Ask a Trainer: My dog keeps waking me up at 3am!

A reader writes:

Hi Anne…
So you’ve met Freddy. He and Jake have still not seemed to be able to sleep through the whole night. Mostly it’s him though. I think he wakes Jake up.
They sleep in their crates. They go down about 8-8:30 pm. He cries and whines at around 3 every morning. If we don’t respond he barks. I let them out to pee and when they come in they go right to their bowls. They pace between the eating area and where I keep the food. I give them 2 cups each and they eat it in under a minute. Then they play for an hour or 2 then nap when I leave for work 6:30.
I feed them 2 cups each at night around 5 pm and then 1/2 cup around 7:30 (that’s new). Even if they go to bed later, even 10 or 11 still the early wake up. I’m exhausted. Again it’s mostly Freddy but Jake goes along too.
Recently Freddy has been wanting to sleep outside the crate and we let him. He sleeps on a bed next to Jake’s crate. We tried separating them and they were up all night crying. But still he cries at 3 am.
They are in their crates during the day from 7am to 2:30 pm while my son is in school but once they are out they are active. They run around the backyard for a long time playing.

Is this hopeless?

No, not hopeless! That’s the good news! The bad news is that it sounds like they have established this routine and breaking it is going to be hard. There are a couple external factors that might be at play:

There’s a chance there is some sort of noise that is waking them up at 3am. For example, maybe that’s a time a neighbor goes to work and the dogs are getting woken up by a car door slamming. There’s not really much we can do in this case unless you want to play some background noise in the middle of the night.

The next thing to consider is whether or not they really have to go potty at that time. Most animals, humans included, need to potty when we wake up so it’s likely they really do have to pee and/or poo. One thing we can do to help mitigate their bladders waking them up is to feed them earlier. I think you probably started the 7:30pm snack because you were trying to keep them from getting hungry. However, that may be causing them to need to poop in the night which could solve the hunger problem…but doesn’t actually solve your 3am wake-up problem.  Let’s experiment with cutting that out. Instead, we can try supplementing their regular dinner with foods that have more fiber. Green beans and broccoli are safe for dogs to eat, have a lot of fiber, and most dogs like those foods. The extra fiber can help slow down their digestion and make them feel fuller for longer.

The last part of this equation is the accidental reward for their behavior. You’ve been getting up when they cry which is a normal human response! However, they have now learned that all they need to do to get out of their crates, go outside, and get breakfast is to bark at you. We need to teach them this behavior no longer works. This will be hard and it will suck!

To do this, you’re going to start ignoring the barking. Investing in a pair of earplugs may be a wise choice! Since you’ll be awake already…I want you to wait for quiet and THEN the dogs get let out of their crates. They have learned barking = let out. We need to retrain them to understand that quiet=let out. I know this part is going to be hard and frustrating, but it will be worth the effort! A few more weeks of lost sleep because of this training is a much better scenario than 10 more years of lost sleep because they continue to bark at 3am. I’ve actually been through this with both of my boys that I got as puppies. Something that helped was putting a blanket over their crate so I couldn’t see them. That way, it was less likely for them to know that they were waking me up. This also means that they can’t see me getting tense and frustrated with them. It increases the perception that barking now gets ZERO response from you.

Please try these things for a few weeks and then shoot me an email with an update! If things still aren’t better, then I’ll throw out a few more scenarios for you to try. Best of luck!

UPDATE: Make sure to check out PART TWO here!

7 days to a better dog