The quick fix to get your dog to stop scratching the door at night is to install a scratch screen on the door. However, this is a short-term fix. Sleep training and creating a reliable routine are the two best long-term solutions to stop your dog from scratching the door.
Is your dog keeping you up at night by scratching at your bedroom door? Maybe he’s crying or whining, too, making it impossible to get any sleep.
Our first instinct as dog owners is to assume that he needs to go to the bathroom. But you’ve probably tried taking him out, only to find that he doesn’t have a bladder emergency. All he does is stand there looking out into the night.
Then you bring him back into the house, and the scratching and whining start again as soon as you’re finally settled back in bed.
Or maybe you caved one night and let him in the bed to sleep with you, thinking, “OK, just this one time,” and now the situation feels like it has gotten a hundred times worse.
You’re losing sleep and a bit of your sanity every night. If this sounds like you and your dog, this article is here to help you understand what is going on and how to fix it.
Why Do Dogs Scratch at the Door at Night?
While boredom or an actual need to go to the bathroom might cause a dog to scratch at the door during the day. A dog scratching at your bedroom door at night is more often than not a sign of separation anxiety.
Your dog loves you. If you’ve locked him out of the bedroom, he’s probably a little lonely and anxious. He just wants to be near you and keep an eye on you during the night.
Being near you is comforting for your dog. The scratching or crying at your door is a way for them to get attention and hopefully convince you to let them into the bed with you.
If a dog hasn’t been sleep trained properly or suffers from separation anxiety, they can have a really tough time at night.
As a puppy, dogs have their mom and siblings to sleep with at night. When you take your puppy home for the first time, it can be scary for them to spend the first few nights alone, but it’s an important part of growing up to be a confident, independent dog.
Similarly, if your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you, or even just in the same room as you, changing that routine and not allowing them into the bedroom at night can cause separation anxiety issues to surface.
They Really Do Need to Use The Bathroom
Sometimes it really is just your dog telling you he needs to go outside. This is easy to spot, though, for the obvious reason that when he goes outside, he goes to the bathroom.
If you have a consistent bedtime routine that allows him to go outside before going to sleep, this shouldn’t happen frequently. And let’s be honest, in this scenario, we would rather be woken up in the middle of the night than wake up in the morning to soiled carpet.
If this infrequent door scratching still bothers you, consider installing a doggie door, so he can go out and do his business when he needs to, without waking you up.
They See or Hear Other Animals
Raccoons and other nocturnal animals also come out at night. If your dog seems less anxious about not seeing you and more curious or protective of the house, he may be hearing or seeing other nocturnal animals.
How to Stop Your Dog From Scratching The Door at Night
Sleep Training and a Reliable Routine
Separation anxiety and scratching at the door at night can be fixed, but it takes time, training, and patience.
The best way to start is to create a consistent evening routine. Dogs do well with routines. It helps them understand what to expect and makes life more predictable and less scary.
It’s best to start a regular bedtime routine with your dog when he’s a puppy or when you first bring him home, but you can train your dog at any age. It just might take a little longer.
First, provide your dog with plenty of exercise during the day or before bedtime. They are more likely to sleep peacefully through the night if they don’t have a lot of extra energy that needs to get out.
Take them outside to go to the bathroom and then tell them to go to their dog bed. Reward your dog for staying calm and quiet. Sit with them for a while, petting them and letting them relax, and then leave your dog alone for the night.
With a puppy, it’s a good idea to limit them to a small area using a puppy pen and leave them with plenty of water and a toy to chew if they need to relieve some stress quietly.
Most importantly, don’t give your dog any attention, even if they whines or barks. Giving in will only reinforce the behavior and create bad habits.
If you have an older dog who has been a restless sleeper for a while, or you are tired of your dog taking up your entire bed, try incremental conditioning.
Start out with their dog bed in the bedroom where they can still see you, and train them to stay in their own bed throughout the night.
If they jump up into your bed, calmly place them back into their own dog bed. Don’t get angry or punish your dog. That could make them even more scared at night and will not help with the separation anxiety.
And again, don’t give in to any of their attempts to get attention. Ignore all the crying, as hard as it might be.
Then you can gradually start moving the dog bed out of the bedroom each night. Once you’ve moved the dog bed out of the room, leave the door open so they can still see you if they get anxious, but put a puppy gate in the doorway to keep your dog from coming back into the room.
Slowly start closing the door a little more each night until your dog is used to sleeping outside of your room with the door shut and no scratching or whining at the door.
Depending on your dog, this may take several weeks but is achievable as long as you stay consistent.
What If It’s a New Change in Behavior?
If your dog suddenly shows signs of restlessness or trouble sleeping throughout the night, consider other factors in the environment.
Even if you haven’t done something as drastic as kicking them out of the bedroom, did you change the location of their bed? Maybe there’s a new baby in the family or a house guest staying in a spare bedroom.
Someone leaving the house (like a child going off to college) can also cause separation anxiety and make it hard for your dog to sleep soundly.
If nothing in your dog’s life or routine seems to have changed, it’s always a good idea to have them checked out by a vet when you see any changes in behavior. These changes can indicate that your dog may be ill or in pain. Their health could be the reason they are unable to sleep through the night.
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Bryan Harkins is an avid dog lover and the proud owner of dogdorable.com, a website dedicated to all things canine. With years of experience working with dogs, Bryan is passionate about providing valuable information, tips, and resources to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions.