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

Is there such a thing as oversocialisation?

As a dog trainer and behaviour advisor that works on a one to one basis with my clients, I spend a lot of time in areas where people regularly socialise their dogs, whether that’s is a local park that consists of a rectangular patch of grass with a park in like Warrender, the woods, busy places like Ruislip Lido or Rickmansworth Aquadrome, country parks like Black Park, Langley Park, Denham Country Park, Large green spaces like Horsenden Hill or just a local walk round the block. One thing that is for sure is there is a huge dog owning community. As a behaviour advisor I know you have to look at every dog as an individual, every dog I come across or work with have completely different back grounds and upbringings which can also vary between dog to dog within the same household. One type of dog that has inspired me to write this blog is the number of Street Dogs I am now seeing as clients, most of the ones I have seen so far have lived on the streets so it’s vital that they can communicate effectively with other dogs, they mostly avoid conflict as much as possible as they need to stay uninjured and healthy to survive. These dogs come over here I find often have excellent body language but do find our dogs difficult to interact with initially, which can make the Street dog appear unsociable.

Dogs socialisation varies hugely, you can take 5 dogs that have all been to the same socialisation classes but all 5 could have a had a different experience; depending on their own emotional state generally and during the class, how the other dogs were, how their guardians handled them in the class, the guardians emotional state at the time, if anything spooked them in the class, stress that they had been through a few days before the class and so much more.

One piece of bad advice that goes around is, that you should let dogs get on with it “they will sort it out themselves”. This is a massive mistake and hugely unfair especially on puppies that are just finding out about the world of dogs and the different kinds of dog breeds there are, if they go down the park and get in trouble by every dog, do you think that they will continue to want to socialise with dogs. Using an older dog as a stooge dog, putting them in a position which makes them have to tell other dogs to back off is unfair too. Older dogs are sometimes in pain, do not have as much energy to play or interact anymore, which means they are far less tolerant understandably and what about the dog that has been attacked previously should they just be left get on with it with a dog that is intimidating them or over aroused and won’t take no for an answer. I am finding there are lots of dogs out there that play inappropriately and some owners, dog walkers and dog sitters do not recognise what is appropriate and what is not.

Now I can hear some people say they are dogs they will work it out, they will soon learn when another dog has had enough and this may have worked for your one particular dog. Unfortunately this is not always the case, I deal with many dogs thats companions have taken exactly that approach, with regards to their interaction with other dogs. You have the ones in the park that are allowed to run up (or can’t be stopped) to any dog whether the dog is on or off lead, these dogs are usually over aroused and often do not read other dogs body language well or are not sure how to interact so end up over the top. Now firstly if this dog has run up to an owner that has a dog that is not comfortable with other dogs not necessarily one that may fight (which generally stems from fear) but I mean the ones that throw them selves on their back and if that fails tries to get away as quickly as possible. This can be pretty traumatic for both dog and owner, leaving them in a state of stress for a few days or more. The dogs that bark and try to instigate play with every dog not leaving them alone, these dogs usually have played like this or have been allowed to play inappropriately with other dogs that play in the same way, allowing them to practice and be proficient in play that is not suitable with most dogs. On top of this we have breeds that are bred that can be over social, crosses that have low frustration tolerance and more.
What’s not fair is these dogs often can be turned on regularly by other dogs and eventually can understandably get very offended when another dog growls, barks or bite to indicate they don’t want to play. I am then often called in to see the inappropriate player type dogs, as they have now started to understandably react back over time; as they are frustrated that the other dog didn’t play, appearing confused why they keep getting into trouble, they can often appear unpredictable and end up fighting during play due to high stress levels.

Now this is no fault of the dog guardians out there, it is likely that no one has told you what is appropriate or inappropriate, our gut instincts usually do but we often ignore this because of pressure other dog guardians put on us, they might say they are ok leave them be etc.. especially if you are a new owner as you will feel other dog owners know more than you. I will let you into a secret shh “just because someone has had dogs for thirty years, does not mean they have been getting it right or that they are an expert in dog body language” the average dog owners do not know the subtle signals dogs give way before they growl bark and bite.

Let’s have a look at Play and what to look out for:

Questionable Play
Best to call your dog to you positively before things go too far. If you are not careful this could lead to fall out.

  •  If one dog is always being picked on and there is more than one other dog involved, this should be stopped.
  • Tugging and dragging the other by the collar, harness or body parts
  • If the chasing is mis-matched and one dog is trying to hide or get away, this type of play needs to be interrupted, always interrupt positively.

Inappropriate Play
Interrupt positively and move away

  •  Biting of the neck or other parts of the body.
  • Barking at the other dog, especially in their faces.
  • Bullying the other dog to play
    Humping, this is done by both sexes, it does not mean sex, it is often a sign of anxiety
  • Air snaps. This is I don’t want to continue
    Standing with his head over the other dogs shoulders.
  • Stalking
  • Body slamming. NO WAY. Not appropriate.
  • Pinning or mouth round neck
  • Dogs forming a gang
  • Unsupervised play

Sometimes it’s difficult to interrupt as both dogs will be concentrating on where the play may lead so try and wait for natural breaks in the play. The moment you get their attention call them over and then move on with your walk.

If another dog has run over to yours and yours clearly does not want to play i.e. looking away, turning away, walking away sniffing as if they are doing something else try and increase the distance between you and the other dogs owner, by moving in the direction you want to go this will help the dog (and the other owner) get a clear message both you and your dog do not want to engage and don’t be afraid to say “please can you get your dog”.

Play bows are also not always a sign to indicate they want to continue playing, sometimes it seems to be used to defuse a situation that might appear to be getting out of hand.

Appropriate Play
This is reciprocated and there is a give and take aspect. The dogs are having fun. Dogs have relaxed body language and may appear a bit “goofy”. Playing chase is a sharing opportunity, where they may take it in turns. Do a consent test if you are not sure: hold the chaser and see if the other dog still wants to engage in play.

We often leave our dogs far to long playing, which means they become hyper aroused and find it difficult to calm down, if anyone knows what an overtired toddler is like it’s exactly the same. Some dogs even though you can see they are exhausted will not let up. These are usually the hyperaroused dogs or the ones with addictive personalities!

The problem is society put high unrealistic expectations on dogs, that they should get on with every dog they meet. This means we put a lot of pressure on dogs to socialise without really understanding what is appropriate and what is not. We don’t get on with everyone, there are people that can frustrate us or anger us and this is what happens with dogs. The first thing everyone does is tries to expose their puppy as much as possible to as many dogs as possible including going to puppy parties, having friends over with dogs, meet ups, dog walkers and more often this is too much. Some dogs just are not interested in playing with other dogs especially strangers, we don’t chat or play with all the strangers we meet, don’t force dogs to be social if they are not interested if however they are showing that they are uncomfortable by growling, barking or biting seek professional help. All interactions should be about choice and going at your puppies or dogs pace without pressurising them.

What I aim for and I explain to the clients I work with are the nice “hi” sniff butts “bye” interactions where the dogs have a short relaxed interaction like we do, when we politely say “hello” to our neighbours when we pass them by or where we exchange small pleasantries and move on. Standing in the middle of park chatting to other owners, or dog walkers that stand stationary whilst the dogs rough house for long time, is what I avoid, this often causes over arousal if you stand back and look at the group of dogs at least one of them often actually want to move on with their walk not stand stationary, after all there is so much more to explore. Standing in a group is unfair on the dogs that don’t want to be played with or have had enough. This kind of stress can send the dogs back home in a adrenaline filled hyper-aroused state, which means they sometimes find it difficult to relax. Sniffing and interacting with the environment is far more important for dogs for their emotional well being and tires them.

The owners that are naturals have it right you know the ones they just walk their dogs without thinking about it, they will say a brief “Hi” whilst continuing to walk their dog, their dogs often have great body language and interact with other dogs briefly but politely and may have a short brief play, which is much more like the interaction of how dogs are that live on the street and why there often is not as much conflict.

Let’s all aim for short polite relaxed interactions!