog could be growling at animals, a person nearby, a sound that she hears, and just about anything.

The reason it looks to you like she is growling at nothing is because you are unable to hear, see, or smell what she does. There is always a reason, even if that reason is due to Canine Cognitive Disorder. In this case she could be growling due to forgetting where she is and being frightened, lack of ability to remember what she is supposed to do, her routine (routines are very important to dogs), and lack of sleep.

I encourage you to leave a comment below if you have any questions or have experienced your dog appearing to growl at nothing.

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