- Holly Leake
The Witching Hour: How to Survive!
So, when you bought your lovely, cute puppy home, they were all relaxed and laid back. They played with you gently and then took a nap on the sofa next to you, while you happily watched tv. You were probably thinking how lucky you are to have such a chilled puppy. Fast forward a week or two and you now have a furry piranha seeking human flesh!
Usually this happens at a certain time every day and is known as the witching hour. For Mando, crazy zoomies started at 8pm every evening. He would play lovely all day, he’d have a walk and do a bit of training, with naps in between. Then 8pm would roll around and it was like Dr Jekyll and Hyde. Sound familiar? Well don’t worry, this behaviour is 100% normal and you are highly likely to see it on a daily basis, either early in the morning or in the evening.
Why does this witching hour occur?
Well dogs are crepuscular, meaning they are most alert at dawn and nightfall. Thus, dogs are more alert and ready for action at that time, which is in stark contrast to humans, most of which hate mornings (especially Mondays!) and want to just rest in the evenings. Guilty! This makes the witching hour particularly difficult to manage, because it happens at our most hostile and short tempered hours, when we just want food and sleep. The witching hour is often triggered by several things, such as boredom, tiredness, teething and understimulation.
So how do you manage it? Well there are a few factors to consider.
Puppy biting becomes more excessive when your puppy is feeling overtired. Just like children that act up when they are over tired, a puppy’s behaviour can be rather erratic when they aren’t getting enough sleep. Your puppy’s brain and body are still growing, so they should be sleeping around 18-20 hours a day. If they aren’t, this could very well be the cause of hyperactivity and biting.
Usually, I can determine what’s causing Mando’s behaviour by attempting to do some training. If my usual training doesn’t engage him, I know that he must be tired, especially since he loves working for food. So make sure your puppy gets the sleep they really need. Although it seems logical to us to go bed when you are tired, puppies are often reluctant to settle down, especially if you aren't in bed.
Therefore you may have to encourage them to settle by placing some tasty treats in their crate (if your pup uses one) or giving them a chew in their pen, to encourage some downtime. If you do this 10 minutes before the witching hour usually begins, your pup will soon learn to settle and get into a routine of going to bed. We established a routine very early on, so Mando knows that 8:30pm is his bedtime, but he can sit in his crate with a chew whilst we watch tv. Doing this has helped us to avoid the witching hour altogether.
Now your puppy will be teething anywhere from 6-8 months of age. This can be painful and unpleasant for your pup and this can manifest itself in hyperactivity and biting. On days where Mando’s teething was bad, I noticed he didn’t concentrate as well and became easily frustrated, particularly during my puppy class. He would even have tummy upsets and be a little bit withdrawn.
While teething is natural, its clearly not pleasant and so we should do our best to alleviate some of the symptoms. We provided a range of products, such as a teething rings although to be honest, we found he often ignored this in favour of chewing the corners of my skirting board or a door wedge. Instead, we tried ice cubes and a wet frozen tea towel, which worked well. The cold naturally eases the gums and so these are great cheap options.
Nevertheless, when I saw blood on his toys I decided to purchase some puppy teething gel, which can be easily found on Amazon or Pets at Home. To my amusement, Mando absolutely loved the gel and anticipated it every evening. Therefore, we made sure to put it on before putting him in his crate with a chew and this definitely improved his teething and helped to prevent the land shark we all know and dread! For more info visit Teething Terror: Managing Puppy Biting (pawchores.com)
While it’s important to provide an outlet for behaviour, there is still an ideal time to do this and the witching hour isn’t one of them. While we tried encouraging Mando to bite his toys rather than our hands, we found this did not work during the witching hour, likely due to the reasons mentioned above. If they are hyper and biting because they are over tired, causing over stimulation is not going to improve matters, in fact they will bite harder. Trust me, we have the scars to prove it! Avoid games, such as tug of war or anything that encourages biting as we found Mando would become really focused on our hands despite his past training.
While I love using Tug E Nuff toys for my training, this will only overstimulate your puppy when you are trying to calm them down. Instead its best to provide an activity that relaxes them, such as a puzzle mat, a snuffle mat or a filled Kong. This can even be given in their crate or pen to help settle them down. While training is a good source of mental stimulation, in my own experience I find providing an easy activity such as enrichment, is the best option in preventing the witching hour. However, you would need to start these calming activities before the witching hour typically starts, otherwise you may have a shredded snuffle mat by the end of the night.
As mentioned, Mando would become very frustrated and I didn’t want to develop a negative association with training or allow him to practice biting and snatching treats, so I saved this mental stimulation for the day when I knew he was calmer and eager to learn. So instead, Mando regularly has a large fabric puzzle mat filled with small treats in the evenings before 8:30pm. This engages his little mind whilst keeping him calm and almost removes attention away from biting our hands and clothes.
Your puppy will need regular physical and mental exercise. If they are not receiving enriching walks and mental stimulation, this can trigger the witching hour or make it worse. While there are debates about how long you should exercise your puppy, try to focus on quality and not quantity. When I first had Mando at 10 weeks, we did 10 minutes around the block once a day, just letting him sniff and get used to different sights, sounds and smells.
We then increased that to 20 minutes at 15 weeks and most of that time was spent having a good sniff and watching the world. Now at 19 weeks he has 30 minutes and in that time he is allowed to sniff as much as he wants and I even let him choose the direction in which we walk. (I know spoilt boy!)
You can walk for a whole hour and your dog may still feel understimulated. A 30 minute walk of uninterrupted sniffing, is far more stimulating than a whole hour of dragging your dog around a field, so think quality, not quantity. Obviously you need to be careful you don't exercise your puppy too much but that's a whole other subject.
Your puppy needs mental stimulation too. Clicker training, teaching new cues and training games are all excellent for mentally tiring your puppy out. Many tell me they don't have time but we have to remember that we chose to have this puppy, therefore its our responsibility to make time and train them, regardless of how tired we feel.
Although the witching hour can make you wonder why on earth you decided to have a puppy in the first place, it is important to remain calm. It's easy to become frustrated with our puppy when we have worked hard all day and just want to come home to relax. Just think, I walk and train dogs all day and then I have to come home and walk and train Mando!
However, we have to remember that our puppy probably had a boring day waiting for us to come home. Now we are home, they are excited and want to expend some of that energy. So if you fail to prevent the witching hour, you should remain calm. Your puppy is excellent at sensing your emotions and if you are stressed and/or frustrated this could make their hyper behaviour even worse. So just breathe and put more effort in to preventing the witching hour tomorrow.
When dealing with the witching hour, prevention is key, so consider how you can manage the behaviour appropriately. Also, consider ways you can engage your puppy in a way that encourages calm behaviour. Communicate through your actions and routine what behaviour is appropriate in the evenings and incorporate a bedtime schedule. If you play tug of war and then expect them to be calm, you are giving mixed signals. So remain clear and consistent about how you want your puppy to behave in the evenings and your puppy will soon learn to wind down in the evening.
When will it end?
A common question puppy clients ask, is when will the witching hour end? Well, every puppy is unique, so there is no way of accurately determining what age they grow out of it. For very energetic breeds, such as collies and Ridgebacks, they may never grow out of the behaviour entirely, especially if they are understimulated. With that said, any breed of dog may continue to experience the witching hour if they don't have adequate physical and mental exercise on a daily basis.
Some puppies are as young as 6 months, when they grow out of the witching hour but that is very much dependent on the effort and training you put in now, while they are young. So keep training and apply the points above and I promise you will survive the witching hour, like I did!
Puppy Training- This is the Way!