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Canine Behavior/Dog requests to be let out many times a night


Dear Madeline,

I have read your biography and I promise to read and rate your response within three days.  I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 minutes of your time in response to my question, and I understand too that when questioners read and rate your responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animals.  In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping shelter dogs and cats, I agree that I will rate your response and give you fair feedback.

We have a 7 year old female Irish Setter who averages wanting to be let out into the yard 1-3 times a night, which has been wearing us down as she has been displaying this behavior for years now.  She requests to be let out by scratching at the back or front door and/or waking us up if we don’t react.  She typically will not stop bothering us by alternating between scratching at the door and nudging us in bed until she gets her way.

Our question is whether there is a way to train her not to want/need to go out.

The complication starts with the fact that we have no way of distinguishing between a legitimate need to be let out into the yard (e.g. because she needs to relieve herself or vomit) versus it being a bad habit.  There are times that appear to be legitimate as her stomach will audibly be gurgling and growling as we are letting her out, but a good 75% of the time this is not the case.  The latter (75%) case of course may simply mean she needs to relieve herself for all we know.  She is unfortunately unable to tell us.

In one instance, I deliberately ignored about 4 of her attempts to be let out (in the same night), only to find that she had defecated into my home office when I got up in the morning.  This is why I have been reluctant to consistently use the “just ignore it” advice that seems to abound. We have also tried changing up her food, all to no avail.

As you can imagine, this issue is causing a lot of sleep deprivation.  Is this behavior in any way common and can you think of ways to modify it?

Thanks so much

Hello. Burkhard,

Thank you for your question and for taking the time to read my bio.

This is an issue many dog owneers grapple with, knowing whether a dog's repeated requests to be let out are legitimate.

Irish Setters are generally a fairly energetic breed.  I'm wondering if yours has a number of opportunities during the day to be let out not only for elimination, but for interactive play, such as "fetch," and for several walks on leash with ample opportunity to sniff and exercise for at least a half hour each time.  If not, you may want to start adding these to her daily routine.

I'm also concerned about the gurgling and growling you hear from her belly.  This isn't normal, and I'm wondering if the diet changes you mentioned are fairly frequent, sudden, and perhaps not the most beneficial changes for her.  Sudden and frequent changes in dogs' diets can cause digestive upset for them.  Diet changes, if needed, need to be made gradually.  Does she seem to like her food?  Is it a high quality diet with probiotics?  If the answers to these questions are "no," then I would consult a veterinarian, and perhaps a holistic veterinarian, for the most appropriate and beneficial diet for her, which would also be one she likes, ans stick to that.

It sounds to me as if the issues you're reporting warrant a check-up, and possibly even a stomach ultrasound, if your vet agrees.  Dogs' digestive processes are generally quieter than what you've told me, and the growling and gurgling and growling seems to be a point of concern I want to emphasize in mentioning.  In the meantime, until you can get to see a vet, which I highly recommend, provide more daily exercise for her as I mentioned, stop her from eating any grasses, add a probiotic to her diet (sometimes a tablespoon of plain yogurt at each meal will help if the dog has no bad reactions to dairy - or non-dairy lactobacillus pills with no dairy made for dogs) and stick to one diet that she likes and which is high-quality, and see if those help.
During the frequent times she's let out at night, and even during the day, is she eating grass?  If so, this could be one cause for the gurgling and growling you're hearing.  I would put a stop to any grass eating by walking her on leash and seeing if that helps, as well as consulting your vet or holistic vet about it and the possibility of a need to supplement her diet with the addition of more appropriate fibre than grasses or weeds.  For dogs that like to eat a bit of grass, there are soft grasses you can grow in a plant pot which are more digestible for dogs.  In the meantime, given the fact that sometimes her need to go out are legitimate during the night,I think you need to bite the bullet and take her out.  However, I would go with her, to determine whether she's eating grass or weeds, and to see if she truly has to eliminate, which would occur quickly.  If she doesn't need to eliminate, you can take her right back in, especially if she's on leash which I recommend so you can stay with her as well as see and control what she's doing.  I would also consult a vet about parasites and have a couple of atool tests done for her.

I do think what's occuring warrants a vet visit so you can let your vet know what's going on, and, in particular, for the issues you're reporting, I would opt for a holistic vet and, given her age, form a relationship with this vet so you can provide naturally for her health as she ages.

Oh, one last thought: if you have other animals in your home, I would make sure she's not eating their food.  Eating foods made for other species, including cats, can cause some of the issues you've mentioned.  

Best of luck, and I'd love to hear back in a few weeks in a follow-up to find out how things are going.

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Dog training in NY, Nj, and Palm Beach County Florida  

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.


I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.


Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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