‘Help! My dog wakes up too early!”
Problems with early wake ups are one of the most common grumbles we hear from dog owners and the students on our puppy training courses. Puppies are naturally early risers, but dogs of any age can form a habit of rising early because something disturbed them, or they need something, or we have inadvertently made it rewarding for them. If being woken up early in the morning by your dog is wearing you down, here are some simple and effective techniques for gently adjusting their body clock so that it better matches your own.
- Why does my dog wake up so early?
- How to make your dog stay in bed longer
- What to do when you’ve accidentally reinforced early wake ups
Why does my dog wake up so early
There are several possible reasons why your dog might be ready to start the day before it feels civilized to do so. So it won’t come as any surprise that the first step towards keeping them in bed longer is figuring out why they’re so keen to leave it in the first place! The underlying causes of early morning wake ups are usually one or more of:
- Old age
- It’s rewarding
Puppies are naturally early risers. This is true of all young animals, and it’s a combination of having:
- A small bladder, which needs emptying frequently.
- A small belly, which needs filling regularly.
- And a lot of youthful energy.
Most puppies will naturally start to wake up later as they grow up, provided you don’t accidentally reinforce a pattern of waking up early by making it rewarding. So keep reading to find out how you’re going to avoid that pitfall in a moment!
A common reason why adult dogs wake up early – especially if it’s started recently and out of the blue – is something disturbing them. Such as:
- Light coming into the room where they sleep.
For example if your neighbor has started working shifts, then the sound of them leaving their house, or their headlights beaming through the window of your pooch’s bedroom could be waking them up. Like us, dogs’ sleep follows an alternating pattern of periods in light and deep sleep, known as sleep cycles. If they’re disturbed between sleep cycles, it might cause them to wake them up fully, instead of sliding into another cycle.
Another possible reason for your dog waking up too early is that something is making them uncomfortable, so that staying in bed for a full 8 hours just doesn’t feel possible. For example:
- They need the toilet. Whether it’s to pee or poop, the urge to use the toilet is hard to ignore!
- Their bed is not soft or supportive enough for their joints. This is especially a problem for dogs with diagnosed hip dysplasia. But any large or heavy dog could find that a thin bed on a hard floor is too uncomfortable to stay in place on for long.
- It’s too hot, or too cold. Lots of us turn our heating down overnight while we’re in our own beds, and a room which was a comfortable temperature when we left our dog in it at 11pm might be unpleasantly cold by 4am.
Lots of senior dog owners report that their pet has started to get restless at night, and wake up early in the morning. This could be due to some of the common health problems of old age that we’ve already touched on – like joint pain. And it could also be a symptom of cognitive dysfunction, or doggy dementia. Researchers estimate that one third of dogs over 11 years old and two third of dogs over 15 years old experience some degree of cognitive dysfunction, and disturbance of their sleep/wake cycle is one of the most common symptoms.
When no other explanation fits the bill, it’s time to consider the possibility that you might have accidentally rewarded your dog for getting up early, and now they’re reproducing the behavior to keep getting the reward. This is really easily done, and it’s definitely too common to waste any time feeling embarrassed about. Common ways of inadvertently reinforcing your dog for waking up early include:
- Talking to them when they wake up.
- Feeding them.
- Letting them out into the yard for more than a toilet trip.
- Playing with them.
- Taking them for a walk.
All of these activities or interactions are rewarding for your dog. So much so, that they can start rising earlier and earlier, in anticipation of the wonderful chat/snack/game/exercise they’ve got to look forward to. If you’re feeding them breakfast when they wake up too early, this also creates an additional problem that they will start to feel hungry at the same time the next day.
How to make your dog stay in bed longer
Depending on what chimed with you in the previous section here are some potential strategies for keeping your dog in bed longer. We’ll look at undoing learned behavior in more detail in the next section.
- Put up black out blinds in the room they sleep in. Alternatively, cover their crate to block out the light (but make sure there is still suitable ventilation around the sides).
- To reduce disturbance from outside noises, try using a crate cover, closing windows overnight, moving your dog’s bed to a different part of your home, or even playing white noise in the room they sleep in.
- If your pup wakes you up early to use the toilet, try feeding them their dinner a little earlier in the evening. You can also remove their water bowl overnight, starting an hour after dinner, and two hours before their final toilet trip. Remember to put it back down promptly in the morning!
- Cover their crate to block drafts and keep them warm throughout the night. Or pop them in pyjamas!
- Consider asking their vet to check them over for signs of pain or illness which could be preventing them sleeping well.
What to do when you’ve accidentally reinforced early wake ups
What about when you’ve accidentally made getting up early rewarding? The training solution to this is simple and effective. And it’s usually pretty quick to work. But, I’m afraid the early stages aren’t a lot of fun. For this technique, you’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize, and keep reminding yourself what you’re working towards!
- First, have in mind a realistic time you want your pup to stay in bed until. We’ll use 7:00am for the purposes of this example. Now you’re going to break the cycle of rewarding them for waking you up earlier than that.
- The first step is to beat them out of bed in the morning (I know). So if they are waking up at 5:30am, you’ll need to set your alarm for 5:00. Go to where they’re sleeping, but remain completely boring until 7:00. This shouldn’t be difficult, because you’ll probably be very, very tired. Don’t chat or play, and definitely don’t feed them. Take them out on a leash for a toilet trip if needed, then make a coffee, read a book, or work on a jigsaw.
- At 7:30, give them breakfast or take them out for their first proper exercise – whichever you usually do first, followed by the other. This is their new breakfast/walkies time now, and going forwards.
- The next day, set your alarm for 5:10. Wait until 7:30 to give your dog breakfast or go out for a walk.
- The following day, set your alarm for 5:20. Keep adding 10 minutes per day, until you reach 7:00am.
- If your dog starts waking up before you at say, 6:00am, go back to setting your alarm for 5:50 for a couple of nights.
This technique works by preventing your dog from waking you up. Most dogs will happily stay in bed until there is something worth getting up for. So if they can’t wake you up, there’s nothing to eat, and there’s nowhere to go, then they will quickly learn a habit of staying in bed instead.
My dog wakes up too early – summary
When your dog wakes up too early, day after day, it is exhausting and demoralising. Doing the right things to keep them in bed longer depends on why they’re getting up in the first place. Hopefully now you’re feeling armed with some ideas to try. Good luck, and I hope you’re sleeping better soon!
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website