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Canine Behavior/Bully night terrors



I am looking for some help for my English bull terrier, he came to us when he was a year old, we already have another (bitch) and we have had him for 3 years now.

His first year was with a family who had taken two dogs from the same litter and they didn't train them or really walk them which meant they were left outside most days and fought an awful lot, when he came to us he was badly scarred and was a little skittish but had real potential, (we had him neutered)

As a dog he is very affectionate, loves to play and have his belly scratched, he wants to be with people or our other dog to the point where he irritates her :)

However he has a flaw........

He Wakes up in the middle of the night (most night's) barking and snarling, we have had to separate the dogs at night as when he has these episodes he has attacked our other terrier.

Very rarely does he have these episodes when we are with him only after we all go to bed however the other evening the dogs were both asleep in the living room and without warning he just woke up and bite our other dog, nothing startled him to wake up or to be aggressive towards her.  My husband was able to separate them however I am concerned that if this happened again I will not be able to safely.

He is never aggressive towards people or other animals when he is awake and he has never been aggressive to myself or my partner when he wakes up snarling once he hears our voices he calms down.

We don't know what to do with him and rarely do we get a full nights sleep due to his "nightly terrors"

Can you suggest anything that may help him


Thank you for your question. One priority in this is definitely management. We cannot allow him to sleep in the same room as the other dog until this is figured out. If he continues to wake suddenly and in attack mode - directed at your other dog, she may come to distrust him (his behavior is unpredictable, after all), and this can potentially irreparably damage their relationship.

The first order of business to dealing with this issue will be a full and complete medical exam by your regular vet and possibly (probably) a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist. I am NOT a veterinarian. I have ZERO medical training. I CANNOT diagnose anything. I can speak as someone who has read a bit, grew up in a medical family, does some research on odd behaviors, etc.

My own dog used to have what I called "Cujo moments" where, if you woke her from a doze or sound sleep by moving physically into her space, she would come awake in full attack mode all teeth and gnashing (never made actual contact). It would take her a minute or so to calm down. You could literally see her eyes clear and her body soften. She'd usually then lay down and put her head on my lap (making up? reestablishing our relationship?). For that dog, I learned that all I needed to do to avoid this was to announce myself to her before I walked into her space. So, from several feet away, I'd just sweetly call her name and wait for her to look at me, take me in and then put her head down again. If I did that, she was fine. If I was right next to her, I could just put my hand on her side and her head would whip up, realize it was my hand and she'd be fine.

You should take a moment to reflect on these instances and see if there is anything environmental that may be triggering it - movement or noise in the room such as the other dog getting up and changing position, moving closer to him to snuggle, moving away from him to cool off, you or your husband shifting the bed sheets or getting up/coming back to bed...  If you can find an environmental trigger, then we can work to adjust that much as I did with my dog (we lived 12 happy years without an incident, once I realized what the trigger was and adjusted my behavior slightly).

But you're describing a dog who is waking suddenly with this very scary behavior without anyone (dog or human) moving into her physical space. At least, that's what I'm assuming, since you said he woke "without warning." You didn't indicate if he's had this issue since you first got him or if it started some time after he joined your family. You also didn't indicate if the behavior is escalating - either in intensity, duration or frequency. But if this has been going on for the entire 3 years you've had him, then I'd guess something has changed about the behavior that you're now seeking advice.

The main issue is that there could be something neurological going on and we can't land squarely on a behavior issue without making sure his brain is OK. He could be experiencing a seizure of some type, in which medication would be prescribed to control them. But only a vet and a neurological exam can determine this. It could be a tumor, which would require an MRI to diagnose... As I said, I'm not a vet and I cannot diagnose , but I do know that seizures in dogs can manifest in myriad ways, many of which look nothing like what we'd consider to be a "classic seizure".

So, before we can address a behavioral issue, we need to make sure that we're not dealing with a medical issue. I encourage you to make an appointment sooner rather than later, and explain the details of what you're experiencing. Make a journal of when it happens, what was going on in the space, what his body looks like (rigid/stiff, hackles up/down, ears back/forward, eyes open wide/squinted closed, body weight leaning forward/possibly lunging or body weight leaning on his hind legs, vacillating between forward and rear weight/lunging forward and promptly pulling back), what he's doing specifically (growling, barking, snapping, whining, etc), how long it lasts, how he behaves immediately after an episode, etc. Especially odd, seemingly unrelated behaviors like does he always need to go potty immediately/shortly after an episode or does he always go looking for/begging for food shortly afterward, etc. Your regular vet may not really understand all the behavioral components (body postures, etc) as they are not typically trained in behavior. This is where the Vet Behaviorist comes in. The vet behaviorist is a vet who specializes in behavior. They are the psychiatrists of the animal world. I often think of them as the Dr. House for diagnosing little known medical issues that manifest with undesired behaviors. The vet behaviorist would work with your regular vet to diagnose any conditions, and the vet behaviorist will manage the dosing of any needed medication and any behavior modification protocol determined necessary to correct the issue. A vet behaviorist will require the complete medical workup prior to any evaluation they do - they like to have test results in front of them before assessing the client dog, so seeing your own vet is still the first order of business, even if you believe you will require the assistance of the vet behaviorist as well.

I'm sorry I can't be of more direct assistance in this situation. Please feel free to followup after the vet exam either with further questions or just to update me on the prognosis.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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