We're the neighbors with the barky dog. HELP!
January 18, 2013 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Our dog has started staying up at night and barking loudly. We can't sleep, we can't quiet him down, and I'm really afraid he's pissing off the neighbors.

We have a wonderful 12-year-old chocolate lab who suffered minor injuries in a scary dog attack last fall has since been staying up at night occasionally, and barking loudly at nothing. This behavior started very intermittently at about the same time as the attack and has since ramped up to a major problem. It's almost every night now, and he does not quiet down in response to methods of discipline that worked in the past.

My wife and I are not sleeping properly as a result, and I am very anxious that he's disturbing our neighbors as well with his loud-ass barking up until 330 AM. He will go about an hour between barking fits, with periods of quiet in between. If I go to him and discipline by speaking firmly or moving him to another area away from his bed for a time he used to shut up and go to sleep afterwards but now he only quiets down for a little while, then starts back up.

As near as I can tell there's no change in the environment or his routine that is triggering this disruption. We're consulting with our Vet to find a solution but wanted to ask the hive mind for any unconventional methods to allow us all to sleep well at night. We are looking specifically for ways to keep the dog quiet, or ideally so he sleeps properly again.

We both work long hours and we check on him briefly during the day but we don't have time to engage him in any long-term training regimen.

I apologize for my scattered writing but I've had maybe 12 hours of sleep the last three days. We're at the end of our rope.
posted by BigLankyBastard to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
To address your title more than your actual question: Write a note to the effect of: "We are so sorry about the noise our beloved 12-year-old dog is making. We're working with our veterinarian to find a solution. If you have any ideas, we'd love to hear them! We know how annoying this must be, and we thank you for your patience as we try to ease our friend [Dogname] through this period. We have a box of earplugs available -- please come over to [address] and have a cookie and pick up some earplugs if you want." Put it on the front door of every house you think might be able to hear the dog. Add two houses in each direction.

If people take you up on it and visit, you can show them that the dog isn't dangerous and explain further what you're doing to fix the problem.
posted by Etrigan at 9:26 AM on January 18, 2013 [23 favorites]

Does proximity to you help at all? Can you leash him to your bed somehow and bring in something soft for him to sleep on? Might at least make correcting easier through the night. Other thought is crating - it could help him feel more secure. Might be worth a try even if he hasn't been crated previously. Sorry you and your buddy are going through this - sleep depravation makes everything a lot harder.
posted by handful of rain at 9:27 AM on January 18, 2013

Why would his barking disturb the neighbors? Do you keep him outside overnight? If you do pull him indoors. If you're in an apartment than like people have said above, get him closer to where you sleep, he could feel more secure sleeping with "the pack."
posted by Max Power at 9:32 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to canine dementia, I've heard of older dogs who start to lose their sight and become 'night blind' - it freaks them out and they start having problems at night such as restlessness and barking.

By going to the dog and 'correcting' him when he's barking, you're probably unknowingly rewarding the barking behavior. Sometimes any attention is good attention. If you can keep the dog close to the bed (with a leash, a crate, or other barriers), you can reward him for being quiet or when he stops barking.
posted by muddgirl at 9:35 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here is an article that's been helping me deal with a similar issue. In my case, it appears to be due to territorial issues. (She displays other territorial behavior -- we're seeing improvement and the barking happens less and less.)

Has your dog exhibited any other behavior changes that could help identify the trigger? Trauma can change dogs, but perhaps there's something specific that's happening at those times (planes flying over, a generator kicking on, etc) that is making him react?
posted by mochapickle at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2013

I've heard good things about the Thundershirt.
posted by dhartung at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Related to canine dementia, dogs sometimes start barking like this when they're losing their hearing.

The other possibility, though, is that your dog is hypervigilant now as a result of the attack, and is hearing things at night that you don't hear (distant dogs barking, etc.). If that's it, then you could try some kind of strong white noise, like an air purifier in the bedroom. Tethering or crating him would probably help as well--one of my dogs is very barky and excitable by nature and if he gets so worked up that he can't calm himself down, I just put a leash on him and he relaxes, maybe because he feels like someone else is in charge.
posted by HotToddy at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2013

I wonder if he'd feel safer in a crate by your bed?
posted by small_ruminant at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

And was just coming back to say Thundershirt! I know about half a dozen people personally who have had great success with it for all kinds of issues, not just thunder phobia. In fact I would give that a try first as it seems very likely to help regardless of the root cause.
posted by HotToddy at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2013

If your vet is not progressive when it comes to behavioral medication, you may want to try a Board-Certified Behavior specialist. There are lots of pharmaceutical options for behavior issues, but some of the more traditional, old-school vets out there are not up-to-date on them, or are resistant to trying them.

Meds may not be appropriate in your situation, but do look into them with a vet, because they can be very effective, very quickly.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The wife and I, ok mostly her, made our own thundershirt (via some picture taking of one in the store that probably violates some copyright law somewhere) for our dog that doesn't like car trips and I will say that it does have an impact on the dog's behavior. It acts as a calming device in an odd, not quite believable, way.

It probably won't be a complete solution but could help. In the meantime you could also try to medicate your lab with some anti-histamines like Dramamine. Confirm with the Internets for your dosages but it's something we use with that same car trip averse pup with moderate success. Again, probably not a long term solution but could give you some relief until the vet weighs in.

Is your dog kennel trained? Kennel training may be a bit of a 'wish we would have done it' for this scenario but I recommend it to all dog owners as a panacea for many, many problems they're having with their dogs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:55 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd guess this is classic PTSD, and that it happens at night because your dog is barking after waking up from one of the recurrent nightmares about the trauma that are a central feature of PTSD.

PTSD is pretty resistant to behavioral approaches, so I think you should try medications, starting with anti-anxiety drugs which might lessen the intensity of the fear he feels immediately after waking to the point he can control his barking.
posted by jamjam at 10:04 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

First... Etrigan's suggestion to send a note around to the neighbors regarding the barking is an excellent idea. We had neighbors with a chronic barker and had we gotten just a hint that they truly cared or even acknowledged the disturbance their dog was causing, I can promise we wold have been more than understanding and ready and willing to assist them in any way we could. You may even find neighbors willing to pop by to walk/play with him, just to give him some exercise and attention while you're both at work?

Second, have your tried loading a few Kongs with treats to distract him/keep him occupied overnight? We have found this to work keeping our dog occupied (read: quiet) during family gatherings. Also, seconding the Thundershirt. This may give him a feeling of comfort and if it doesn't do the trick, you can return it for a refund.

Wishing you all peaceful slumbers!
posted by poolsidemuse at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2013

Could also be related to aging and arthritis etc keeping the dog awake at night. If your dog is restless it could be reacting to outside noises etc more. Or it could be one of the signs of aging others have mentioned including a little dementia or night blindness etc making your dog more fearful. I'd get your dog checked out by your vet.

Thundershirts can be very calming in many situations. We have used pheromone collars on a dog with separation anxiety with pretty good results, not great but it helped. If your dog sleeps separate to you, you might consider letting it sleep in your room with you. Most dogs bark to alert the pack, if the dog is in with you and nervous but sees that the mystery noise that set the dog off is not bothering you then that might help your dog be calmer.
posted by wwax at 10:18 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our dog is too young for dementia to be an issue, but we do have a dog with a nightly barking problem. Our dog will bark at basically any sound she hears at night, and sometimes seems to wake herself up from a nightmare or something barking. Something that helps us is that we try to keep the bedroom as quiet as possible (top floor, windows closed) except for an oscillating fan, which seems to even out the sound of distant snow plows, neighbor dogs shaking their heads, etc. We've also put a barrier between her and the window that faces the street so she can't hang out getting more and more worked up on the potentially louder side of the room. We've also worked with a trainer (primarily for other issues) who thought that training away protective barking in general would help with the night-time habit, and I think it has helped some. Basically, whenever she starts barking out the window at a passing dog (during the day), we say "that's enough!" and calmly lead her into another room where she gets a high-value treat that takes a few seconds to consume (chicken jerky.) This stops her from getting more and more aroused by outdoor sounds during the day, and it seems like lowering her overall arousal level helps her (and therefore us) sleep better at night.

I should also mention that our trainer thinks (because of the night-barking) our dog might be helped by antidepressants. We haven't pursued it because our training is going really well as it is, but you might talk to your vet (or another vet who has psychiatric expertise) about whether something like this might help your dog.

Best of luck. I know what the adrenaline of the very loud sudden dog bark near your head at night is feels like. Not fun.
posted by juliapangolin at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2013

Our downstairs neighbor has a dog that bark bark bark bark barks constantly. He barks so much that it aggravates my dog, who barks to excess so rarely that the last time he did the neighbors rushed up thinking I was being axe murdered or something. I agree with jamaro that given his age and symptoms it could be potentially related to dementia. The vet is probably going to give you meds for him, but I would also try locking the dog in the bedroom with you at night, proximity to his people might help him. Also try a thundershirt, I know a ton of folks who love them.
posted by crankylex at 11:00 AM on January 18, 2013

I just went through something similar with my 12 year old Boston Terrier, and the barking (and in our case crying) was happening before and after seizures. Not directly before and after but for weeks on either side. The first time we didn't know about the seizure, but the second two times we saw the seizure. This was greatly helped by anti-seizure meds.
posted by hrj at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2013

Keep him by your bed, it may calm him down a bit. Also, is he getting enough exercise so that he has expended some of his energy? A good run in the day should help.
posted by pakora1 at 11:27 AM on January 18, 2013

This was greatly helped by anti-seizure meds.

My parents have had dogs that needed these meds - they are basically phenobarbital. Check with your vet - maybe a small dose at bedtime would calm him down a bit? If he's inside at night, and you're in a house, I'd be surprised if the neighbors could hear him at all (unless you're in a duplex of some kind).
posted by jquinby at 11:31 AM on January 18, 2013

First... Etrigan's suggestion to send a note around to the neighbors regarding the barking is an excellent idea

Absolutely, I had neighbors with a barky dog--more like a series of more and less barky dogs--and the neighbors were super responsive and friendly about it and it was actually a good way to get to know them. Being really proactive about this can definitely help; my anxiety was, at the beginning, "Oh god what if the dog barks for an hour and I can't sleep?!" and the neighbors were really nice explaining what they were doing and what I should let them know about (if the dog was barking for more than 5-10 minutes, in their case) and it made me feel like we were all working towards the same solution, ultimately.

I also have a friend with a tense dog who has a thundershirt and it seems to help her a lot with her random "AAAAAA" sorts of responses to occasional random things. I wish you the best working on this.
posted by jessamyn at 1:17 PM on January 18, 2013

Nthing the Thundershirt with the caveat that it doesn't work for every dog, but when it works, it really works well. It really helped with my Brandy's nervousness after the New Year's Eve fireworks. Also nthing bringing your dog into your bedroom with you, dogs do feel more comfortable when they are with their people. Also, someone mentioned putting a crate in your room which is an excellent idea, my Brandy will go to her crate when she's feeling especially nervous.

All of these, of course, are band-aid measures until you can get your dog to the vet to see if there's not a physical cause for your dog's sudden barking. For example, a lot of people when they review the Thundershirt complain that it only works for a little while... Well, it's only supposed to work for a little while until you find out what the underlying cause is. It's not a cure, it's a tool to get the dog calmed down enough to help them overcome whatever it is that's bothering them.
posted by patheral at 2:16 PM on January 18, 2013

This white noise machine is awesome.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:51 PM on January 18, 2013

Things that have worked in some combination for my dogs (young and old) with thunderstorm phobia, PTSD,dog dementia (luckily not all at one time in one dog)
-Thundershirt, as folks have mentioned above. It may not be the solution, but it takes the edge off and allows other things to work. You can also make a wrap out of an Ace bandage- check out T-Touch body wraps.
- Comfort Zone diffuser or spray
-White noise machine or fan at night to blur out noises
- Music- We are listening to "Through a Dogs Ear" right now- nice calm piano music which I sometimes leave on repeat for all night on low volume.
-Melatonin at around 5:30 or 6 pm seems to help my tense 3 yo lab to settle down.
Good luck and hope you can get some sleep.
posted by bookrach at 5:52 PM on January 18, 2013

I once had a barking lab. I purchased this. I now have a quiet lab.
posted by shew at 9:36 PM on January 18, 2013

Our 14 year old lab started barking like mad when she began to go deaf. The dog attack may be a red herring; as others have mentioned, 12 is pretty old.

If your dog can hear properly, try redirecting him with a sound you don't normally make--we make a "tch" noise when the dog starts doing any obsessive behavior. (He's a licker because he has sensitive skin.) Sometimes we accompany the "tch" with a light tap on his paw or his nose. And by light I mean very light. It's not a punishment or negative reinforcement, just a rediraction.
posted by xyzzy at 11:35 PM on January 18, 2013

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