Q:I've caught my dog staring at the wall, just sitting there looking at nothing. Is that normal?
A: Yes, it’s probably just because he hears something that our human ears can’t.
He’s doing it again. Your dog is sitting in the middle of the hallway, staring right at a blank wall. He’s not barking, not growling, not whimpering. He’s just… looking at the wall. What the heck is going on? Is he seeing a ghost?
The most likely explanation is that his canine super-senses are just picking up on something that our duller-by-comparison ears and noses can’t.
"There are a lot of possible reasons for this, but the most common reason that dogs do this is their hearing has picked up something that we didn't notice, and they're trying to place it or track it," says Jenn Stanley, CPDT-KA CBCC-KA, owner and a certified canine behavior consultant at Awesome Pawsabilities Dog Training & Behavior Consultations based in North Carolina.
Let’s dive into this reason and some other possible reasons why your dog might be staring at the wall or staring off into space.
Reasons Your Dog Stares at the Wall
Your Dog Is Sensing Something Only They Can Hear
As noted above, this odd behavior could simply be that your dog is hearing something you can’t.
"In general, dogs have significantly better hearing than humans at higher pitches,” Stanley says. “So it's very common for dogs to hear road or neighborhood noise and pause to think about what it is and if it warrants a reaction.”
Stanley also suggests that it could be connected to your pet’s hardwired predatory behavior: They may be giving you a heads up that they hear a mouse in the wall, or insects somewhere in the home.
Despite those innocuous possibilities (OK, a hidden mouse condo isn’t exactly innocuous, but…), if you notice it happening more often, or for lengthy periods of time, you might want to get your buddy checked out to see if there’s something else going on. “Dogs are very skilled at compensating, so sometimes they may have hearing loss in one ear that causes them to have trouble locating and understanding sounds," Stanley says.
Your Dog Is Sensing Something Only They Can Smell
It could be less about what a dog’s ears pick up on and more about what’s making their nose twitch.
“A dog’s sense of smell is also something like 100,000 times better than ours, so they may be smelling something coming from that direction,” explains Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM, an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Centre in Alexandria, Virginia, and Chewy’s resident senior veterinarian.
Your Dog Is Sensing Something Only They Can See
Dr. Nelson adds that there’s also a possibility that the dog’s reacting to something that they think is in their field of vision. (Not ghosts, but we’ll get to those in a second.)
“Maybe they’ve got a ‘floater’ in their eye and that’s what they’re seeing and reacting to,” she says. “They just interpret that as something that’s actually on the wall.”
A Medical Condition
If it’s not their heightened senses, could it be a symptom of something serious, like a medical condition? Dr. Google might’ve convinced you that your dog staring at the wall is a sign of a brain tumor, a seizure or partial seizure, compulsive behavior, or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans and typically seen in older dogs. Those are all a possibility, but it’s also something you’d want to discuss with your veterinarian instead of doing nerve-fraying internet searches.
“This can be one of the things that is on a long list of symptoms that go along with those neurological disorders,” Dr. Nelson says.
If you’ve eliminated some of the sensory causes or vision issues, Dr. Nelson recommends setting up a consultation with your veterinarian to have your dog evaluated.
“They can do visual testing and some neurologic testing right there in the office,” she says, “and if they notice anything that’s wrong, they might recommend a referral to a neurologist, ophthalmologist, or other -ologist that fits whatever [the vet] is seeing.”
So, Uh, Could It Really Be a Ghost?
Do dogs have a sixth sense for seeing spirits? Suzan Vaughn, an animal communicator and (human) psychic clairvoyant, says that she fields a lot of questions from people who have noticed their pets staring intensely at an empty corner—and yes, they ask whether that means there's a ghost hanging out in the living room.
"Animals have a more active and accepted spiritual connection, and a greater awareness of realms parallel to the physical world," she says. "The animals I have telepathically talked to have seen people who are related to the dwelling, nature spirits, other animals who have passed on, and parallel realities."
Vaughn says that if you've noticed your pet barking at things that aren't there, playing "as if with another animal," or just being on high alert all the time, well, that could mean that they've become aware of some kind of nonhuman energy in the room.
"The disembodied entity may come and go, depending on what's happening in the house," she explains. "Some are attracted only when there's strife, for example. But people, who are focused on getting through the physical reality of the day, only become aware that something is going on when the dog is staring into the corner of the room."
But again, if you notice your dog repeatedly staring at the wall or into the great abyss, contact your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions.
What Should I Do If My Dog Continues to Stare at Walls?
First things first: If your dog stares at the wall repeatedly, or if the staring is coupled with other changes in your dog’s behavior, talk your veterinarian.
If it’s an occasional occurrence, and you suspect they are simply picking up on something with their heightened senses, you:
- Redirect their attention with a treat or toy, or take them on a walk or car ride. “Anything that is fun and positive that can get them away from this behavior is always a good tactic,” Dr. Nelson says.
- Use a white noise machine to prevent the dog from focusing on the distracting sounds.
- Use curtains or privacy film to change the lighting conditions, in case the dog is too interested in shadow patterns or reflections.
And if you turn on some artificial ocean waves or summer rain showers, then neither one of you are thinking about weird sounds. Or ghosts.