He's sleeps in our bedroom, in his own large dog bed, right next to our bed. He has a blanket and a pillow, too. When it's bedtime, he starts out fine, sleeping away no problem, but a few hours later, he starts whining and doesn't stop.
At first, we were getting up to see what was wrong. We tried taking him out to the yard to go to the bathroom, but that's never it. We've also tried simply ignoring him to make him stop, but that works only some of the time--and only after quite a while of him whining 45+ minutes. The only thing that makes him stop is when we pet him for a little while and/or recover him with his blanket. Even then, he sleeps for only a few hours and then starts whining again. We've also tried a nightlight, but it didn't change anything.
Sometimes on weekends we let him sleep in our bed withus, and then he almost never whines. We don't want him in our bed on a regular basis.
What's his problem? Is he cold? Does he miss us? Is he scared? Is he just not tired enough (He goes out for a 30-minute walk/run every morning and we try to take him out for another 30 minutes after work but sometimes it doesn't happen. We also play with him in the yard/house.)?
He's 18 months old. Greyhound mix. We've had him almost 6 months. He's done this almost the entire 6 months! We're exhausted. Please help us!
You present an interesting case, and a perfect one for helping us all understand how behavior works.
First, rule out any medical causes. As it turns out, most of the cases I handle don’t have medical causation. Nevertheless, we always want to make sure the dog isn’t in any discomfort or pain.
Second, identify the behavior you want to change. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in some cases it takes a bit of thought. My guess is that in Desmond’s case you want to change the whining behavior. Keep in mind behavior is an action, something your dog is doing. Waking up and whining.
Third, ask yourself what usually happens right after Desmond whines? We call that the consequence, and consequences are what keep behaviors going. Any action with a favorable consequence for the animal (or human animal) will be repeated more frequently in the future. That’s a law of animal behavior science, just like gravity is a law of physics. If Desmond is whining every night, some consequence of that behavior is keeping it going. You’ve given us some hints already. Sometimes you pet him; other times you take him outside. Those are all kind and delightful things, and I don’t fault you for caring about your dog. That said, your actions in response to Desmond’s whining might be working against you.
Fourth, ask what happens right before Desmond whines? This is sometimes called the trigger, the cue, or the antecedent. Is there a sound that wakes him every night? Does the behavior only occur in some settings or on some nights? You’ve provided good information for that last question already. Desmond doesn’t whine on weekend nights when he’s in bed with you?
Now ask yourself, what we can change in Desmond’s life before and/or right after he whines (the antecedent and the consequence). We have influence over both those areas. Remember, the antecedent sets the dog up to do the behavior (whining). The consequence keeps it going night after night.
Let’s look at the consequence first. I don’t recommend scolding, hurting or frightening Desmond for whining. That would be tragically counterproductive. Instead, I suggest you not respond to whining at all. Wow, that’s going to be tough I know.
One of the things I read in your email is that you tried ignoring his whining. That means you returned to paying attention to Desmond for whining after you ignored him. I feel your frustration, but what you’re describing is called a “variable schedule of reinforcement,” and it’s a very powerful way to increase whining. Ooops. Don’t worry, I’ve made similar mistakes. Let’s not do it anymore. No more attention for whining, period, ever, cold turkey.
Now let’s look at the set up. It’s always better if you can change the dog’s environment to avoid the behavior ever happening in the first place. I’m going to lay out a bunch of options; some you will like more than others.
• Let Desmond sleep with you. This is easiest solution you presented in your email. Desmond doesn’t whine in your bed. Problem solved. Downside: you may not want to sleep with a greyhound every night. I know my bed isn’t big enough.
• Move Desmond’s bed closer to yours, and give him a small piece of your bedding (like a pillow case). Alternately, you could consider letting him sleep with an article of clothing you or your spouse has worn.
• Consider using a crate in your bedroom. It sounds like Desmond has a great set-up now, but even a minor change like adding a secure properly-sized crate can make all the difference.
• Make sure Desmond is well exercised both physically and mentally before bedtime. A tired dog is a good dog. Remember to exercise his body and brain. I’m a huge fan of reward-based training because I see daily how it helps on so many levels.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, be patient and steadfast. Any behavior, including Desmond’s whining, can be improved. You’ll notice I didn’t say “fixed” or “cured.” We look for changes in your dog’s behavior, not absolutes. For that reason and others I encourage you to stay the course and stay calm throughout. Do not give up and don’t settle back into old ways. Desmond has been learning this behavior for 6 months, maybe longer. It may take that long or longer to learn a different behavior (sleeping through the night). Nevertheless, he will learn. Things will get better. Rest assured.
|© courtesy R. Arouty|