Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our October-November issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
We all need sleep, dogs included. But sometimes your dog wakes up in the middle of the night, then comes to you and “shares” her awake state.
Who wants to play fetch or the I-have-to-go-inside/outside game at 2 a.m.? Most people naturally find a wide-awake dog in the early morning hours very frustrating. So what can you do?
Any time a new behavior appears that seems out of the ordinary, take your dog to the veterinarian first. If the unwanted behavior is caused by a medical issue — like a urinary tract infection or nighttime dementia — that needs to be addressed.
Is her mind truly getting a workout every day? Tire your dog’s mind with things like fun nose work or mind puzzles, and everyone might then peacefully sleep through the night. Of course, physical exercise is crucial as well. Dogs need both mental and physical stimulation every day.
Be prepared! I love having things like a frozen Kong stuffed with really tasty food on the ready. I ask the dog for behaviors I want before giving the Kong. For example, ask for six sits in a row, and on the sixth sit, make a big deal of it and walk over to your dog’s bed, and deliver the Kong. I prefer frozen because it takes the dog longer to eat. In other words, you don’t want to reinforce your dog for waking you up by immediately delivering a yummy thing to chew on. Ask for some obedience work, and that’s what you’ll be reinforcing.
Do you shut your dog out of the bedroom, only to be woken up by her scratching at the door, barking, or whining? She could have separation anxiety, and something as simple as letting her sleep on her own bed in your bedroom (or on the bed, should you want her there) could be the solution. Dogs are our companions and want to be where we are. On the other hand, you could have a dog like my Border Collie who decides she’s done sleep – ing on the bed at 3 a.m. and wakes me up asking to be let out to go sleep elsewhere. My solution was to leave the bedroom door open, so she can let herself out when she chooses to.
This is untrue and has been scientifically squashed for many years. Instead, give the situation some real thought, and see if you can figure out what it is your dog tries to communicate. If she’s hungry at 3 a.m., maybe her evening feeding time needs to be adjusted. Maybe she really does need to pee, and she’s doing you a favor by nudging you up to let her out. Or maybe she heard a strange noise in the front yard.
There are many possibilities for a 3 a.m. dog slurp on your sleeping face. Do your best to understand what your dog is trying to communicate, even when you’re groggy and half asleep. The quicker you figure out her needs and can solve the problem, the faster you both can get back to getting a full night’s sleep.