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It’s late. Bedtime. You’ve just snuggled up under the comforter, flipped off the light, turned off your phone. It’s bedtime but not to your pup. They’re just getting started.
If your dog’s barking and whining is keeping you awake at night or, worse yet, waking you up hours before your alarm, you’re not alone; this is one of the most common wrinkles that need ironing out in your relationship with your dog.
Most commonly, it’s a problem with a simple, and often accidental, origin: without realizing it, you’ve taught your dog that barking and whining will bring them your attention, no matter what time of day or night. The solution, unfortunately, is not quite as effortless.
First things first, how did your dog pick up this frustrating, sleep-depriving habit? Dogs bark and whine for a variety of different reasons, most frequently to alert the family to a disturbance, out of anxiety or fear, or for attention.
Isolation distress—anxiety around being left alone—and/or confinement distress—anxiety around being inside of a crate or X-pen—can play a major role in barking at night but, for many dogs, the problem is simply one of the following:
- At one time you allowed your dog to sleep in the bed but have revoked the privilege;
- You’ve recently adopted your pup and they have not yet learned to sleep through the night;
- You’ve attempted to soothe your dog’s barking by going to them and petting them or freeing them from a confined space.
Of these, it’s #3 that gets most pups. When you go to your dog to quiet or soothe them when they bark at night, you are teaching them that barking and whining brings you running. And once they learn that lesson, it’s a hard one to forget.
So now what? There is a solution to this problem but you’re not going to like it. In order to stop a dog from barking and whining for attention at night, you have to convince them that barking and whining will NOT bring you to them.
- You must convince your dog that barking and whining will get them absolutely nowhere. In other words, to fix this problem, you have to ignore it.
- The key is to not respond—don’t go to your dog, don’t call out soothing words or holler at them, don’t let them out of their confined space.
- If you comfort your dog even once, you give them reason to believe that barking sometimes gets them what they want. If they get what they want some of the time, they have no reason to change their behavior.
- If your dog is not rewarded with attention for barking and whining at night, they have no reason to whine and bark at night; they eventually will stop the behavior because their strategy no longer brings you.
Off the bat, let me tell you, this won’t be easy. When you are trying to change a behavior like barking at night, you will experience an “extinction burst” which, essentially, means that the barking will get worse before it gets better as your dog tries desperately to communicate using a strategy that previously worked.
Of course, this also means that your sleep is going to get worse before it gets better. Make things easier on yourself by using earplugs and playing white noise.
If you don’t have a legitimate reason for confining your dog at night in another room, X-pen or crate (i.e., your pup is not yet housebroken), allowing them to sleep in your bedroom or even in your bed is perfectly fine.
You are not creating bad habits or separation anxiety in your dog by allowing them to sleep with you.
Some studies even suggest that allowing a dog to sleep in bed with you will give you a better night’s sleep, and not just because your dog is less likely to bark or whine.
Sometimes, the simplest solution to the problem is the one you were secretly hoping for all along: a cozy night’s sleep with your dog at your side.
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