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Why does my dog turn into a scaredy cat at night?

DEAR JOAN:  I have a 9-year-old shih tzu, Reggae, who was rescued by my daughter about three years ago.  Reggae was in terrible condition, starving and matted, and my daughter brought her back to good health.
Then my daughter moved to an apartment and had to give her away, which is why I have her.  Every night when I go to bed, she starts shaking and panting in fast short breaths, and it takes quite a while for her to calm down.
She goes from being sound asleep on the couch to this anxiety at bedtime, which is scary and keeps me awake. The vet prescribed anxiety medicine six months ago, but all it did was give her diarrhea for four days.
Any advice would be appreciated.
Beverly Colclough, Walnut Creek
DEAR BEVERLY: I’m going to assume, as dangerous as that can be, that she didn’t show this anxiety when your daughter had her. If this is new behavior in her new home, then I think she’s missing her mom.
A dog that has been so severely abused and neglected, and was rescued and brought back to good health, would understandably have a strong connection to that person. She manages OK during the day, but is overwhelmed at night, which could also be an indication that in her previous life, bad things happened to her in the dark.
I’d recommend easing into bedtime. Wake her up 15 or 20 minutes before going to bed and spend some time getting her in a good mood. Perhaps engage in a game of tug-of-war or fetch — do something that will make her happy. Give her lots of praise and pats, and if she’s a dog that likes to cuddle, do that, too.
If she’s not sleeping with you or in your room, doing either of those things could help with her anxiety. It seems she has a fear of being abandoned to the darkness, and you should let her know that you are there for her and that you won’t let anything bad happen to her.
You might also try using a nightlight so she can see what’s going on around her, and so she can see you. As she learns that nighttime holds no threat, she’ll calm down.
Another idea would be to get something from your daughter that has her scent on it, and let the dog sleep with that. The scent will gradually wear off and you can add an item that has your scent, which will allow her to accept her new mom.
If none of those things work, contact an animal behaviorist to see if he or she can help.
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DEAR JOAN:  I live in rural Maine, and my wife and I are passionate wild bird feeders. We are in our late 60s.
I came across the column you wrote about rats and bird feeders. We had a rat — or rats — living in the protected area where our outdoor bird feeders were all winter — bad winter, by the way.
Suddenly, they were gone! The cold weather broke, but we are the only house here at the dead end road.
My wife thinks the crabby blue jays chased them off.
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What say you?
Doug Harlow, Skowhegan, Maine
DEAR DOUG: Rats don’t frighten easily, so I’m guessing something more predatory was involved. Top of my list would be an owl, although Maine also is home to red and gray foxes, coyotes, Canadian lynxes, bears and bobcats, all of which would enjoy a fat rat or two.
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