Making the Bed a Dog-Free Zone
February 19, 2020 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Four months ago, I adopted a dog — and made the mistake of letting her sleep in the bed with me at night. She is extremely needy and it helps her confidence. But she’s a really active sleeper and she is making it impossible for me to get a good night’s rest. I can’t have her sleeping in the bed anymore. But how do I “sleep train” a dog?

My Lovey is a rescue, so I don’t know much about her background, but my best guess is that she’s a two-year-old foxhound (50 lbs of muscle). She is extremely needy, to the point of trying to knock my phone from my hands or crawl into my lap when I’m sitting at the table, because she wants my hands AND eyes on her at all times. She’s a sweetheart but it’s endless.

I cannot have her sleeping in the bed when my boyfriend is over, so there have been nights when she has had to sleep alone. On those nights she cries and scratches at the door, but what’s really unmanageable is that she becomes an absolute wreck emotionally from it for the whole next day (at best).

On nights when it’s just her and me at home, I haven’t had the fortitude to keep her out of the bedroom, the crying is just too heartbreaking.

How do I “sleep train” her? Do you have any tricks that you’ve used to make it easier?

She is very stubborn and not very trainable. We’ve been actively working on “sit” for a month and she’s still not getting it. She’s bright, but she’s stubborn and she also freaks out when she’s put on the spot and just begs for cuddles/reassurance rather than following any command.

I need to stop her sleeping in the bed, but I don’t know how to do that without damaging her emotional well-being or our bond.
posted by rue72 to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would focus on what you do want her to do, not what you don't - it sounds like you want her to feel comfortable settling independently somewhere other than your bed (does she have a preferred bed or crate?). You'll want to do that in small bites that work up to a full night (working first on settling/sleeping for 30 seconds at a time, then a minute, then a minute while you enter the bedroom, then five, then ten, then 30, etc.)

Kikopup is a great youtube channel that sounds like a good fit for you; I would probably start with learning more about Capturing Calmness and Separation Anxiety.
posted by mosst at 8:36 AM on February 19, 2020

I had this issue with my dog when I adopted him. The only solution was to crate train him. You have to do it slowly, but eventually you'll be able to have her sleep exclusively in her crate. I kept the crate in my room, near my bed, so he didnt feel like I was banishing him.

Never, ever use the crate as a punishment area. First train her to lay and stay on a bed. Then move the bed into the crate. Then shut the door, lots of treats, and extend the time gradually. Once she can go an hour without crying you can try at night time. Leave the door open at first, if she gets out, tell her to go lay down again (I used 'go kennel'). Once she gets used to sleeping there, even for short periods, you can start shutting the door.

I stopped kenneling my dog after about a year, when sleeping in his own bed was really ingrained. I just did the process in reverse and eventually removed the crate. He will still go lay on his bed if I say 'go kennel'.
posted by ananci at 8:39 AM on February 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

One of our Frenchies is like this. He was abandoned in a snowstorm and we rescued him about two years ago. He’s a big boy and will whine, cry, paw at you and climb into your lap until you give him your undivided attention. We ultimately ended up putting him on Prozac and CBD treats and it’s made a huge difference. He also really, really loves his Thunder Shirt. We got the ‘sport’ version for him; it’s kind of a stretchy nylon that’s quilted and not hot at all. I’ve washed it several times and just hung it to dry. No problems at all.
posted by dancinglamb at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2020

If it's okay for her to be in the bedroom but not the bed, I'd consider weaning her away from it slowly. What some cosleeping parents of babies do is put a crib or twin bed next to theirs at a lower height, and slowly lower it to the floor or move it across the room. They might spend the first week sleeping really close to that side of the bed and continuously moving the baby back to its spot, but they catch on and stop complaining fairly quickly in most cases. I don't know what furniture options you might have on hand that could allow this, but it's something to consider. (You'd probably want to temporarily move the bed into a corner or otherwise set it up so she can't jump onto it from another side.)

Another option is a crate IN YOUR ROOM, not outside the door.
posted by metasarah at 8:55 AM on February 19, 2020

Do you have room at the foot or side of your bed on the floor for her to sleep? The easiest sleep change I ever made was off the bed onto a big bed at the foot of ours, which in dog terms was just "you go here and protect me from closet monsters, okay?" They get a pile of pillows and throw blankets including a heated one in the winter, and a sense of a job to do.

You may need to "put her to bed" at night at first - sit on/next to her bed with her, invite her to get comfy, maybe give her a stuffed Kong or other quiet(ish) longer-duration treat and some pets, make it super clear that she is extremely invited to sleep there. Then kiss her good night and get in your bed, and if she follows just lead her back with a treat that she gets when she gets in her bed. Don't necessarily pressure her to Do The Thing in order to get a treat, just put a treat in the bed so she has to step on it to get it. Figure out what your trigger phrase is going to be - "go to bed" or "nighty night" or whatever - and use it a lot.

You may have some partial nights before it starts to stick. Just make sure any treats she gets are in her bed, never in yours.

It may be worth talking to the vet about medication for a while, if the anxiety is interfering with any kind of training.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:09 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

You want Susan Garrett’s Crate Games. This is the method I have used on all of my dogs and they have all LOVED their crates and loved the training. Your dog needs to be okay in a crate anyway, for vet visits, traveling, dog-phobic guests, workers at your house, etc.
posted by HotToddy at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

PS I agree that the crate should be in your room, preferably right next to your side of the bed. She’s already got some separation anxiety, don’t make it any worse. Go very slowly in the amount of time you leave her—e.g., not at all for a good long while, then gradually more in very small increments.
posted by HotToddy at 9:27 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I bought a crate when I adopted her, but she absolutely refuses to go into it. Treats make no difference (she isn’t food motivated in general) and I can’t physically force her.

She does have some spots where she likes to nap (a blankie, a rug, and a chair), but she is extremely clingy and it’s been a struggle to even be able to do things like read a book or sit at the table for dinner, because even that amount of “distance” is too much. At this point, she will give me about five minutes at the table at a stretch before trying relentlessly to crawl into my lap. This is a dog that cries inconsolably when I go to the bathroom.

I don’t know if it’s really separation anxiety because all signs point to her actually being more chilled out when she’s alone at home. She seems to just nap or play with her toys during that time. I think being around me actually makes her anxious because she’s so excited and trying to get every scrap of love and attention that she can.

I don’t think that having her in the bedroom but not on the bed is workable.
posted by rue72 at 9:46 AM on February 19, 2020

I crate-trained my similarly clingy dog and for her the important thing was a crate in the bedroom *where she could see me on the bed*. Being near me was good, but what really calmed her anxiety was to have me in view.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you have a Vari-Kennel type crate where the top half is removable, you can begin the training using just the bottom half. If that’s too much, train her to just a mat, then put the mat in the bottom half, then progress to adding the top half.
posted by HotToddy at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I can see two workable paths. One is just to go cold turkey on shutting her out of the bedroom at night. It sounds like you've been able to make that work somewhat. You mention crying and scratching at the door but it doesn't sound like she's peeing or destroying things. It will definitely be hard on her at first but it if it happens every night she should get used to it and stop freaking out. If she's content to be home alone, that's a good sign that she can learn to be content alone in another room at night. It might take a month of suffering for both of you but I bet she'd be well on her way to accepting it after a month.

The other thing you could do is get her used to sleeping in another room with you nearby and gradually start leaving her alone. You could sleep on the sofa or on an air mattress in the room you want her to be in at night. Try to make your bed a place where there isn't room for her and have a comfortable dog bed or soft chair nearby where you encourage her to sleep. After she's used to the new arrangement you can try getting up and leaving once she's settled into her spot and sound asleep. At first you might need to wait till the middle of the night to leave, but you could gradually start leaving earlier and earlier. Or you could gradually move your bed further and further from her sleeping spot until it's around the corner where she can't see you, at which point you could just switch to being in the bedroom instead.

I bet you could eventually get her to go into the crate. What if you used really, really good treats, like hunks of meat? What if you put her food dish in the crate and she had to go in to eat? (You could start out just putting it near the doorway and gradually move it inside.) With a big enough crate, you could get into it and hang out with her there for a while, which sounds like it might be the best motivation of all. But maybe it isn't worth it, if she's not destroying things or having accidents when she's alone now. Having her comfortable with being in the crate would mean you could shut her out of the bedroom without having her scratching at the door. But you'd have the long process of getting her used to the crate before you could even start with the long process of getting her used to being alone in it at night. And once you started trying to put her in at night you could easily find all your previous work to make her like it would quickly come undone.
posted by Redstart at 10:24 AM on February 19, 2020

This gets into some expense, but if you have the transport style crate (the big plastic ones) I'd try a wire one to see if it's maybe the claustrophobia. I had a dog who freaked out about the plastic crate but was fine with a wire one.

I would also get the biggest possible crate. They tell you to get one just big enough for the dog to sleep in but for anxious dogs that gives them something else to freak out about, so it's not a good idea.

The crate still needs to be in the room with you. She is scared and still settling in, it will take a while. Four months is still a very new transition for a new dog!

I would also recommend training in general to help with her energy and anxiety, one of the best things you can do for you and her is to start the Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol.
posted by winna at 10:49 AM on February 19, 2020

Nthing crate in the room near the bed, even if it seems like she just won’t get over it.

Also, she will continue to change and adapt with time. Four months in, I thought my rescue had finally settled in and gotten to her comfort level with me, and she was calmer after a year, and then even calmer after two years, etc. Things will keep evolving!
posted by sallybrown at 11:06 AM on February 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to agree with the suggestion of getting a very large crate, if you end up going that route. Our dog is a very quiet, eager-to-please husky mix who seems to prefer to be crated for sleeping, and even so he absolutely cannot handle anything smaller than the big-ass Great Dane-sized wire crate (well-padded with acres of blankets). He needs to be able to lie on his side with his legs stretched out, I guess! It goes against conventional wisdom, but it works for him.
posted by DSime at 12:37 PM on February 19, 2020

When she gets on the bed in the middle of the night, do you wake up? If so, just relentlessly, consistently, order her off the bed every. single. time. If she does not listen to the command (for us it's "Off" and pointing at the floor), then gently push her off the bed. Make it clear from your tone of voice that you are very displeased with her. If you are worried about her landing awkwardly, like if she's old, then lift her off the bed and set her on the floor. Every. Single. Time. If she jumps down without needing to be physically moved to the floor, tons of praise and a treat.

We also trained him by watching him and if he looked like he was about to jump, we'd hold a hand up (our signal for wait/don't move/don't come this way) and say "off" even before he jumped up. If he desisted by laying down or turning away, treat. We also treated and praised him when he just laid down on the floor at night rather than looking at the bed/preparing to try to jump on it.

It honestly shouldn't take more than a week or so for her to get the picture. Dogs are smart and they want to please you.

Our two year old dog now only comes on the bed when invited, never of his own accord. We like to invite him up to cuddle in the morning. He usually sleeps on the floor of our bedroom, but sometimes he chooses to sleep just outside (I think it's warmer in our room and he likes the cooler temps in the hallway).

If you are doing consistent training before you fall asleep, but then she gets on the bed after you are asleep, then that's harder. You are going to just have to leave her outside. You could try putting her outside for a "time out" (1 minute?) every time she jumps on the bed -- maybe that would hit home better than being ordered off of it.

Also, give her a good solid cuddle on the floor before you go to sleep, and again the morning.
posted by amaire at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2020

I mean this in the most gentle manner, but it sounds like you could use the help of a professional. If she's constantly begging for attention, and you're giving it to her, you may be reinforcing negative behavior. Getting the guidance of a third party could help quite a bit, both with the crate training and with her general neediness.

You can be a loving, caring dog owner and not allow her to walk all over you. It sounds like if you give her an inch, she'll take a mile. Which means that any 'rules' you put in place need to be reinforced *all* the time. She won't understand that she can sleep with you when your boyfriend is gone, but that she can't when he's there. Dogs *crave* routine. Help her learn her new one.

PS: dog tax?
posted by hydra77 at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

Try removing access to the bed when you aren't in it. We ended up using a "room divider" and propping it so there was no flat surface for the dog to hop onto and curl up.

When you are in the bed, the trick is to jump up out of bed AS SOON AS the dog jumps onto the bed. Much surprised noises and arm waving also helps. When the dog gets down, you go back to bed. Agree that consistency is key. No direct acknowledgement of the dog (i.e. attention) but you send a clear message that the bed is for you only.

Our (perfect in every way) Good Dog got the message pretty quickly. Also agree with folks who suggest alternate sleeping spots that are higher off the ground. The Best Boy often sleeps in a vintage velveteen armchair in our bedroom.

Good luck and don't despair!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:50 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had another thought. This might be completely unworkable for a variety of reasons, but is probably at least worth mentioning. Do you have the option of spending the night at your boyfriend's place, or at someone else's place? You say she seems to be pretty calm when she's home alone. So if you left her completely alone every night for a week or so, with your bedroom door closed, that could give her a chance to form new sleep habits without getting herself all worked up trying to get you to let her into the bedroom. Once she's used to the new routine, you can try going into your bedroom instead of out the front door. If she whines and scratches at the door, you can go ahead and leave (without petting or talking to her.) You can keep up that routine every night - going into your bedroom and then leaving as soon as she starts whining or scratching. That behavior probably won't last if it doesn't get her anything she wants and just serves as the trigger for you to leave. When the night comes that she doesn't whine or scratch for the first hour you're in the bedroom, you can just settle down and go to sleep there.
posted by Redstart at 11:29 AM on February 20, 2020

Something that might help is increasing her physical activity during the day to the point where she is too exhausted to whine for too long at night.
posted by oceano at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2020

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