Barks and Howls in the Night

Cockerpoo lying down with his toyAs a puppy Cockerpoo Monty would settle well in his crate at night. Gradually he has become more and more unsettled until now, at three years old, his owners have every night interrupted three or four times by Monty who initially gives a bark as though to say ‘did anyone hear me?’. Then he starts to howl.

If left, he may stop after a few minutes before starting again a short while later, and so it continues. They worry about their son upstairs who is studying for exams and about disturbing their closest neighbour.

So, they go down to him.

Monty did have one night in the teenage daughter’s bedroom but he was no quieter than when left downstairs in the small room. For the last couple of nights the lady has slept downstairs on the sofa with him. This hasn’t been enough though. He still barks and howls!

Wherever he is now, he howls in the night.

Possibly he wants the mum and dad to both be with him together. A clue could be out on family runs when they run off in different directions, Monty charges around in a frantic panic trying to catch up with one and then the other .

On looking at all aspects of Monty’s life, the roots of this behaviour seem to be in various places. The most obvious reason, in addition to pining when away from them, is that he does it because it works. If he does it for long enough, even when they think they have just ‘left him’ to cry, eventually someone does come to him.

I believe another reason for his unsettled nights is that in their quest to tire him out they are actually over-stimulating him. They run him for several miles some days. There is a saying ‘a tired dog is a good dog’, but that means healthily tired – not exhausted and highly aroused.

Highly aroused dogs are stressed. Stress causes physical changes in the body which releases certain stress hormones into the bloodstream. These stress hormones don’t just instantly dissipate. They hang around and build up.

We have discussed punctuating Monty’s usually sleepy evenings with very short bouts of gentle owner-induced activity – things like hunting, quiet training games, going outside for a few minutes on a ‘sniff’ walk and foraging for food to name a few, so he can go to bed ‘healthy tired’.

Undoubtedly the barking and howling has now become learned behaviour. At night-time he goes happily into the small room and it’s the same routine. One person says good night and shuts the door. A little later the other opens the door, says good night and shuts the door again. They go up to bed. Then, no sooner than they lie down than they hear the first bark.

To break the habit aspect I suggest that they change the routine and that Monty now sleeps in a totally different place – somewhere less easily heard from the bedrooms or by the neighbour. He used to love his crate and still has one in the car, so they are going to get a crate back and put it the kitchen. The rule has now to be that nobody ever comes down to him again in that location unless he’s quiet.

The other alternative of course, but which like many people they understandably don’t want, is to have Monty sleeping in their bedroom.

Monty has some general separation issues and these will need working on. He barks or howls if a door is shut on him even when he still has someone in the room with him. We looked at all the other things in his day that could be wiring him up for a restless night, including boisterous play, the long walks and runs, a late meal and the barking at noises etc. that could be dealt with in a better way. They will double-check for any physical discomfort.

In their efforts to control him better they have tried everything they can think of, most recently withdrawing a lot of their attention. No longer does he get his cuddles on the sofa which makes everyone unhappy. I say bring back cuddles on the sofa!

There are several other pieces of the jigsaw that I feel will help Monty but basically the learned behaviour aspect has to be overcome, the separation aspect needs working and he needs more suitable fulfillment and less over-stimulation.

If you have a dog that howls in the night, the solutions I planned for Monty may well not be appropriate or relevant to your own situation, which is why having an experienced professional to assess and help you and your own dog is essential.

Monty is a beautiful dog with a wonderful home. Given time, consistency and perseverance all will be well in the end, I’m sure.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Monty, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the methods to be used. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Stressed Border Collie

Highly stressed Border Collie Coco is panting

Coco

Coco looks a little like Basil Brush, with one ear up and the other down! She’s an unusual colour for a Border Collie. This is the best photo I could manage, because she was pacing  all the evening.

She lives with a much calmer Border Collie, Shep. The fact the two of them are exactly the same age though from different backgrounds and both treated the same by their owner, just shows the importance of stable genetic makeup.

Apparently I saw Coco at her worst as she was already unusually hyped up before I arrived. She had had a particularly stimulating walk involving lots of ball play, and there was Trick or Treat out in the street. There may have been other happenings during the day contributing to the build up of her stress levels. Once things get to this stage there is little one can do. From the moment we mentioned the ‘W’ word in conversation, she was pacing to and from the door, whining, panting and jumping onto people. This carried on for over three hours. Restraining her in any way simply made her worse, or made her redirect onto poor Shep.

The  perpetual stress results in her being reactive to dogs and scared of people, chasing traffic, barking in the car at anything moving and being especially frantic around small children who visit. Consequenlty her owner is anxious, and clever Coco will know this.

Where it’s tempting to spray with a water pistol to simply stop her barking at children, or to physically scold and hold her back from moving vehicles, this is not dealing with the problem. Techniques like this will only associate children and traffic with more unpleasant stuff.

The problem has to be dealt with at source by removing all stress possible, and looking at the sort of rules and boundaries that would make a dog feel secure. Often things that dogs seem to love like prolonged ball play, walks preceeded by frantic excitement and lots of running about in general, can prove just too much. Coco loves brain work and I feel this is healthier stimulation for her at the moment. At home, although well trained so far as commands are concerend, she has few restrictions, and may feel safer with some physical boundaries and rules.

I would prefer a stable dog with little formal training to an unstable dog that that is highly trained. ‘Training’ is the icing on the cake. We need to get the cake right first. Collies like Coco who came from a farm, being extremely intelligent working dogs who are no longer doing what they are bred for, can be a challenge. People so often think that hours of running around and stimulation can replace hours of waiting patiently beside a shepherd, running off when commanded to do their job, and then returning when instructed. Where they go and what they do is controlled by their master and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. What Coco does and where she goes is largely controlled by herself, and the relationship between her and her owner is not sufficiently defined to give Coco confidence in her.

So, giving Coco fair, consistent physical boundaries and working on reducing excitement and lowering her stress levels will do wonders for her I am sure.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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