My Border Collie, Alaska, wakes up around 5am every day, barking. He doesn’t need to go to the toilet and I don’t want to start feeding him so early. How can I train him to wait until a more reasonable hour?
Kate says: With all dogs who show concerning behaviour, I always suggest a full veterinary examination, to make sure the behaviour isn’t being triggered by a medical cause.
Look and listen out for any triggers that might set the behaviour off, by either being around at the time the behaviour happens, or ﬁlming Alaska in the room and seeing what happens before he barks at 5am.
For instance, is there an animal outside, a neighbour going out or coming back from work, refuse collection happening, and so on? Where possible, try to recollect when this ﬁrst started and how long it has been going on for. Sometimes, one-off experiences impact a dog greatly and he anticipates this happening again, so practising the behavior of barking becomes a habit.
If you can identify the reason, it will help when preparing a behaviour modiﬁcation programme with a certiﬁed clinical animal behaviourist, sourced via the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB). A qualiﬁed, experienced behaviourist will be able to visit you in order to understand the underlying reason for your dog’s barking.
Although it can be frustrating, avoid any negative responses towards the dog, as this could worry him and affect your relationship, and could even make the behaviour worse.
While you are seeking professional help, if you can identify a trigger for the behaviour, consider whether you can avoid him seeing/hearing it, either by shutting doors, closing curtains, or having some music on to block any sounds. You can also try to encourage him to sleep in another area of the house, or provide a dog crate with a cover over it, so it creates a safe space and a den area for your dog to go if he feels worried by something happening outside.
Another option could be to feed him later in the evening as it may be that he is hungry. If you decide to try this, make sure you give him the opportunity to toilet before bedtime. Hopefully, with some professional support, you will be able to work through this.
Kate Ellam – A professional development canine behaviour ofﬁcer at Dogs Trust.
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