How do we stop the midnight barking?
June 22, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How do I convince my (possibly senile) dog to stop barking in the middle of the night?

I found other Ask posts about excessive barking, but most of them seem to be about the dog's response to specific stimuli, while our dog seems to be responding to nothing in particular.

We have an elderly (11 or 12 y.o.) Mt. View Cur that we inherited from my mother-in-law about a year ago. He is a very docile, laid-back angel most of the time, and has usually slept without incident on his bed just outside our bedroom door. However, about a week ago he started going down to the bottom of the stairs (we are upstairs) sometime between 2 and 5 a.m., backing into the corner of the foyer, and barking. These are single, higher-pitched barks, sometimes accompanied by whines, as though he's trapped somewhere and wants out -- but he's in an open space, and even has a doggy door to come and go from the back yard as he pleases.

Getting up and calling to him or comforting him seems to encourage him to do it again later in the night. Getting up and giving him a firm "No!" usually quiets him for the night, but by then the damage is done to our night's sleep -- and he just starts up again the next night. Earplugs or white-noise machines probably would not work, and wouldn't fly with my husband anyway; he's an ex-cop and would want to be aware of a strange noise in the house.

When we first inherited the dog we tried letting him sleep in our bedroom, but he made noises throughout the night (scratching, licking, etc.) that kept us awake, or bumped the bed to get petting/attention. He's been sleeping fine just outside the door for months now, though. We haven't changed our routine, so we have no idea where this is coming from. Personality wise, he is extremely submissive, if that's relevant. His age may be a factor, but his possible senility notwithstanding -- how do we stop it? We are exhausted.
posted by Ladybug Parade to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would suggest taking him to the vet for a check-up.

If there's nothing physically wrong that's causing the dog to bark, then the vet may be able to prescribe a mild sedative that you could give to him before bedtime to help him sleep though the night. Good luck!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 8:48 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the first poster: absolutely take him for a checkup. Your dog may be aware of a problem that it is more sensitive to. Perhaps just making your dog comfortable, by bringing his food, water and bedding to your door, will help? However, there are some solutions that you should avoid. Don't muzzle him overnight, you don't want to keep a muzzle on for an extended period of time.
posted by kensch at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2009

A single high-pitched bark like that is an alert the pack and wait for instructions bark-- essentially 'hey, you need to take a look at this'.

If the foyer where he's backing himself into a corner is near a door, I'd say he's adopting a defensive posture against possible invaders. And that in turn would mean there's probably something outside, something he may not be entirely comfortable confronting by himself, such as a threatening other dog or a big raccoon, or a person. This is a hunting breed, and reacting to the presence of other animals is what he was born for.

I'd try installing a motion-sensitive light outside where he's positioning himself to try to scare whatever it is off (though I recognize there may be some complications because he'll set it off himself when he goes out if it's outside his doggy door).
posted by jamjam at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You know dogs are very sensitive to things that we are not aware of and you should really consider having someone test for ectoplasmic residue as soon as possible!

/Seriously though ... in my experience, that kind of barking is kind of like him yelling "Hey, I'm separated from my pack and I'm all alone and scared! Please, pack members, come rescue me!". Solution = let him into your room at night.
posted by Dave. at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2009

I would interpret backing into the foyer wall and barking as asking to be taken for a walk. Is it getting enough exercise?

I also wonder if there is a predator out there it wants help hunting.
posted by jwells at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2009

Can he hold it at night? Because if he can, you might try blocking his access to to the stairs by way of a baby gate. He doesn't need to go downstairs if he's not going outside, right? Keep him on the second floor with you and see what happens. FWIW, one of my dogs barking an alert bark into a specific corner repeatedly would freak me out and cause me to break out the holy water, but that's just me.
posted by crankylex at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2009

You are going to get as many different interpretations of the behavior as you have responders :)

Keep in mind that dogs do not start doing things no reason. The vet trip is a good idea, that will help you determine if there is an organic issue. However, I suspect that you have probably never really looked around when this is going on to see if you can determine what the dog is reacting to (It is the wee sleepy hours of the morning after all). Realize that the dog may be upset by things you might dismiss on a subconscious level or simply cannot directly perceive. If he is vocalizing, then he is probably trying to communicate something, it's up to you to figure out what.

It's going to take some investigation and some patience on your part to figure it out. Try not to get too frustrated with him, because that can only make things worse for all of you.
posted by Lord Widebottom at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: You have my sympathy, my dog used to do this when she was about that age. She'd sit at the bottom of the stairs, back to the wall, and whine or yip up the stairs. In her case it was a combination of her declining vision and arthritis, she had trouble climbing the stairs and couldn't see very well in the dark. She wanted to be with me, but couldn't make it up to my room.

Is it possible that he's starting to have trouble with stairs? Have you tried leaving a light on for him? Maybe he's going downstairs in the middle of the night to get a drink or go out, and then not being able to get back up to his bed?
posted by sarahmelah at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

How close are your neighbors? Could the dog be reacting to someone who routinely comes home between those hours like a bartender?
posted by Atom12 at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers! I hadn't though about critters outside, jamjam -- that is a definite possibility. And he's been to the vet recently for some allergy and heartburn issues (he's being medicated for both), but it might be worthwhile to take him back and mention this problem specifically. Jwells, good point about exercise -- we've had so many rainstorms here lately that he hasn't been getting as much as he's used to.

Since we're not interested in scientific testing at this point, just making it stop, we'll probably try all these things.

(And to the half-serious questions about the house being haunted, I will half-seriously answer that yes, the house is totally haunted. My husband's grandfather built the house, and over the generations, grandparents and great-grandparents have passed away in its various bedrooms. They're all family though, so it's all good.)
posted by Ladybug Parade at 10:13 AM on June 22, 2009

Maybe you have mice in your walls.
posted by rhizome at 10:16 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Sarahmelah, we have wondered about his vision. And he does have some joint troubles that make him hesitant about stairs sometimes. Your situation definitely sounds very similar to ours.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2009

My friend's dog was 17 and he would bark for no reason. My friend theorized that since his vision was bad, he'd think he saw something in the backyard... heck, maybe he did see movement as shadows... and that's what he'd bark at.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:20 PM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Well, last night we tried leaving the light on over the stairs, and no barking. Fingers crossed...
posted by Ladybug Parade at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2009

Response by poster: Several weeks after the fact, I just want to update with what finally, really worked, in case anyone looks at this as a reference later: Letting him sleep at the foot of our bed. I know I said it wasn't an option because husband was against it because of all the noises the dog makes, but in the end, we bought a white-noise machine and husband is dealing fine. Our dog just wanted to be near his Alpha.

As a friend put it when we told him about this: "So, in the end, the dog won?" Yeah, he did.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 7:10 AM on July 24, 2009

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