Friday, August 11, 2006

The Perplexing Case of the Vexing 3 A.M. Dog Alarm - CLOSED

I have a great dog named Molly. She's a black lab, but on the smallish side, and she's ... ummmm ... energetic. She has been described as the sort of thing you'd get if you shoved three or four Jack Russel Terriers into a sack and gave them just enough Ritalin that they could accomplish "fetch", but not so much that it would dull their frenetic edge. Ordinarily, however, when it's just us hanging out at home, she sleeps like normal dogs do. She just follows me to the kitchen, begs for scraps, drinks from the toilet, licks my elbow, and sleeps. At night, she's the same. On walks, she's an all-go-no-stop-ball-of-spazz, but at night she sleeps quietly. She hops up in the bed with me and curls up behind my knees (i'm a side-sleeper) and sleeps all night long. In the summer, sometimes she'll get hot and move to the tile floor in the bathroom, but that's about the extent of the variation.

When I started spending significant amounts of time at my girlfriend's house late this spring, she invited me to bring Molly along. She's a dog person and her dog now lives with her parents because it got attached to their dog and the two couldn't bear to be separated. (Say it with me now: "Awwwwwwwwwww!") Right, so Molly comes along to the girlfriend's house. We get food and water set up, Molly figures out where the back door is so she can ask to be let out, and all is well. Until 3 AM.

It was one of our first nights staying over, Molly and I, and somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning, she woke me up. She woke me up quite insistently. This is NOT in her nature, but the only time she had ever insistently awoken me was once when she was inflicted with explosive diarrhea. I am not one to argue or take chances with explosive diarrhea. So, I woke up convinced that she was again inflicted with dire gastric distress, and muzzily stumbled downstairs in the dark to let her out. She trotted off to a corner of the yard and peed, but that was it. She didn't poop at all! She came back to me, tail a-waggin' and wanted to go back in and go to sleep well before I had time to analyze the backup tapes and try to decide what she'd eaten that might make her ill. *WEIRD*

That weekend, I vowed we would not repeat that experience, so I took her out for a good "Potty Break" right before bed and she did the whole deal. Despite my efforts, she again insistently woke me in the wee hours. This time she did a full potty-stop when I took her out, but she didn't seem urgent about it at all. *WEIRDER*

Well, this has been ongoing since the spring. Sometimes my girlfriend would get up with her, and sometimes I would, but after discussing it a bit, we agreed that it was NOT an urgent need to vacate that was causing her to wake us. Stymied, we simply began telling her to go back to sleep and quit getting up ourselves. But she kept on waking us, night after night, and she would act rather frantic and neurotic when she did it. My dog is fully neurotic in the presence of an Implement of Fetch such as a stick of wood, tennis ball, squeeky toy, football, rugby ball, cat, or fireplace log; however, she's never been neurotic without direct cause, as far as I know.

Eventually, someone had the presence of mind to look at the clock on one of these occasions. Then, the other one did it. Then, one or both of us had the presence of mind to REMEMBER the clock reading and thus we were able to discover that all of our neurotic wakeups were coming right at 3 AM, give or take a few minutes. With that, we had a pattern. She NEVER did this at my apartment, even when my girlfriend was staying over, so it wasn't some weird "jealousy" thing. (I'm not at all convinced that dogs are capable of acting out punitively in response to jealousy, anyway, but that's another story.)

So, to sum up the evidence: only at 3 AM, and only at my girlfriend's house. This, to me, indicated that something on a timer somewhere was going on or off at 3 AM and whatever thing it was, it was waking Molly. So the next time it happened, I paid attention. I was rewarded. I heard a *beep*! I was also quite nearly stone dead and couldn't be buggered to get up and investigate. That's the problem with investigating mysteries at 3 AM. You have to be awake to apply your investigative skills, and really, if you work a day job, 3 AM is not the time to be indulging your hobbies. Eventually, enough of these *beep*s at 3-ish in the morning, and we were able to determine that it was coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the office. Well, the office has a lot of computer stuff in it, including a UPS with battery backup. I figured it was one of the computers or the UPS itself, although why it would beep at 3 AM every day, i couldn't determine. So, one night, feeling very proud of ourselves and our deductive skills (which you don't have to be awake to apply) we shut down all the electronics in the office before going to bed. We even disconnected the UPS from the wall and made sure that everything was completely dead and un-*beep*-able. And at 3 AM, the dog woke us again. We didn't hear the *beep* this time, so we concluded that the *beep* theory was off-track. *WEIRDEST*

More of the same: Vexing 3 AM Dog Alarm for weeks on end. Never happens at my house. Two nights ago, however, we had a breakthrough in the case! I was afflicted with insomnia! Yea, insomnia! Okay, not really "yea!", but it turned out for the good. I was awake and blogging at 2:30 AM, and I decided that since I was up already, I might as well stay awake for a few more minutes and figure out what the 3 AM noise was. Immediately, I was overcome by a tidal-wave of heavy-lidded, wide-yawning exhaustion. Ooops. Cardinal rule of insomnia: if you try to stay awake, you'll fall asleep, unless you're trying to stay awake as a way of "reverse psychology"ing yourself into going to sleep. You're too smart to fall for that old trick!

So I went back to bed and resolved to handle the mystery another night. But at 3 AM, I was still just barely awake and saw that the time ticked by on the clock with nary a huff, puff, or pant from the Vexing 3 AM Dog Alarm. *HUH. WEIRDERER*

A few minutes later, however, I was awakened by a sharp *beep* followed by a huffling sound from Molly, who came to me and insistently tried to wake me up! I was already awake, so I got up an followed her out into the hall, where she stood and looked at me, seemingly saying, "I did my part. What are you going to do now, Mom?" None of that "Lassie, take me to Timmy! Show me what's wrong, girl!" business for my dog. Nope. So I wandered down to the office and stood in the doorway, hoping the beep would repeat. After all, I traditionally heard it AFTER Molly woke me and this time I'd heard it before, so there must be another *beep* coming. Sure enough, there was. And a couple more after that, even. I managed to isolate it to a bookshelf, and then it went quiet. I didn't have the vaguest idea what the contents of the bookshelf were, and the *beep*ing had stopped, so I decided to DELEGATE the remainder of the detective work to my girlfriend. It's her damn bookshelf, after all! Next day, we discussed the perplexing mystery and my girlfriend said that she had a couple of electronic items tucked into the shelf that were capable of *beep*ing and that she'd take a look at it.

I (from somewhere in my subconscious) remembered on waking that the *beep* sounded familiar. In a previous version of my life, I owned a large home on a large piece of land and installed an electronic fence to discourage Molly from digging out. It had, for a time, become her favorite hobby. She was very easy to train on the fence and I loved the fact that her collar made a *beep* to remind her that she was nearing the fence before it would actually deliver a mild electric shock. She was absolutely unwilling to go anywhere in the yard that caused the *beep* on her collar, even if there was a tennis ball just over the line. She did figure out that the other dogs could approach the fence with impunity and somehow managed to manipulate one of them into fetching things for her when they'd gotten too close to the fence. Clever dog, that. I'm assuming that this particular *beep* was causing Molly to behave so neurotically at 3 AM because she thought she was being rousted from her sleep to be told she was too close to the fence. When that happened, her training said she should turn around and walk away from the fence, which is hard to do when you're asleep in the upstairs bedroom. No wonder she was confused!

So, the conclusion is that my girlfriend poked around on her bookshelf and discovered that she's got one of those automatically updating atomic clocks. I think it phones home to the US Navy Time Service and gets itself updated. Why this must happen at 3 AM and why it must go *beep* when it does so, I can't answer. Those may be configurable options, but we solved it by removing the thing's batteries.

Anybody want a self-updating atomic clock, free? We'll even throw in the batteries, but you've gotta install 'em yourself.

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