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Our year-old golden retriever has been having a hard time going to sleep at night lately. During the day, when nobody is around, he sleeps fine. However, at night, he digs at the bed, barks, and pants like he's stressed out.

I play with him and walk him from the moment I get home (~6 PM) until I try going to sleep (10 or so), but he usually won't actually go to sleep until after midnight.

He sleeps in the bedroom with us and is free to wander the house, though he typically stays in the room and will sometimes join us on the bed. Lately, he's been digging at the bed a lot and pulling on the sheets.

This behavior started around the time we moved to a new house about a month ago (though I don't think it was the night we moved in) and has gotten significantly worse since my wife left for vacation.

The last time we took him to a vet was about 6 months ago. He's very energetic and playful — he doesn't seem sick.

Any idea of what I can do to help him sleep so that I can sleep at night?

  • Please give us more information about the situation: Where does your dog sleep? In another room or with you? Is he in a crate or can he move freely? Did this start the day you moved into the new house? Did something significant happen at night around the time this behavior started? How long ago did it start? When was he last checked by a vet? – Elmy Jul 19 at 19:47
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Let's go through a few ideas of what could have caused this behaviour:

  • Something causes your dog discomfort. It could be a stomach-ache from food he doesn't quite tolerate or there could be some sound you cannot hear but that keeps him awake, like a sonic rodent repeller or a TV or AC that runs till midnight.

  • He is in pain and cannot find a comfortable sleeping position. Maybe your playing in the afternoon makes the pain worse and after a night's sleep it's better to a point where he acts normal.

  • Something significant happened at night and he's anxious it might happen again. Could be someone having a nightmare, a fire alarm going off, or (as happened with friends of mine) armies of cockroaches swarming in from every crack in every wall without anyone noticing for weeks.

  • His anxiety was caused by the move to the new house and irrationally spiraled out of control. This house smelled different and not like "home". For some reason we cannot comprehend, the anxiety got worse instead of better.

I propose you first try to find rational causes. Could there be anything in or behind the walls? Are there cars parked nearby that could have a sonic rodent repeller installed? Try sleeping with the window closed for a night if it's usually opened. Try to play more metal games than physical ones for a few days (have a look at this post for inspiration). Maybe let a vet make a blood test for signs of inflamation.

If none of that makes any difference, anxiety becomes more and more probable as the cause.

You could try getting or making him a new dog bed. Make it as comfortable as possible by padding the bottom and offering an edge like an armrest so he can curl up and lay down. Put a worn t-shirt in it to have your personal scent make it more attractive to your dog. Position it in the bedroom where you'd like your dog to sleep.

Then teach him to go into his bed on command. Reward him with words or treats every time he goes, but never reprimand him if he doesn't.

If he gets restless at night, give him the command to go to bed and reward him with words. You could pet him for a few minutes, if he's close enough, but in general the mood should be calm and sleepy. If he gets back up again, give him the command again in a calm voice. You must absolutely avoid any kind of excitement or nervousness.

A very slight snoring is a verbal cue for dogs that everything is safe and peachy and they can relax. I don't mean the heavy snoring like a lumberjack. Just relax your throat and let the air stream become audible at the back of your throat. A heavy sigh through your nose is another such "relaxing" cue for a dog.

After your dog lies down in his bed, sigh very deeply and start the slight snoring to tell him that it's time to relax and sleep.

  • Thanks, this gives me some things to try. I'll definitely take him to the vet if things don't improve in a week or so. – Robert Starr Jul 20 at 18:50
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I tend to think that your pup is just having issues adapting to the new environment. Turn off all of your lights before bed tonight, then look and listen. Try to experience the house the way your dog does.

If the drapes are open, are shadows being cast into the room? Do the shadows move? Think tree branches outside reacting to the wind. Your dog might not understand what that is and it could spook him.

What about noises? When the house is "quiet", can you hear the water heater? The HVAC system? The ice maker? Those are things that we tend to ignore because we can explain them. Your dog could just be unfamiliar with the new noises... and, as a result, is a bit anxious about them.

Once you determine the cause, you can reassure him. If your dog seems alerted when the HVAC kicks it, just tell him, that's ok. If shadows are playing across the rug and seem to disappear under the bed, close the drapes. If the rooms are too dark, put a couple low led night lights in various spots throughout the house.

If you can't figure out what could possibly be the issue, then consider the exterior environment. A neighborhood cat could be perching on the windowsill, looking in. A raccoon could be foraging through the trash cans making a ruckus. Not obvious to us, but things that might make your dog think he needs to protect you.

I feel certain that your dog is reacting to something. Just take some time to try and figure out what it is.

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