Dog Behaviour

Is your dog getting enough sleep?

In my job I go into a number of peoples homes where dogs are not getting enough sleep or even rest, they maybe getting sleep in the night but in the day they get none or worse they are restless at night too.  Over tiredness in dogs and puppies can cause all sorts of unwanted behaviour nipping and biting in puppies, in adults; biting when disturbed from sleep, some labelled “Grumpy” around people and other dogs and more. 

Adult dogs need on average 12 -14 hours of sleep if they are in sync with your own sleep patterns say 8 hours a night, they need to get the remaining hours through the day. Like us humans, older dogs need more sleep as they age, they tire out more easily and need rest in order to function properly. Puppies, like babies, spend a lot of time expelling energy while playing and exploring their new surroundings, it can be stressful learning human rules and learning about the world, which means they might need as much as 18 to 20 hours of sleep to recover.

Just like us sleep is vital for dogs, it gives the dogs body time to heal, a dog deprived of sleep will have a weakened immune system therefore more prone to sickness and putting them at risk of serious conditions. Lack of sleep also has a huge effect on mood state. As humans suffer from fatigue and increased risk of obesity, due to lack of sleep, we would be fooled to think this is not a risk for dogs too.

Sleep is also important for learning and retaining information. A study was done by the family dog project and they found sleep did help dogs with memory consolidation. This blog gives us an insight https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/memory-wins-when-dogs-sleep/

There are many reasons why dogs are lacking sleep;

Inadequate or uncomfortable bed area

A plastic dog bed or hard floor is not comfortable for a dog and not conducive to having a good nights sleep or adequate sleep or rest in the day. In the wild dogs dig the earth to make it softer or choose the most comfortable resting spot they can find. Yes dogs do choose the floor as-well particularly if they are hot but some move around quite a bit during the night which you would notice if they were on your bed, which mean some struggle in crates for this reason too. If you have wooden, tiled or laminate flooring a moving bed is unsettling to and a nervous dogs won’t want to lay on it. Dogs are social animals and generally like to rest near us, a completely relaxed dependant dog would happily sleep away, a lot of people frequent the kitchen and tell me their dogs pester the visitors constantly, I look round the kitchen and see there is no where for the dog to just chill and calm down. I often ask people to get me a blanket or towel I lay it down near us and carry on talking to the owner leaving the dog be and the dog looks almost grateful and lies straight down.

Underfloor Heating 

This is another problem for some dogs particularly if you have this throughout the house, dog’s over heat quickly so having a place they can go where it is not heated is important. I get complaints about dogs digging up the garden, if your dog digs a hole and then lies in it, the main reason will be because either they have no comfortable place in the house or because they are digging to get to the cool earth underneath, if you don’t like it provide them an equivalent like a cool bed in the shade.

Multiple options

If you are not allowing your dog on the bed or furniture (yes you can by the way, this does not make them dominant), they need multiple options, each dog is different and have different bed preferences, cave, flat, thick, bean bag, beds with lips for dogs like short nose breeds, that need to lift their head to help them breathe, and some like some dogs like being covered up. Before you say it, no they are not “just a dog” and should not “just be grateful they get anything!” Some people who don’t let their dogs on the furniture have a daily battle with their dogs getting up there,  or worse the dogs become aggressive. Think about it, we often appear or become threatening first, Dave the dog is lying there minding his own business, nice and comfortable on the sofa or bed, having a lovely rest and then we suddenly come in telling them to get off, or sadly drag them off by their collar. Over time they start to defend themselves and no they don’t know they shouldn’t be on the furniture, they can just read in your body language that you are angry and this can be as simple as a look, so they either appease you with slinky body language as they don’t want conflict or they use aggression to defend themselves. I know what I am like when I am disturbed from sleep, ask my poor husband! 

Location, Location, Location

Your dog should have at least one bed where there is no foot traffic, away from where your children play loads and the hustle and bustle of a busy household, never located near a cupboard that is frequently used etc. 

Many locations where dogs sleep, like the kitchen for example have no window blinds/curtains these days, which means dogs get disturbed by all the critters that wake up at night, that we are not even aware off. This can make them more anxious or on high alert and no blinds mean it can make them rise when the sun does. Often people tell me their dog doesn’t use the bed that they bought them at all, this is either because the bed is not the right one for the dog, they might not find it comfortable or are not used to the texture, or it is located where the dog is not comfortable, is there a draught, is it to close to the radiator, is it facing the front window where it’s bombarded with perceived threats e.g. people and/or dogs walking by that make them uncomfortable? If they are crated, again there should be a bed or at least a crate mat like the one here. There should be enough room so that your dog can stand up fully, and lie down with their legs stretched fully without touching the crate walls.

Crates ideally should not be forever. Of course some dogs love them and would choose the crate or den area over everything else, that is absolutely fine just be sure they are getting adequate sleep in there.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Never disturb your dog when resting or sleeping, yes if they are on your lap it’s fine to stroke them, although once they are a sleep try not to. If they have decided to sleep away from you on their bed or on the other end of the couch, leave them alone and ensure children do too! Don’t decide I want to play with them and wake them up. I know they look adorable, but don’t be tempted to give them a stroke, it’s annoying. We touch dogs far more than they would touch each other, if we did it to people as frequently it would be classed as inappropriate and irritating, give them a break.  Most people hate being touched in their sleep, it’s startling and unsettling, why are we shocked when a dog snaps or is grumpy when they are woken constantly, if it doesn’t happen frequently then they are less likely to react this way, but lack of sleep in general can trigger snapping and it’s quite common in fearful/anxious dogs that need help in other areas of their life.

The Bed Chewer

For a dog that chews beds, try multiple old towels or duvets, rather than spending a fortune on beds, under supervision of course, particularly if they swallow what they chew. Reintroduce the bed differently focusing on calm activities, encouraging them to lie down in a relaxed position, and giving them Kongs filled with something they have to lick, as opposed to dropping it, or chews that take them a while. Ensure to reintroduce the bed slowly, managing access to it at first. Be sure it’s not on a slippery surface because ones that move, can attract chewing particularly in puppies, as it becomes a fun toy just like puppy pads. 

Visiting other locations

When visiting restaurants, cafes, friends homes etc always take a comfortable familiar mat too, this helps dogs feel more relaxed having a recognised space to go to, this is especially important if you are going to a house where another dog resides. The floor inside and outside a cafe/restaurant, is hard and freezing on a cold day and on a hot day they must have the option to move into the shade as dogs over heat quickly. Ensure they are not trapped with no escape route in these places and ask people to not touch them, the mat should be there safe place, only letting people stroke your dog, if your dog is indicating they want the attention. As mentioned I personally really like these they are designed for dog crates however they are handy to take with you, they have an anti slip surface and double up as a snuffle mat too, win win. Others use bath mats, both can be rolled up. I have also seen some very thoughtful owners put an item of their clothing down, if they have nothing else.

Collars

A final point to consider is how comfortable is your dog’s collar. If you can, pop it round your neck, arm or leg and lie down on it, is it comfortable does it dig in. Take collars off at night to give them a break, popping it back on in the morning before breakfast, it’s always advisable to take collars off when puppies are in crates anyway, incase they get their tag trapped which can cause choking and particularly when two dogs are left alone together as there has been many cases, where the dog has caught its jaw in the other dog’s collar, there are always risks they can get hung on things.

As you can see there are many things as behaviourists, we have to consider when looking at a dogs behaviour. It’s important to be mindful and try and think from your dog’s point of view.

Who knew that sleeping can be so complicated hey!

Bye for now. 

Dog Behaviour, Dog Training, Puppy

Banish the Food Bowl

There are many behaviour problems that can be resolved in our dogs by just providing them with mental and environmental stimulation. One way of doing this is by Interactive feeding. For many years we have fed our dogs out of food bowls, as this is the way we eat ourselves off a nice clean plate. Many dogs don’t enjoy eating this way, some may take the food from the bowl and then eat it off the floor, others may regularly go off there food, especially the ones that have one large meal once a day (not good for many reasons) or ones that have their food left down all day, imagine me leaving your roast dinner on a plate all day and expect you to eat it, you might pick at it because you are hungry, but would you really enjoy it! Now if you look back in history at how dogs evolved, you will find that they are natural foragers, eating small quantities up to 12 times a day or more and of course hunting is a strong instinct that we have bred into them too although most dogs no longer consume prey. Although a large number of dogs are now bred to be family pets, they still have these instincts hard wired into them. You see this when they raid the bin, when they watch the floor like a hawk when you are preparing food, just incase you drop a bit, when they pick up everything that looks like food on their walks. Dogs have natural instincts and needs to but we are so busy making them conform to our lifestyle dictating how, when and where they do things, they can often get frustrated as they have no job to do. When dogs are lacking mental stimulation they often go what we like to term as “Self Employed”. Your dog may hunt socks, the remote control, chase shadows or reflections, pace the house looking for something to do, chew, start barking at things and more. Now I don’t recommend exactly encouraging them to use the hunting skills they were bred for i.e. hunting birds, local vermin or the neighbours cat but we can provide them an equivalent.

It’s time to change the way we feed our dogs!

At the very minimum dogs should be fed their daily recommended allowance twice a day, this helps sustain their energy levels, but splitting it down to 3, 4 or more meals is even better. After all how often do we eat if we include snacks.

Use every meal time, everyday for the rest of there lives, as an opportunity to mentally stimulate your dog, there are many ideas out there nowadays  and the good thing about this type of stimulation, is you can do it no matter how old your dog is. Here are a few suggestions:

Please note: It’s important that your dog enjoys it, feed differently at different meal times to keep it interesting and make sure it is not so hard that it’s almost impossible to get the food out

  • The simplest way to start off with (if your dog is on a dry complete food, wet food could get messy!) is by scatter feeding, which literally means throwing the food all over the kitchen floor, out in the garden or even on your walk, just make sure other dogs are not around, alternatively use a snuffle mat you can make your own too see here.
  • Hide some portions of the meal around the house or in the garden in small piles, at first let your dog see where you put it and say “find it” once your dog understands what you are doing make the game more challenging by hiding it whilst they are out of sight.
  • There are obviously the classics like the Kong or the cheaper version Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, which are so versatile you can put the dry food loose in them to start off with making it easy, then if you have multiple ones you can then hide them in different places around the house. You can soak their dry food, stuff them with it and then freeze them, making a popcicle for hot days or just use feed wet complete food stuffed in it. These are good for when visitors arrive too.
  • There are plenty of other Interactive feeding toys on the market now, like the Kong Wobbler or the Buster Activity Mat, just ensure they are not too over exciting or frustrating. see the following link for many more ideas www.johinds.com/dogentertainment

Of course the cheaper alternative is to make your own. If your dog likes to chew and consume then some of these ideas are not for them, always supervise your dog and remove the item when empty, and completely if you have any concerns of them choking on or swallowing bits. Again there are some innovative homemade ideas out there:

  • Snuffle mat
  • Refill old marrow bones
  • Fill up Plastic bottles (with lid and ring round neck removed) with there dry food
  • Old slightly split tennis balls can be filled and dotted round the house or garden to hunt and find
  • For your diggers out there; take 1 cardboard box and hide the meal between layers of fleece, towels, plastic milk cartons, toys etc
  • Wrap the food in an old blanket or towel
  • Take one juice carton, remove any plastic, rinse, dry and fill
  • Buy a cheap kids ball pit, scatter the food in with the balls

With some of the interactive toys you might need to help them to start off with, showing them how it comes out. You must then leave them to try and work it out themselves, this is how it becomes stimulating for them. Always make sure the toys are not left down after they have finished with them, to keep them novel and interested the next time. Ensure your dog has opportunities to rest, there should be a balance between mental stimulation which includes sniffy walks as well as ample opportunities to rest and sleep.

Be inventive and share your ideas in the comments below.

Lets make our dogs lives even more interesting.

Thats me for now, will blog again real soon…