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What is Aggressive at Night?

Aggression can be unnerving for any dog owner, regardless of the time of day. Barking, lunging, growling, and biting can become intense and scary if your dog becomes nervous. But if your dog becomes more aggressive when the sun goes down, it may be a sign that something may be wrong. Even peaceful and loving dogs can have issues that can cause nighttime aggression, even towards family that they are very familiar with. Keeping a record of the incidences of aggression, along with any activities or triggers that may have caused them, can help both you and your veterinarian determine why this might be happening. Reasons can include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Protection aggression
  • Serotonin 
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss 
  • Cognitive dysfunction 
  • Medication

Why Aggressive at Night Occurs in Dogs

Your dog may be exhibiting aggression at night due to various conditions.

Anxiety 

Anxiety can come in many forms. Fears and phobias can result from a traumatic event or situation that your dog remembers and may associate with nighttime, darkness, or even with something that occurs in your particular household in the evening. If your dog shows signs of anxious and nervous behavior at night, he may be afraid of something, and may lash out aggressively to unknowing family members. 

Protection Aggression

Protection aggression is a territorial behavior, and is often shown towards people or animals that are viewed as a threat to the property. It may be that your dog is more nervous at night, or that due to the quiet, he hears perceived threats more easily. Your dog may be on alert for predators, a real fear in the wild, or may be trying to do his duty and protect his family. 

Serotonin 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate emotions and the sleep cycle. If serotonin levels are abnormal, it can disrupt and even reverse the sleep-wake cycle, causing your dog to more awake and alert during the night. If you’ve noticed your dog sleeping more during the day, and completely awake at night, this may be what’s going on. Certain medications have been implicated in causing an excess of serotonin, which can result in aggressive behaviors, vocalization, muscle twitching, and even seizures.

Vision Loss

Dogs can experience a decrease in eyesight that can lead to blindness due to age, hereditary disorders, infections, or glaucoma. If your dog is having trouble seeing, he may become more anxious at night when it is already harder to see. Signs this may be an issue for your dog can include confusion in new or changed environments, clumsiness, disorientation, and bumping into objects. He may also have certain telltale signs that are visible in his eyes, such as squinting, tearing, reddened eyes, a weak blink response, and light avoidance. 

Hearing Loss 

Your canine companion can also experience partial or total hearing loss than can be temporary or permanent. This can also occur from age, or from an infection, waxy build-up, inflammation, tumor, or obstruction by a foreign object. A clear sign that your dog is experiencing a loss of hearing is a lack of response to his name, commands, clapping, or other noises. He may not even hear you enter the room, which can cause anxiousness or aggression if startled. 

Cognitive Dysfunction

As dogs age, they can develop dementia or cognitive dysfunction. This can affect everything from when your dog sleeps, to recognizing people or his environment. His sleep cycles may become disrupted, he may become lost in the house, and he may become increasingly nervous or on alert. Aggression during these periods is a signal that your dog is confused and possibly scared. Signs your dog may be experiencing cognitive dysfunction can also include an increase in vocalization, aimless wandering, staring at a wall or an object for a length of time, disorientation, and changes in appetite and social interactions. 

Medication

Certain prescription medications have the potential to cause aggression, serotonin syndrome, or even seizures in dogs. Most of these medications are generally prescribed for behavioral issues, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and MAOIs. Other drugs include certain appetite stimulants, amphetamines, opioid painkillers, antivirals, cough suppressants, and drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s disease.

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What to do if your Dog is Aggressive at Night

The best thing to do if your dog becomes more aggressive at night is to note any and all stimulus around him that may be causing or triggering the behavior. Alert your vet to these observations, as well as to any other symptoms you have seen in your dog. Accurately describe his eating and sleeping patterns, and any history of medications that he has been prescribed or may have accidentally ingested.  

Your veterinarian will want to determine if there is a physical reason behind the behavior. A physical exam will be performed, complete with hearing, vision, and neurological testing. This can reveal any sight, hearing, or cognitive issues. Bloodwork, a urinalysis, and a fecal test may be helpful in determining any infections, as well give a picture of your dog’s overall health. They can also point to a possible case of serotonin syndrome. X-rays may help to locate an obstruction or tumor. If there is not a physical reason found, then your vet will look at anxiety or aggression as behaviors to be treated.

Medical issues will be treated accordingly. Drug and dietary therapy may help to ease the signs of cognitive dysfunction. Any obstructions, wax build-ups, or tumors in the ear canal can be surgically removed to treat hearing loss that is not permanent. Infections can be treated with antibiotics. Hearing aids are available for dogs. Glaucoma can be treated with medications or surgery, but most dogs will lose their vision completely within a matter of years. Serotonin syndrome can be treated by supplementing dietary tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin production. An overdose or negative reaction to medications that may be the cause can be treated if caught early enough. Activated charcoal can help to prevent absorption in the digestive system, and vomiting may be induced. Fluid therapy and drugs may be prescribed to control the resulting symptoms of an overdose. 

You may need to engage in behavioral training techniques to manage anxiety, aggression, and a change in sleep cycles in your dog. Increasing joyful activities, such as walks and playtimes, can give him the exercise he needs to be able to rest at night. Creating a nighttime routine can help to train your dog to recognize when it is time to relax. Older pets may need orthopedic beds or a more protected sleeping spot to minimize discomfort and the element of surprise by an unwitting family member. For those dogs with cognitive dysfunction, hearing or vision loss, be sure your dog knows you are there with a soft pat or by calling his name. Anxious and aggressive dogs can benefit from desensitizing and counterconditioning techniques to retrain them to be calm during the night.

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Prevention of Aggressive at Night

Prevent anxious and aggressive behavior through socialization and positive training in your dog’s early years. It may not always be possible to predict a fear, but knowing your dog’s trigger can help you to prevent it from occurring, remove your dog from the situation, or retrain him.  

Regular check-ups can reveal the presence of many types of conditions, including eye and hearing loss, infections, and imbalances in the body that can lead to conditions such as serotonin syndrome. Feeding a healthy, appropriate diet can ensure that your dog is receiving all the nutrients he needs to maintain a healthy body.

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Cost of Aggressive at Night

Treatments for nighttime aggression can vary considerably, and will depend on the reason your dog is exhibiting this behavior.  Overall, costs can range from $200 to $3500. While hearing loss and glaucoma can average $350 to $900 respectively, a more complicated issue such as serotonin syndrome can cost around $2400. Aggression can be a difficult condition to treat, and can average $575.

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Aggressive at Night Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Pit Bull

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1 year 3 months

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Unknown severity

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Aggression

My pitbull, who turned 1 in June, has recently started growling and acting aggressive at night when I am in bed and he is in the bed. It’s only been happening when my female pup, who is about 15 weeks old gets in the bed. They’ve both always slept in the bed, play together all day with no problems or aggression. He will start growling and try to burrow under me, continuing to growl and then starts shaking. I continue to be assertive and tell him no repeatedly. Then he gets down and will sit with his back to me, still shaking for a couple of minutes and will not respond to me talking to him.

Sept. 16, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. From your description, it would be best to consult with a behavioral trainer soon. What you're describing are early signs of potential problems, and that is a complicated problem that cannot be solved over an email. Since your puppy is so new and young, this should be something that can be resolved fairly quickly. I think that having a trainer work with your dogs would be best. If you do not know of a trainer in your area, your veterinarian can help guide you towards someone who works with positive reinforcement. I hope that all goes well for both dogs.

Sept. 16, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Aggression

My boyfriends dog has been aggressive towards me and him when we take cotton toys or beds from him he begins with the aggression and wants to bite you if you get near him

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, this is not a simple problem that we can be solved over an email. It would be best to hire a trainer to work with your dog, as they can see what the interactions are with the family, what the triggers might be, and help you work with him to make him less aggressive with you. Your veterinarian can recommend a good trainer if you did not know when. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Corgi

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2 years old

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Unknown severity

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None

My puppy is 2 years old his name is coco I have noticed that he be fine during the day and he will be aggressive at night. He growled at my sister and bit her for no reason She hasn’t done anything to him at all

July 30, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Corgi dogs are known to be a little more prone to aggression than other breeds, and it would probably be a good idea to get some training for him. There is probably a reason for the aggression that you are not aware of, and a trainer will be able to help you figure out why he is acting this way before it gets worse. Your veterinarian can help you find a good trainer. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 30, 2020

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Labrador

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Anxiety

So at night my lab likes to start lunging at me and biting me. Whenever he does this repeatedly I take him outside to use the bathroom and play with him for a little while. Even when I lay down he will start to “attack” me. How do I fix this issue or try to get it under control?

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello Is it possible for him to sleep in a different room than you? He may think because the lights are out it is time to play. I recommend trying to start a night time routine with him that ends with him being in his bed in another room. Good luck.

July 20, 2020

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Finn

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French Bulldog

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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Aggression

I have a 2 year old frenchie. Super social with other dogs, loves to snuggle and basic training was a success. About 6 months ago he randomly bit me after a toy was taken away from him and then again 2 months later after a similar incident. He started to hide with his toys under tables so we decided to take his toys away as we realized he was being possessive. He recently started what we call “protecting” people by getting in front of them and barking if anyone approaches. Problem is that one minute he could be protecting you and the other he can be attacking and protecting someone else. A week ago he started growling at night time if you petted him. If you repremend him at any point he hides and starts shaking. All of these sudden behaviors are really confusing us and would like our sweet boy back.

Aug. 3, 2018

Finn's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There is no simple solution to these issues, normally there is a trigger which set off this behaviour; however it can be difficult to narrow in on a specific cause and may require observation by yourself to see if anything occurs before this behaviour starts. There is no specific advice I can give and would recommend you have a look at our training guides to see if there is anything applicable to Finn and ask our certified dog trainer a follow up question at the bottom of the first link. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/not-fear-bite https://wagwalking.com/training/behavior

Aug. 3, 2018

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Tyson

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american pitbull

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10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Disorientation
Sleep Disurbances
Licking/Biting

About a year ago my dog Tyson started having these incidents in the night where he will suddenly jerk up with quite a startling snarl/bark, Look around as if confused then lay his head back down. At first I thought he was startling up from sleep, but the more I've witnessed this the more I think he's not really awake when he does this. I think he's still sleeping, and then comes to either as he’s jerking/barking/snapping or bc of it. His gaze looks a little unfocused, Or disoriented. Most times he will just go right back go sleep or sometimes the episode jerks him straight up to his feet where he will circle and lay back down or pace around for a bit. Sometimes he will go through night with no episode other times it happens a dozen times during night. Around the same time this began he also began sucking on his dog bed incessantly During the day. He sleeps most nights in the dog bed with my other 10 yr old pit and i initially thought he was snapping at her but after watching as episodes happened most times she wasn’t touching him or moving as though to startle him. He also started sleeping with his head buried either by covering with his paws or under my other dog. He takes regular injections for severe allergies , but has had three major surgeries in his lifetime and lots of medications. Otherwise he’s a happy dog, still has tons of energy and eats normally. Is this familiar symptoms to aging dogs?

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Bindi

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Bichon Frise

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12 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Sleeping And Agression

I have a 12 yr old Bichon Frise whose only known health issues are skin allergies. He has vivid dreams where he growls and once when I woke him in the daytime (because he was growling in his sleep), he was startled and bit me; so now I'm careful. We sleep together and last night I got up for a minute (he was asleep) and when I came back he growled at me. His eyes were open but I really think he was still asleep. Is that possible? We have recently changed our schedule and I'm having trouble getting my 'body clock' reset, so that may be a factor for him too?

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Louie

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Rottweiler

dog-age-icon

3 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

We have a 3 year old rotweiller and we have just brought him a new bed for Christmas. Hes had alot of beds but hes never slept them rather he humped them, he usually sleeps on the bed with us or under our bed. But with this new bed since Christmas in the evenings and night times when ever we go near the bed or we pat him near the bed he growls and tries to nip at us. He hasnt been fixed yet and hes not normally like this, he thinks hes a big baby/kid and he loves to be involved with our kids so this is out of the ordinary for him.

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Dre

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German Mix

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2 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Aggressive

Hi, My boy is a German mix breed aged 2 and a half years now. He has developed this sudden aggressive behavior only at nights when he sleeps on the bed with me and if I adjust myself or turn any side he gets aggressive immediately and bites me this has happened a couple of times not sure what would be the reason, I am planning to take him to the vet for a consultation and also if need be to get him neutered. For any similar experience and solutions please feel free to share. Kind Regards, Jason.

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Saffy

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Fox Terrier/Collie

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

We have had a rescue do for 2 years. She is 2.5years. Gmenerally she is well behaved and loving. She gets excited when people come in and jumps up at them. Last couple of months if she has been in either of the children's bedrooms at night she growls at me when I enter the room. I have tried telling her off and also tried ignoring her. It's only me she growls at and only at night if she is with either of my children. Tonight she went in my sons room. I said goodnight and as I went out I said night to her and went to post her on the head and she went for me, just get in the top of my fingers. I told her off and then she went for my other hand. Hence she is no longer in my sons room tonight. Why would she do this and how do I get her to stop?