Older Dog Barking Problems

portrait of a purebred english cocker in a studio

If your older dog is barking a lot more than he used to, at odd times (like in the middle of the night!) or if the sound of his bark has changed, it can be both worrying and frustrating.

Older Spaniel barking

This sort of behavior is pretty common in older dogs, and there can be a lot of different reasons why it’s happening.

Sometimes Fido may not even know why he feels the need to be waking you up at night.

He could be scared, anxious, in pain, confused… and this is the only way he has to get your attention.

Even if you’re exhausted or your nerves are jangled, it’s important to realize that your senior dog’s barking is a sign that all is not well with him…

… and that he’s NOT doing this just to irritate you.

Why Is My Older Dog Barking So Much?

You might wonder if your senior dog is barking for no reason… especially if you can’t see anything wrong with him.

But this is very unlikely.

Excessive barking (or howling/whining) is actually pretty common in older dogs and, depending on the cause, lots of times there are simple things you can do to reduce the amount of noise and disruption this is causing.

Here are some of the most common reasons for older dog barking:


Unusual night-time barking is a classic symptom of  Canine Dysfunction Syndrome (aka ‘Old Dog Syndrome’).

This is a condition that’s pretty similar to Alzheimer’s Disease in humans.

If your older dog has CDS he might seem lost, confused, dazed or ‘out of it’ for periods of time.

He might…

  • ‘Forget’ to eat (or that he has eaten already).
  • Forget where the furniture is, what door he’s supposed to use to go outside
  • Forget that he’s supposed to eliminate outdoors (or that he’s not supposed to just pee/poop whenever he gets the urge, regardless of where he is at the time!)
  • Be confused about where he is, or who you are

….. all of these can make him anxious, and end up causing barking ‘episodes’.

Sometimes he may simply bark at nothing at all.

There are lots of other symptoms of Canine Dysfunction Syndrome and as it’s very common (severity varies) in senior dogs, it’s worth being aware of what to look out for.

Find out how to help your dog HERE


As your dog ages, controlling his bladder (and even his bowels) becomes more of a challenge.

This is especially true for spayed female dogs, but it can happen to either sex.

If Fido is waking you up by barking in the middle of the night, he may be trying to tell you that he needs to pee or poop.

Remember how as a puppy he needed night-time potty breaks because he couldn’t ‘hold it’ for 8 hours? Well, he may be having the same problems again now.

Scared Chihuahua

If he has enough control he may be able to keep himself from wetting his bed, crate or the floor… but it’s difficult and painful for him to do.

When he’s not able to hang on long enough you’re going to be met with a mess in the morning.

Incontinence in older dogs isn’t unusual, and your senior citizen can’t help what’s happening to his body, it’s simply part of the natural aging process.

Find out how to help your dog HERE


Our older dogs have bodies that have seen a fair bit of wear-and-tear over the years.

The deterioration of the body is a natural part of growing older, and major organs and joints often don’t work as well as they used to.

This can  cause pain or discomfort, as well as other symptoms, and when the house is quiet at night and Fido’s brain isn’t busy, that pain or discomfort comes to the fore and he starts barking or howling.

Find out how to help HERE


Senior dogs can go through some personality/behavior changes as they get older, and many become more anxious than they were when younger.

Your older dog might start barking at strangers more often (or even at people he knows), he might bark at loud noises, or cars, or when you step out of his sight.

Separation anxiety is fairly common in older dogs, even if they’ve never been worried about you being gone before.

It’s all just part-and-parcel of getting older.

Also, a dog who is feeling generally anxious or upset might bark just to release that pent-up emotion. It’s a way of ‘sounding off’.

Find out how to help your dog HERE


Another possible cause of older dog barking problems (if the barking happens during specific activities) is that your dog is frustrated because he’s having difficulty managing some task.

For example, if he stands at the foot of the stairs and barks… barks…. barks,  he may want to go UP those stairs but his old joints won’t let him.

Get tips to help him HERE

Sensory Problems

As the body ages, nothing works as well as it used to, and this is true of senses such as sight and hearing.

A dog's ear

Poor vision, or cataracts, can mean that your older dog is seeing the world from a very blurry, or foggy, viewpoint.

This is scary, not to mention it makes life extra difficult when it’s combined with other problem such as creaky joints, or a twitchy bladder.

Hearing loss is fairly common as well, and if Fido can’t see or hear properly, it changes his world in an even bigger way.

It’s not difficult to see how this can make any underlying anxiety problems worse, or make even a confident dog more nervous.

Also, bear in mind that older dogs can’t regulate their temperature the way younger dogs do. So they get too hot, or too cold, quite easily.

If Fido wakes up because he’s uncomfortably hot or chilly, he’s going to let you know about it.

Learn how to deal with this HERE

What To Do About Excessive Barking In Older Dogs

Now, there’s no way I can promise you that any action you take will stop your old dog from ‘sharing the language of his people’ loudly, and often.

BUT, there are some simple things you can do that may help the problem that’s causing the barking… and in turn that might reduce the amount of noise he makes, or the frequency with which he makes it.

So, let’s take a closer look at what you can do to minimize your older dogs barking IF….

He’s Confused….

Canine Dysfunction Syndrome can wreak havoc on your senior dog’s personality, routines, attitudes and behavior.

Although it’s quite common, CDS doesn’t happen to all dogs, and there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms.

These include dietary changes, behavior modification, lifestyle changes and medications.

If you can lessen his confusion, you’re likely to see a reduction in symptoms – which include the strange or chronic barking behavior.

Click here to jump to info. on treating this old dog syndrome.

Older dog with comforting toy

Meanwhile, you can help Fido by not ignoring his barking. He’s making all that noise because he’s confused and anxious.

If it’s night-time barking, sometimes just a few quiet words, or some gentle TLC can help him settle back down.

Or, try to figure out what will quieten him down….

  • Is it a handful of his favorite kibble?
  • A special ‘comfort’ toy or blanket?
  • A quick trip outside (even if he doesn’t need to ‘go’, because the change of scene can sometimes short-circuit the barking cycle)?

This may only stop the noise for a short time, but with consistency it could be that little bit ‘extra’ that makes all the difference.

He’s Incontinent….

A leaky bladder, or ‘dodgy’ bowels, can mean that your older dog needs one, two, or even several, night-time potty trips.

If he’s barking to let you know that he needs to ‘go’, ignoring it will only lead to problems.

Obviously the first step towards stopping the noise is to take him outside so he can relieve himself.

But waking up several times a night is exhausting for both of you, and is far from ideal long term.

Luckily, there are several treatment options for incontinence, and your veterinarian will be able to help you figure out what’s at the root of Fido’s problems, as well as how to minimize them.

Medications or even surgery can help. Plus there are way to ‘manage’ the problem too, such as ‘doggie diapers’ or ‘belly-bands’.

He’s In Pain….

Excessive barking in older dogs which is due to discomfort or pain is upsetting for both of you.

But with the range of medications and treatment options available for pets today, there’s really no need for your senior dog to be in pain on a regular basis.

If there’s a chronic condition (such as arthritis) which is causing Fido to hurt, discuss it with your veterinarian and get your golden oldie the help he needs to live comfortably.

He’s Anxious or Scared….

If your older dog’s excessive barking is triggered by anxiety or fear, you need to get to the root of the problem in order to improve the situation.

Maybe Fido has always slept on his bed (or in his crate) in the kitchen, but now he’s upset every night.

Senior Golden Retriever lying down

Try moving his bed/crate into your room. Sometimes just knowing that the people he loves are close by can settle him down.

If this is an absolute no-no (maybe due to allergies, or something similar), then try putting one of your old  (worn) T-shirts or (used) pillowcases into his bed or crate. The scent may be enough to calm him.

Puppies often are less stressed if they have a ticking alarm clock and a soft toy to cuddle up to. This can also help senior dogs.

Or one of the ‘Snuggle Pals’ or ‘Cuddle Puppies’ which are specifically designed for calming puppies are even better.

Tips-n-tricks used for separation anxiety in dogs of all ages can also be helpful. These include leaving a radio or the TV on at low-volume (providing your dog’s hearing is good enough to pick it up).

A night-light, or a pheremone diffuser might also help.

If none of these work and you know that Fido’s distress is caused by his nerves, there are natural treatments that can reduce anxiety as well as medications your veterinarian can prescribe if he feels it’s necessary.

He’s Frustrated….

Older dog barking that’s triggered by frustration often happens during the daytime when your dog is active, rather than at night.

It’s probably the easiest one to diagnose, because the source of the frustration is easy to recognize.

The example of stairs which I used earlier in this page is a classic example.

Other sources of frustration may be being unable to chase a ball or play actively with a toy, having difficulty chewing treats or food, being unable to join in play or activities with other dogs and so on.

The only answer to this type of barking is to help your dog overcome his limitations as far as possible (for example, by giving softer treats, or buying more sedentary but interesting toys), and then use distraction and substitution for the things he simply can’t manage.

If you’re empathetic, creative and persistent you’ll be able to make life less frustrating for your senior dog with a bit of extra effort.

His Senses Are Deteriorating….

Sometimes there are things you can do to improve the situation – for example cataracts can be corrected surgically.

But the normal age-related deterioration of sight and hearing is just something that you and Fido will need to learn to live with.

Still, if this is what’s causing him to bark excessively, there are still things you can do to help.

If your older dog is having trouble with his eyesight, he might have trouble finding his way around at first.

Older dog with cataracts

He needs to commit the layout of his home and yard to memory so that he can navigate it properly.

Things you can do to help with this include resisting the urge to move furniture around, keeping doors open as much as possible (so that he won’t walk into them), and putting up baby gates at the bottom (and top if necessary) of the stairs.

Also, don’t allow the kids to leave toys lying all around the house (or in the garden).

Outside, try not to change the layout of paths, or flower beds, and don’t add a water feature (or a pool!) unless it’s securely fenced in.

Leaving a low light on where he sleeps at night may make him less anxious if he wakes up. After all it’s pretty scary to wake up and not be able to see anything!

If the problem is with his hearing, unfortunately there’s less you can do to help.

But, a TV or radio to keep him company at night (if he sleeps in a separate room from you) can ease his worries as he won’t feel so alone and isolated if he wakes up.

One of the signs that your dog is going deaf can be that he barks more loudly than normal.

He may also seem to ‘ignore’ you when you call him, or seem startled when you pet him or disturb his day-dreaming (because he didn’t hear you coming.)

If Fido wakes up at night because he’s too hot, or too cold, these are things that you can usually fix pretty easily.

You can buy heated, or cooled, dog beds and if your dog is crated you can even use a small cooling fan, or space heater.

Adjusting the thermostat in your home to meet your dog’s needs might sound a little extreme to some, but most doggie parents are quite okay with doing this.

After all we’re not the ones who are old and suffering, plus we can adjust our own clothing, bedding and so on to make sure we’re comfy too.

A warm blanket or a snuggle/cuddle pal (some have inserts that you can heat or cool) can help too.

Or you can throw a blanket or comforter over the crate as an extra layer of insulation if a chill is the problem.

…. and finally…..

If your older dog’s barking SOUNDS different to the way it used to (whether or not he’s barking more), then it’s important to have your veterinarian check him out.

There are some health conditions which can cause this and are seen most often in senior dogs.

The most common one is Laryngeal Paralysis, which can cause other problems as well as the strange-sounding bark. Luckily there are treatment options available.

Other possibilities include a tumor, or an underlying health condition, perhaps even heart disease.

Your vet will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and get treatment started, so if your older dog’s voice sounds ‘funny’ – make sure he gets a check up.

About Dr. Winnie 78 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone


  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom. My sister’s sweet Bella is 10 and has begun to bark and whimper during the night. It’s been frustrating on all of us and now we have a better understanding of what’s going on in Bella’s world. She’s also been licking more than she has in the past and has hot spots and sores. We are forever grateful for your article.

  2. I have a 14 yr old labradoodle who has just started barking at night over the past couple of months. We’ve tried calming medicine, making sure he goes out later at night. He has been on keppra for a seizure disorder for quite a while now, so I don’t think that’s the issue. Lately he has been barking short whiles in the day time, but nights are very frustrating and we’ve actually taken in out the last two nights at 2am when he wakes us barking. Most of his barking takes place in early to mid evening. We hate not being able to make him less anxious and are now going to discuss with his vet who has cared for him since birth.

  3. My 13 year old Shih Tzu has been barking excessively throughout the day and night. Just this morning he barked for over 2 hours. I tried everything to get him to stop. Picking him up will quiet him for a moment. But as soon as I put him down he starts barking again. We are losing sleep over this because he barks all throughout the night. He starts to cry and then the barking begins. We are at our wits end. Please someone help.

  4. My Nearly 16 yr old Jack Russell barks constantly from approx 5 pm until I give in and go to bed with her in my bedroom; she then settles well. Alas I don’t want to go to bed early but she is so persistent that I feel so tense as the barking is constant. We walk approx 10k steps a day and she’s really happy with that. Her sight and hearing are very bad but she copes well.. it is just so frustrating and whilst she had medication for dementia it’s not proved successful. I’m at a loss as what to do. It makes me so tense and I feel so inadequate with my inability to calm her. Is it time for euthanasia I ask myself.

  5. I’ve found great help with My 13-year-old labradors reoccurring barking problem it’s kind of an anxiety issue I think and he has bad arthritis so it’s hard for him to get around but I found great relief and CBD oil to relieve his anxiety it quiet some down and make some calm I love it

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