Sox, my strong-minded year-and-a-half-old bichon/Lhasa apso crossbreed, has finally learned he will be let into my fenced backyard to pee and poop when he stands by the door and whimpers. But he has begun going to the door at different times during the night (I’m talking 1:30 am and then again at 5:30 am) begging to be let out. He’ll jump on the bed, stand on my back and whimper into my ear until I wake up and let him out. Sometimes when I let him out he simply turns right around and comes back inside. What can I do to inhibit his abuse of in-out power?
Sox’s sleep-deprived mistress
Dear Sleep-Deprived Mistress,
I think the last line of your question is brilliant in its description of how Sox is treating you. Abuse of power has caused as much strife in the world as anything you can name. Every one of my training customers has heard me say, “Dogs get away with what they can, and they are very manipulative; count on it.”
In the course of housebreaking Sox, you taught him to let you know when he needs to relieve himself. You did great. Believe me, there are an awful lot of people out there who wish their dogs would let them know when they have to go out! As a trainer, as funny as it may sound, it’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.
So Sox learned, “If I go to the door and make some sad sounds, Mom will let me out.” You gave Sox the power of communication, a way for him to get some conscious control of events in his life. You gave him some power.
Night is when the primal smells of the earth are stronger. Sled dogs run faster at night. All the nocturnal animals are out foraging, and there are hardly any humans and cars out at 3 am to pollute earth’s natural smells. Sox couldn’t help but notice how different and interesting the smells of the night are.
So one night, Sox wakes up at 2 am. His hearing being far superior to a human’s, perhaps he hears a deer outside. And the smells coming through the window are delicious. He goes to investigate, but hits a stone wall in the shape of a door. So who does he call, Sleep-Deprived Mistress? And so the abuse of power begins.
Like people, dogs don’t like to relinquish power, so don’t expect an easy fix. Plus, dogs are strong creatures of habit, and he’s now habituated to his nocturnal adventures. If you’re a working girl out of the house at 7 every morning, I’d suggest you start the training on a weekend when you can sleep in, because you have to win the first time around. If you cave in and let him out after two hours of resisting, you’ve made him stronger, given him more power.
Sleep-Deprived Mistress, I’m sure you’re old enough to decide whom you want to share your bed with. Sox is out. Period. We can’t have him jumping on your back anymore! He can sleep in your bedroom on his own bed or blanket. But there’s a leash that’s attached to him, with the other end attached to anything that allows him to sleep comfortably on his bed, without being able to reach your bed. While in training, cut his water off by 6:30 or 7 pm.
On your night table next to your bed is your trusty spray bottle or water pistol. When he wakes you with his whimpering, tell him “Quiet,” and let him have it right between the eyes a split-second later. Then try to go back to sleep.
If feasible, you might want to install a doggy door and teach him to use it, but only during the day. That’s assuming you don’t want him playing with the skunks at night. In my experience, he’ll quit pushing after two or three nights.
One other possible solution: Move to the Arctic Circle. Sox probably won’t want to leave his bed at night.
My 4-year-old rat terrier seems frightened by shadows and reflections that the sun makes during the day when it hits reflective surfaces. She sees the spots and runs around barking, and though I have tried distracting her, nothing seems to work. How do I get her to stop barking at this?
Your little girl is probably what we call a “light chaser,” a dog that is very reactive to reflections and shadows. Before the advent of vibration collars, I would use a red laser beam to teach deaf dogs that weren’t looking at me to come. The dogs learned pretty quickly to come and find me when they saw the beam. Then one day I had a lesson with a deaf Dalmatian that practically tore the room apart trying to get the light. It was my first lesson with him and I had no idea he was a light chaser. The dog spent the next 15 minutes looking for the light after It was turned off! He was an extreme case.
The reasons some dogs are light chasers has lots of experts guessing, but no definitive answer. Whatever the reason, it’s probably genetic and not a behavior she was taught, which means we probably can’t stop the initial startle response, but we can manage the ensuing behavior.
Olivia, you’re right on target with the idea of trying to distract her, but let’s call it re-directing her. I want you to teach your little girl “Look at me” followed by “sit.” Start indoors, where there are few distractions. This is the only time she gets people food. I mean: the only time. Have tiny pieces of chicken or baloney or whatever ready. Timing is super important here. When you say, “Look at me,” the split-second her eyes meet yours, that split-second you say “YES” with a smile and pop a treat in her mouth. Then immediately tell her to sit and verbally praise her when she does. She probably knows sit already.
Do this several times a day when she doesn’t expect it. Do it in different areas of the house. When she’s really good at responding quickly, which shouldn’t take long, start doing it outside. With success building on success, increase the intensity of the distraction through which she turns to you for eye contact for that people-food treat.
I adopted my poodle a year ago at age 1. She’s a light chaser. She used to leap into the air at shadows of birds flying overhead. It took some doing, as it will for you, but she’s 100% better now. She still starts at reflections, but it only lasts a second, and that’s what’s going to happen to your little girl. Her response to the reflections and shadows is going to be to make eye contact with you and sit. It’s very doable.
Touch base with me if you have any problems or questions.