Help our dog with bedtime separation distress?
July 2, 2019 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Can you help our labradoodle with a heartbreaking case of separation distress?

For many years our dog's bedtime routine was to follow us upstairs and sleep on her bed in our bedroom. She's getting old and arthritic, and the climb has been harder for her lately, but she really really wants to be with us, so she would somehow make it up after a few minutes of crying and barking.

We just moved to a new house and the stairs are steeper and longer, pretty much out of the question for her. We've tried using a sling, which she won't cooperate with.

We've tried putting her in a big blanket, but that's a clumsy 2-person job and she's too heavy.

So when we go to bed, she just stands at the bottom of the stairs and barks and barks. We tried a few times to just ride it out. But eventually we can hear her start to try to climb the stairs, and one time she was able to make it all the way to the top. We do not want her to do this, as it is unsafe. She has difficulty getting up the four porch steps to enter our home.

For now we are taking turns spending the night on the couch with her. But that is unsustainable. Can you offer any suggestions to help make our bedtime separation less stressful for her?

She doesn't act out when we leave the house - she's OK with being alone in principle. Just not at bedtime.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any suggestions on the the anxiety and barking, but can you put a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs so she won't follow you up? That's how I keep my elderly dog on the main floor.
posted by anderjen at 6:14 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Baby gate plus a pile of both of your dirty bedsheets or undershirts, anything that has your scents.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:27 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

This warm puppy with a heartbeat wrapped in your dirty clothes? Different circumstances, but this was a huge comfort for my labradoodle puppy her first few nights at our house. Might be worth a try.
posted by amro at 7:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Can you move her bed to the bottom of the stairs? She might get tired, give up and settle for that as a compromise. And I’m sorry. This is never easy.
posted by MountainDaisy at 7:27 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

We moved a bed into the area where ours was able to be at night. We still took turns, because in his last months when we got to that stage it was a rough night some nights when he needed more help (he had mobility issues, needed help getting up, needed outside frequently), but of all the things now waking me up at night about every way I ever remotely did him wrong at least there wasn't that to add to the list.

I know it seems weird to put a bed maybe where a bed doesn't go, but it's your house and you can do what you want.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:35 PM on July 2, 2019 [17 favorites]

If you think a sling would work if she cooperated, maybe it would be worth trying to train her to cooperate. I'm not sure exactly what kind of sling you're talking about or how far she is from the kind of cooperation that would let you use it, but you might think about whether you could use food rewards to gradually shape the behavior you want. It might take a couple of weeks or more, but getting her used to sleeping alone downstairs will probably take that long too.

If that doesn't sound feasible, I think I would try getting up off the couch and going upstairs once she's sound asleep and if she's okay with that gradually leaving earlier and earlier until all you have to do is sit with her for a couple of minutes while she settles down for the night.
posted by Redstart at 7:37 PM on July 2, 2019

Nthing the baby gate suggestion.
Does she have a heated bed? They can be really wonderful for older dogs and that coupled with some dirty clothes marked with your scent would give her a new place to settle for the night.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 8:35 PM on July 2, 2019

My dog has a very bad sleep startle; if she gets deep enough into sleep, the slightest move will make her snarl and bite. What works for us is letting her snuggle with me until shes' really sleepy, then sending her to her bed with a high value treat, lots of praise, and waiting for her to settle back down. When we first started, I would wait til she fell asleep in the bed before sneaking off.

Lots of love to you; this is so, so hard and I feel for you.
posted by assenav at 8:36 PM on July 2, 2019

Definitely get the baby gate, and if possible get one of the better ones that is stable and easy to use. Wirecutter has reviews; something like their top choice would be ideal.

Even if you solve the sleep issue completely, you will still want the gate so that the dog doesn't try to go up the stairs while you are out at the store or whatever. We had to put one in after a couple of bad falls once our old guy got too unstable in his last year or so, and it gave us a lot of peace of mind.

We solved the stairs issue and getting up on the bed, etc, by my being able (and willing) to just plain carry him. If that is not possible, then in your shoes we'd probably be the crazy people with a bed in the living room, though I would try the treat/heated bed/etc suggestions above.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:05 AM on July 3, 2019

Super high value treat she only gets when you go to bed. Also child gate at the bottom of the stairs. I'm not one for drugging away problems, but this isn't a training problem and she's older so I'd suggest talking to your vet, maybe there is something you can give her to help with the anxiety & make her sleepy before you go to bed. The best thing you can do though is quickly establish a routine.

Good night pee, you go to the dog gate, shut it behind you she get's super duper high value delicious treat of awesomeness that will take a little while to chew on. Super comfy warm bed full of things that smell like you guys near the bottom of the stairs so she can sleep as close to you as possible. She will carry on a bit at first, but a couple of weeks it will be the new norm & she'll be looking forward to the treat.

Honestly though if our dogs weren't 17lbs & my hubby couldn't easily carry them up the stairs I'd be sleeping on the couch with them too make of my advice what you will.
posted by wwax at 7:23 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also have a senior dog, and he can’t do stairs or get up onto my bed. He is also horrified by the idea of not sleeping with me.

I got him a ramp for the bed, and I carry him up and down stairs. They do make ramps for staircases, but not sure if that would be feasible for your dog to climb or long enough for your stairs. My dude is lighter than your dog, but if he were bigger and I was physically incapable of carrying him, I’d also be moving a bed downstairs. Time is so precious with senior dogs.

If I couldn’t make downstairs sleep worthy, I’d do what everyone else is suggesting—baby gate, comfy bed, things that smell like you, and waiting for him to fall asleep before heading upstairs myself.
posted by nancynickerson at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are your stairs wide enough for a dog ramp? Here's a DIY version made using wire shelving, carpet, and some zip-ties.
posted by ourobouros at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2019

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