Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: No sleep for the weary

Courtesy of Australian Shepherd's family

Dear Tom,

Our 13-year-old Australian Shepherd has become nocturnal. And demanding. He has gotten into the habit of waking up around 2 am, walking to the front door, and barking. My bleary-eyed husband or I will head downstairs to let him out. Once the dog has returned from his middle-of-the-night stroll, he barks until someone curls up on the couch next to him. After an hour or so, when he’s had enough of the couch, he gets up and stands at the bottom of the stairs, barking. This is our cue to get off the couch and return to our bedroom upstairs. He then returns to his dog bed in my daughter’s room. We are sleep-deprived and desperate. Any thoughts?

Thank you,

Sleep-Deprived and Desperate

Dear Sleep-Deprived and Desperate,

What you’re describing sounds like cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), the canine version of Alzheimer’s or dementia. I remember a veterinarian once telling me there’s a drug that sometimes helps the dogs get more grounded for several months, so if you haven’t already, I’d suggest you ask your vet about it. In the meantime, you may want to try some “redirection.”

First, assuming he’s going out to pee, try cutting off his water at 6:30 pm, or replacing a long drink with a couple of ice cubes, so he’s not filling his bladder. If you think he’s pooping at 2 am try changing his dinnertime to a lot earlier or later. If he still insists on his middle-of-the-night strolls, instead of letting him lure you to the couch, try grabbing a very small piece of meat and luring him back upstairs to his dog bed, where you give him a hollow marrow bone with a piece of meat wedged in the middle. He might not be able actually to get the meat out, but there’s a chance it will keep him interested until he gets bored and then hopefully falls asleep.

You may also want to look up some homeopathic scents that may induce relaxation, including a DAP (dog-appeasing pheromone) collar or plug-in-the-wall DAP dispenser. You could also try a gate at the top of the stairs, and when he barks, try redirecting him back to his bed with the aforementioned marrow bone. Perhaps include a couple of your and your husband’s T -shirts pulled out of the hamper and put on his bed. The stronger they smell of you, the better. In any case, you do need to speak to your vet. Best of luck.

The Dogcharmer