Canine Behavior/Strange bedtime behaviour
I have a 6 year old daschi cross jack russell who has started acting extremely erratic at bedtime. We were away for a few weeks in Feb, and initially I thought we would settle back into our own routine once the house sitter had left, however it is now April and he is still at it and driving me insane. I am pregnant, however he seems fine with me, and acts perfectly well behaved throughout the day, and this acting out only occurs at night time.
He knows we all sleep upstairs. The dogs sleep in their own bed in our room. When its time for bed he cowers and hides and I have to carry him outside for wee's. Actually weeing can take ages if he does it at all. Then getting him upstairs is a mission. Once tucked in and lights go off i can hear him get out and creep about, he then attempts to go back downstairs. He often wee's inside when he does escape downstairs. Nights that I close our bedroom door, he still gets out of his bed and cowers and shakes on a cold piece of the tiled floor instead of his bed.
I try ignore this bad behaviour, however it has made no difference. I can't leave our door closed at night due to our baby arriving soon and the constant weeing downstairs has me at my wits end.
Our doggies eat their main meal of kibble and a little gravy at breakfast time so I can't imagine its because of feeding schedule.
Please help. What has gotten into him.
ANSWER: Thank you for your question. Congratulations on the coming new arrival.
I understand how frustrating it can be when one of our dogs' behavior suddenly changes in a way that interferes in our regular schedule and routines. You describe the dog's behavior as cowering and hiding. This suggests fear. This is not a mischievous behavior, rather it's a response to something that is causing him to feel insecure or downright frightened.
If this were my dog, the first thing I'd do is speak to the sitter and find out how bedtimes went for the entire time I was out of town. Did anything happen that scared the dog? An alarm down the street, something in another room that fell and scared him? Did the sitter get frustrated and yell at the dog (or get physical with the dog)? Weird weather in the middle of the night with thunder or even just sudden heavy rain or hail or high winds?
If the dog was already feeling stressed by your absence and then something scary happened at night, it could have caused a single-exposure learning episode that has scared him deeply.
I would encourage using a positive reinforcement plan to try to help him through whatever is scaring him. Start by inviting him to play a little game of tug or fetch or whatever is his favorite game, take the game (with food treats) outside about 20 minutes before his usual bedtime potty and then encourage him to go potty. Be patient and quiet and wait. When he finishes, make a happy fuss over him right there in the correct potty spot. Tell him what a great dog he is and then invite him upstairs. For a few days, you might need to lure him by putting a tiny bit of tasty food like cheese or meat on every step and then a trail into the bedroom with a jackpot of treats in the room. After a couple days, you can stretch this out so it's every other step or every third step. As he begins to regain his confidence, you can put one treat on the middle step, one at the top and a jackpot in the bedroom (without the trail). then, just one at the top step and jackpot in the bedroom. And finally, when he's happy and eager to go to bed, you can reduce this to give just a single treat in the bedroom.
Make the whole thing a game. Soft, sweet and inviting voice. "Fido, let's go to bed and have your bedtime yummies!" Or some similar phrase that inclines you to speak with that super sweet and cheery voice.
The purpose of this process is not bribery, but rather to create a conditioned emotional response. In other words, something has caused him fear surrounding the bedtime routine. So, we are going to change the bedtime routine to something that is very clearly rewarding for him in an effort to change his current "Uh-oh" response to something more like, "Oh yea! It's time for bedtime yummies!!!"
I'm not sure I understand why being close to your due date means you can't close the bedroom door to keep him in your room at night so he doesn't wander. Is there another barrier option you could employ? Maybe a baby gate at the door so that your door is open, but he still cannot leave the room? Or a baby gate at the top of the stairs? You'll need that when the baby arrives anyway, so this would be a good opportunity to practice and help give him a chance to get used to this change.
In fact, I encourage you to look at some websites that focus on dog/baby relationships and start prepping all dogs in the house for the new arrival. it will be a vastly different daily life for the dogs and so the more you can prepare them for the changes, the better they will be able to adapt.
Dogs and Storks is a useful resource
These are just a few resources out there to help you prepare the dogs for being "older siblings"
Anyway, back on topic, I would encourage creating a very pleasant experience around bedtime so that he feels better about that routine. And then find a suitable barrier option so that he cannot sneak downstairs unattended.
Also, now that I'm thinking about it, you said he is getting off his own bed. I wonder if something happened on the bed. Have you tried washing it? Or putting some recently worn clothing of yours on his bed so it smells like you and your partner as this might help him feel safe there again. Or, if that doesn't work, I might try a new bed and then put recently worn clothing on the new bed so that it takes on familiar family smells.
I hope this proves somewhat helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of more assistance.
Good luck! And congratulations, again, on the baby.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Dog behavior specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicince
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Jody,
Thank you so much for your response. I'll put some thoughts into your points.
I should have mentioned, we do make a big fuss with hugs and kisses when he does something right. I ignore the bad behaviour though, although I feel like he does this to get more attention. This may be me assigning a human reaction to his behaviour and i'll try stop tbat!
Regarding his bed, he loves his bed. He loves sleeping so much. As I type this I am watching him lie spread eagled on it, happy little sausage with not a care in the world and he won't move this morning until he absolutely has to.
And then finally re door, babies room is down the hall and she'll move in there in a few weeks, but the monitor we have doesn't seem to work that well through 2 closed doors. But i'll look for a contraption of sorts. Thank you for the baby wishes and links. I'll keep reading up on it!
Thanks again. I'll try remember to send an update
Thank you for your response and clarifications. It definitely is important that you're able to hear the new baby when s/he is in her/his own room. With that issue in mind, a baby gate either at your room to keep the dog in, or at the top of the stairs so he can't sneak down unattended would definitely be an option to manage the dog part while still allowing you to readily hear if baby is crying.
So, it sounds like it's about the time of day/bedtime routine and not about the bed itself. I would definitely focus on making the bedtime routine something pleasant as this is the most likely way to help him move through this issue, and return to a more normal routine for you. This includes happy verbal cues so that as you fade out the food part, your words will continue to have value to him. I failed to mention in the initial response, that the changes I'm suggesting would not likely nee to be implemented for more than a 2-6 weeks. He may take to the change (bed time treats all the way to bed, etc) in just a couple of days or it may take a week or so for him to come to trust it. But once he's trusting it ad readily playing along, you can fairly quickly reduce the amount of lure until it's just a single tiny bite at bedtime. And you can even reduce that so that he only actually gets a treat every 3rd or 4th day (randomly, sometimes two days in a row, sometimes maybe not for 8 or 9 days...) as this way he never knows when the treat is actually coming and he'll be more inclined to try to earn it.
Of course, if there's another dog/s in the house, they'll want to play this game too - so make sure they're able to participate as well. We don't want to create any resentment.
Good luck. Please let me know if I can be of any more help.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine