Dog or cat alarm clock--do you have one? Read how to get sleep and curb the behavior when your dog or cat constantly wakes you up.
I remember the day my beloved cat, a tabby domestic shorthair, underwent a dramatic transformation.
After a blissful year of perfect owner/ pet synergy, we moved into a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. My cat began to awaken me at 5:30 a. m. every single morning, meowing and scratching and whining until I got out of bed to keep him company. The day I moved, I was forced to say goodbye to my quiet, well-behaved cat, and hello to my torturous cat alarm clock.
Dr. Kat Miller, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Assistant Science Advisor for the ASPCA, offers a revelation for every pet owner who lives with an alarm clock rather than a cat or dog: without knowing it, we are sending our pets the message that we like it when they wake us up at early and odd hours.
"When a cat or a dog makes noise or comes into your bed and rubs against you, if you end up petting them or feeding them or simply getting up for the day - you have just rewarded that behavior," she explains. "Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency."
Step 1: Ignore Your Dog or Cat Alarm Clock
Knowing that, the solution to your pet's morning (or middle-of-the-night) noise seems simple: stop rewarding bad behavior, and start rewarding silence, the behavior you want.
Of course, to ignore a bellowing dog or a shrieking cat is no easy task. Dr. Miller recommends creating some distance between yourself and your pet at night. Close your bedroom door, at least temporarily while you train your pet.
If your pet protests by scratching the door, place a fan in front of it, facing out. Dr. Miller also recommends Ssscat, a battery-powered motion sensor that sprays a harmless but startling tuft of air when your pet approaches.
Step 2: Reward Behavior Not Reminiscent of the Cat Alarm Clock
The second step, rewarding your pet's good behavior, takes a little patience.
"Wait until there's at least a ten-second pause in the noisiness or the pestering, then get out of bed for the day," suggests Dr. Miller. "That way, what you're rewarding is the silence. Your pet will learn, 'Oh! Being quiet is what gets you up. When I'm noisy, I get nothing.'"
Step 3: The Breakfast Delay
Also, don't let your pet associate your wake-up with her feeding. Instead, Dr. Miller advises owners to complete their morning routine, then feed pets just before leaving for work.
Ways to Make It Easy
It can also help to alter other aspects of your pet's environment. As Dr. Miller explains, "It's the light of dawn that often triggers your pet's waking up." So, room-darkening shades, heavy curtains, or even cardboard over the windows at night can keep your home dark even after the sun comes up--and keep your pet silent until a comfortable hour.
Changing your pet's behavior can sometimes be fun! To help your dog or cat sleep through the night, Dr. Miller recommends, "Tire your pet out before bedtime, no matter what your bedtime is. Work hard to have a fun, interactive, knock-'em-down play session, right before bed. Maybe an interactive, dangling toy for your cat, or a good game of fetch or a jog with your dog."
Another technique is to shift your pet's feeding schedule. "Feed your pet right before bedtime, so your pet is less hungry in the morning," suggests Dr. Miller. If your pet still gets hungry in the middle of the night and continues to wake you, consider purchasing a feeder with a timer.
My solution? Ear plugs. In a studio apartment, I can't close the door on my cat. But sure enough, after I ignored his begging two nights in a row, he stopped trying to wake me up at dawn. Now, I reward him when he acts like a cat--and ignore him when he acts like an alarm clock.