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Behaviourist's Corner

3 calming tips to improve dog behaviour at night


As dogs get older, their nighttime routines and habits can change. Our experts' advice can help both you and your pet cope.


Companions, not competitors

Unfortunately, getting on in years can change the way all dogs behave at night - especially if they're also suffering from 'doggy dementia', known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). 'Around half of all dogs over the age of 11 are likely to display some symptoms of CDS,' says Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner. 'But one tricky aspect of CDS is that the symptoms often worsen at nighttime when you're less able to offer your dog extra love and support.'

'Muscle pain, sensory changes such as deafness or failing sight, and some other medical conditions can all affect your dog's nighttime behaviour,' adds Rosie Bescoby, a clinical animal behaviourist. 'If you're in doubt, always speak to your vet first.' Once your pet has been given the all clear, Rosie recommends trying these tips to ensure a more peaceful night for you both:


Dog

1. Adapt if necessary

'If your dog has CDS, he might feel disorientated and frightened when he wakes up, which can result in howling or whining,' Rosie explains. 'Excessive vocalisation - when your dog plaintively howls or whines for long periods - is closely associated with separation anxiety. Dogs feel more vulnerable as they age, and they often need their owners in order to feel emotionally secure.'

Rosie points out that your pet may also find it harder to navigate the house, and may feel physically insecure - perhaps the laminate floor feels slippery now that he's arthritic? 'New fears mean that he'll feel even more anxious without your company,' she says.

To combat this, why not adapt your home in some practical ways? 'Install a night light next to your dog's sleeping area to help him orientate himself if he does wake up, and plug in a pheromone diffuser to ease any anxiety,' Rosie suggests. 'Introducing a thick, high-sided bed can also help by giving him added comfort and security, and letting him sleep next to some of your unwashed clothing will provide a sense of familiarity. If these tips fail, though, letting your dog sleep in your bedroom can help him feel physically safe and could lead to a better night's sleep all round.'

Dog

2. Stick to playtime and routines

As well as howling, elderly dogs with CDS can also become very restless at night. So Rosie recommends plenty of daytime stimulation to tire your pet out. 'A gentle evening walk can help to reduce restlessness later, while swimming can be very effective for arthritic dogs,' she says. 'But, if you do need to reduce your pet's physical activity due to any medical conditions, make sure to replace it with mental stimulation. Try using puzzle toys, easy training routines or food games to keep his mind active - it can be as simple as scattering food in the garden for your dog to sniff out, or providing activity balls.'

Rosie also recommends keeping feeding times as routine as possible and, because dogs with CDS can forget that they've been fed, gradually switching to three smaller meals a day.

Dog

3. Help with any toilet troubles

Another common symptom of doggy dementia is nighttime toilet accidents. 'Pain, sensory impairment and CDS can all cause a dog to struggle to get outside in time,' explains Rosie. She recommends providing extra cues to help your dog navigate your home easily - for example, using non-slip rugs or runners on the floor to guide him away from the furniture, or placing a radio next to the back door. 'Scent, like a dab of lavender oil, can also be used to help your dog identify different rooms and locations,' she suggests.

'If your dog seems to have forgotten his toilet-training because of CDS, then I'd go back to basics in the same way that you would train a puppy,' Rosie adds. 'But you'll need to be able to hear your dog at night, and help him go outside as soon as he barks or moves around. You could even install a large litter tray or use disposable puppy training pads - particularly if your dog is becoming less mobile.'

How one owner coped with sleeping issues:

'My sister Linda's 14-year-old dog, Czino, had recently begun to display signs of doggy dementia,' says Alison Scott. 'But when Linda passed away unexpectedly, a difficult situation was made even harder because Czino became increasingly restless and would circle the living room sofa over and over again. It was very upsetting to watch.'

Czino's nighttime behaviour also changed - he would wake up at 3am and howl for food and company. 'We took it in turns to get up and spend time with him, and we also gave him a small meal because he seemed confused about whether it was night or day,' says Alison. The vet recommended calming tablets, which contain natural ingredients to help ease dogs' anxiety. 'The tablets worked and, gradually, Czino's anxiousness decreased. And, as our family came to terms with our grief, his nighttime restlessness also appeared to lessen.'


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