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It's 4:30am as I'm writing this. I'm very sleep deprived as a result of my dog and as you might be able to imagine, it's wearing me out.

My medium/large male German Shepard mix dog stays inside the house. His normal bed is a comfy bed in the living room. There's three of us who live here but I'm the one he's mostly attached to because I'm the only one who feeds him, exercises him, bathes him, everything so I'm everything to him. I take him out in the yards every night about 10pm for his final bathroom time. He always does No.1 or No 2 or both consistently. Then we go back inside.

I have tile floors throughout the house. Inevitably, just about every night, I'll awaken to the sound of his nails clicking on the tile as he paces outside of just my door. Then he'll whine, whimper and huff and sniff deeply and loudly all around the edges of my door to wake me at any given hour between bedtime and 5/6 am. He'll keep at it for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Our healthiest sleep is uninterrupted sleep. He'll also repeat this behavior multiple times per night.

I've gotten up sometimes finally see what's the matter. Although there's been some times when he's legitimately needed to go outside for a bathroom visit, there's been more times where it's absolutely nothing of importance. I'll only check on him when he's extra exaggerated, like this night. I got up to finally see what it was and he just ran in my bedroom. I insisted that he go outside with me and he did but he didn't want to initially. We were outside and he just sat down. Uggggh! We came back in and I told him to go to bed. He did and hasn't been back to my door. I can't keep doing that at all hours!

I'm definitely feeling the affects of being wakened multiple times almost every night (this has been going on for years). I may get two or three nights a week of uninterrupted sleep, but that's not enough.

Exercise. Exercise is the answer, right? No. Regardless if I run him up to 6 miles/9km per day, he's right there most nights outside of my door making noise, trying his best to wake me up.

Let him in. Let him sleep sleep with me, right? No. I've tried this. He's a extremely noisy sleeper! He dreams constantly so he'll growl, bark, run, even howl in his sleep all the time! When he runs in his sleep, his nails click and clack loudly against whatever might be near him. I thought this used to be cute and he'd outgrow when he became an adult but it's as prevalent now as it was when he was a few months old. He also gets up multiple times and roams around in and out of my bedroom or comes to the side on my bed and checks if I'm still there. All the while his nails clicking clicking clicking on the tile. His size is a factor here, if he was a little dog, I could probably stand it.

Wear ear plugs. Wear ear plugs, right? No. 1. They really bother me for sleeping. 2. I usually pull them out in my sleep if by chance I'm able to fall asleep with them in. 3. I can't use them during the week for fear I won't hear my alarm in the morning. Also, I'm afraid of not waking up in case of an emergency i.e. fire, intruder, etc. The other two in the house could sleep through a hurricane without waking up.

Treats at his bed at bedtime. I've consistently tried different treats he loves like banana, peanut butter at his bed at bedtime at his bed and this fixes nothing.

I've tried putting barriers like boxes and such in the hallway that leads to my door but he'll knock them down making so much more noise.

I'm at my wits end. He's 7 years old and I shutter to think how many more years of this is remaining.

I've looked at numerous websites and countless comments regarding this same scenario but have yet to try and be successful with any of the solutions that have been suggested. The one I have not tried is going to see a trainer. That's probably what most of you would mainly suggest after reading all this pre dawn frustration.

I'll still take and good suggestions into consideration.

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  • My best recommendation is indeed ear plugs. There are different brands of different quality and the most comfortable for me are Ohropax. I tried many different brands and cheap ones tend to irritate my ears. The brightly colored Ohropax are slightly smaller than the pinkish ones, so you have slight adjustments for the size of your ear canal. Personally, I hear my alarm clock and other noises with the ear plugs in, so I think it's worth a second try.
    – Elmy
    Nov 14, 2023 at 5:51
  • Thank you for your reply. Nov 14, 2023 at 7:23

2 Answers 2

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If your dog actually has to go potty an unusual amount of times or has suddenly become very restless, a vet check-up is always a good idea.

How does your dog behave during the day? Is he able to calm down and rest? Has he shown similar behaviour when you leave the house without him or even just ignore him for a minute? To me, what you’re describing sounds like it could be separation anxiety. Even if you haven’t noticed similar things during the day, it’s still possible because dogs learn in context, so being left in the morning for work might be okay but being left alone at night might not be.

I can imagine this being a very stressful issue to live with, especially since lack of sleep will influence every part of your life and also your patience with training. If it actually is separation anxiety, and it has been going on for such a long time, training might take a while and take some dedication from you. Your job would be to find the point at which his anxiety is triggered (when you close the door? after a minute or so? when it gets dark? when you stop giving attention?) and start practising at a stage slightly lower than that, so he doesn’t get triggered, and building up in small steps from there (for example, close the door and open it again). While usually I’m a big advocate for food rewards, in this case I would probably avoid them because if you give a treat before going away he won’t notice you leaving until he finishes eating and would then get stressed. If you give a treat upon your return, he will have even more reason to anxiously await it.

It might be a good idea to look for a dog trainer you trust, who can support you on this journey and give you someone to talk when it gets difficult. Always avoid any trainers who use methods of pain, intimidation, “dominance” or who promise you wondersolutions. And always use your own judgment (this counts for my advice as well because I can’t possibly know your entire situation or what exactly is going on in your dogs head).

One of the main issues is that while training is still ongoing, locking him out all night and living him alone with his stress will likely ruin your progress. So you need a solution for that phase. Maybe Elmy’s earplug recommendation would be a good idea.

Concerning barriers: Babygates work great and can’t be toppled over. If you have an area that you can keep him in at night, maybe you can lay down carpets or blankets to avoid the nails clicking.

Concerning excercise: More isn’t always better. Yes, dogs need to get moving and thinking, but it is equally if not more important for them to learn how to relax.

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If all else fails... I've been the designated trainer to break a cat of knocking things off tables to get attention at night. I boarded him for several weeks and pretty quickly taught him that if he wanted to sleep with the human that was unacceptable behavior -- he got put on the wrong side of the door, and I'm perfectly comfortable with earplugs. They don't interfere much with my hearing the alarm, when I want to hear the alarm.

I'm told he took the lesson home with him when his humans retrieved him.

Whether it would work with your dog. I don't know. I will say that I seem to have no trouble hearing alarms through the earplugs, as long as I go to sleep wanting to hear them. Of course I'm also better than some at ignoring machine noises when I don't want to pay attention to them, so my experience may be atypical.

Now if I could just make myself teach my own cat that poking at me to ask to be let under the covers was unacceptable... As I say, it may be easier for someone else to teach this limit.

I'll also add: given a few weeks, you will accept the toenails and snuffling as normal nighttime sounds and mostly stop hearing them, just as you do for other communities n household noises. If it's not active scratching at the door, just sniffing to make sure you're still there, this may be a the best answer. You can train apes as well as dogs, and that includes the ape we're riding around in. Meet the pooch halfway.

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