My dog is waking up in the middle of the night

I have received the following question from a client (Lucy and Bill) which I would like to share with you.

“my dog keeps waking up in the middle of the night for no reason.  It wasn’t a problem at first but now both myself and my partner are not getting a good nights sleep which is affecting our work and our moods!  Can you suggest anything to help us out?”

Hi Lucy,

I can understand that this can be a real problem issue for you and Bill.  Assuming that there are no medical, biological or environmental reasons, such as toilet needs, neighbours going to work early etc, which are making ‘Poppy’ wake up then we can put together a plan to help.  

As Poppy is a German Shepherd (GSD) she is bred to guard and she may developed a ‘need’ in her own head to get up at that time (she may have heard a noise one night) and quickly learned to expect this ‘disturbance’ every night and, because of this, has developed a routine of waking up in the middle of the night to go on patrol.

As we know Poppy is very likely to wake up through the night and at roughly what time then this is a behaviour that we can both pre-empt and deal with.  

It may seem counter-intuitive but we are going to take the ‘waking up’ decision out of Poppy’s hands.  As we know that Poppy wakes up at 3am or thereabouts then we should set our alarm for 2:55am.  When the alarm goes off get up and make a cup of coffee and go into the living room (where Poppy sleeps) sit down and drink your coffee.  Ensure that Poppy sees you but take care not to interact or acknowledge Poppy.  If Poppy wants to interact with you then request her to go back to bed and go elsewhere in the house to finish your drink.  Once you have finished your coffee go to bed, again, with no interaction to Poppy.

What we are doing here is breaking Poppy’s sleep but on our terms and let her know we have everything in hand and there is no need for her to worry.  From herein we will be looking to manage Poppy’s sleeping pattern with the objective, within 8 nights, of getting Poppy, and yourselves, to enjoy a full nights sleep unbroken.

To do this repeat the exercise above but in night 2 set the alarm for 3:05am.  The next night set it for 3:20am, then 3:45am, then 4:15am, then 5am, then 6am and then 6:30am (your normal wake up time).  It is a pain to do this but, hopefully, a short term pain with a long term gain.  We know our sleep was going to be broken anyway but at least, in this program, we are in control of this and, as such, we are teaching Poppy that you are the night guard and not Poppy.  This will reassure Poppy that you have everything under control and she will earn to relax throughout the night.  The key is not to interact and be calm, assertive and succinct should you need to issue Poppy any type of instruction.

If at any time Poppy wakes up before you then don’t worry and just go back a step in the program the next night and rebuild.

I hope this helps.  Let me know how you get on.

Regards

Den.