Dog Training's No.1 Cure All: A Good Nap

Parents of young children know, the one thing that can ruin a day is a late night or missed nap: tantrums, crying fits, lack of cooperation, even ADHD are all symptoms that a child’s not getting enough R & R.

So why are puppy owners still in the dark? Sleep-deprived mischief is the number one cause of my client’s angst, and I venture to say of dog parents everywhere. Dogs everywhere are sleep deprived and we’re all suffering the consequences!

In my book Modern Dog Parenting, St. Martin’s Press 2016, I outline the ideal schedule for puppies and older dogs. You can see an abbreviated copy here.

Join my survey: for the past two years I’ve been asking both my remote and in-person clients these questions:

  1. What time do you put your puppy or dog to bed?
  2. How many hours does he sleep per day?
  3. What sort of exercise and how often?
  4. How often do you interact with your dog or puppy during the day?

The results of the survey? Dog’s are overstimulated to the point of hyperactivity, but the solution could not be easier. Phew!

My only challenge is persuading the masses: few people parallel rest with good behavior. Many people assume that dogs are like children and need round the clock stimulation to be happy. The truth? They don’t.

Although dogs do have a lot in common with children, sharing similar learning, emotional and reasoning abilities, the need for sleep is way different. Dogs are crepuscular, most alert in the morning and early evening, whereas we are diurnal, alert during the day. We rest one third of our day. Dogs need more down time; three quarters, or 75%, rest in a 24-hour cycle to be exact.

The advise that a tired dog makes for a happy family is well known but misleading. A tired dog makes for a tired dog, and little more. Tired dogs may pleasant to pet but are not as socially present as a well rested dog who has a balance of exercise, learning, and loving interactions.

Although young dogs enjoy play and exploration, dogs between one and two years old, prefer predictable routines. The same goes for people too. Unsupervised play with a constant stream of unfamiliar faces: that’s stressful for any species.

Here is a list of problems made worse from sleep-deprivation:

  • Housebreaking
  • Nipping
  • Snippy aggression (e.g. intolerance of grooming routines, play that cycles out of control)
  • Chronic barking
  • Destructive chewing
  • Digging
  • Separation Anxiety

Think of a tired, cranky toddler. Now imagine that toddler with teeth.

And if I haven’t sold you on sleep training thus far, consider this. The art of Sleep Training will also teach your dog how to self-sooth, to chew a bone or play with an interactive toy when you’re busy.

So how does Sleep Training go? It will depend on your dog’s age and past experiences.

A puppy under 18-weeks of age should have two, two-to-three-hour long naps: one in the morning and the other early afternoon. Older dogs sleep can sleep as much, but the exact formula will depend on their breed and age: still daytime rest, with two active periods morning a late afternoon.

Your dog or puppy's bedtime should be no later than 8 PM. For those who balk, I defer to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind evening protocol. They bed their puppies at 7 PM. Few calmer dogs exist.

As far as the best place to rest your dog, I suggest using a crate or designating a small quiet area for your dog away from the hubbub. Crates are ideally located in or near your room as dogs sleep better with the company. If not a crate than creating a happy place in a mudroom or bathroom using a gate in place of a closed door.

For naps play calming music to blocks interruptive sounds. Studies show dogs prefer reggae and soft rock; I swear by a doggy formulated bluetooth pet speaker. Pull the blinds to dim the area and give your dog’s a pacifying object such as a Kong or chew.

If your dog or puppy is not accustomed to scheduled rest or being confined, he may take four to seven days to accept the new schedule. To help him along, try these things:

  • Rest quietly nearby.
  • Do quiet activities in adjoining rooms.
  • Or leave the house for the allotted period; my choice as I find ignoring my dogs stressful.

I can take up to a week for your dog to get accustomed to having quiet time. Focus on the long term plan. Happy, well-rested dog: happy family indeed.

Refer to my sleep and house-training schedule for a mock up routine. Remember, your dog will do best with two twenty minute interactions, early morning and at dusk. In between? A good nap!

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