A Little Doggie R&R….The Importance of Rest for Your Dog

Disclaimer: I have done no formal research on sleep in dogs.  What I am writing about today is based on my anecdotal experience.

When thinking about having a calm and well-adjusted dog most people think about exercise above all (a feeling that has been perpetuated by a certain person on TV).  I do not deny the importance of physical exercise for dogs but I have just treated way too many dogs with serious behavior issues that did indeed get plenty of exercise to believe that it is the cure-all some people are claiming it to be.  Check out my previous post about what dogs need to see what I mean.

I neglected to mention rest in that post, so I am planning on doing that important necessity some justice here.  There aren’t a whole lot of studies that have been done on the sleep requirements of dogs, but the few that have been performed demonstrate that on average, dogs need somewhere between 13 and 18 hours of sleep every single day, with puppies and older dogs at the high end of that spectrum and young-middle aged dogs closer to the low end.  Breed differences also come into play, of course!  In my family alone there are my two border collies, then four pugs, a saint bernard, a lab mix, and a great dane.  The two giant breeds and the pugs sleep the most.  The border collies sleep the least.  And the lab mix falls somewhere in the middle (though he is older now and falling closer and closer to that 18 hour mark).   

Why on earth do dogs need to sleep that much? Unlike us, dogs tend not to sleep for hours at a time.  Napping on and off throughout the day is more their style.  This is probably due to evolution (though there’s no way to know, we can speculate).  Wild dogs are hunter/scavengers, so sleeping and searching for food is how they spend their days.  Since our dogs don’t have to search for food, they probably wind up sleeping more (a good case for hiding your dog’s food for them to find…more on that in a later post!). 

What does this mean for your dog?  Based solely on my experience with my own dogs and my clients’ dogs, I find that households that stay empty during the day, leaving the dog behind, don’t have an issue providing enough sleep for their dogs.  Dogs are “crepuscular” meaning they are most active in the morning and the evening, so leaving them home to rest during the bulk of the day is actually fine as long as they get ample stimulation in the morning and evening.  It is the dogs owned by busy families with a stay-home parent and small children that typically aren’t sleeping enough. 

Making sure your dog has his own quiet place is vital when you have a busy lifestyle and a hectic household.  A crate or gated off room where your dog can go to escape the kids is very important.  If your dog won’t choose to nap on his own while the house is active then you may need to put him away in his own space for periods of time to encourage him to take a nap.  Put him away with a raw bone to chew, he will gnaw his way to a peaceful sleep and not whine about being isolated. 

Try not to schedule full days of activity for your dog without recovery days in between.  That means if your dog does dog daycare he shouldn’t do it two days in a row (and a reputable dog daycare won’t allow that anyway), and if you compete with your dog in anything (agility, obedience, conformation, nosework, etc.) be sure your dog has restful evenings and peaceful downtime at the event.  If you are the sort of person that takes your dog everywhere you go, understand that your dog will need more quiet time at home than normal dogs, since dogs don’t rest well while they are away from home. 

Puppies are a totally different story, with a totally different set of needs.  Watch for my puppy blog series starting December 26th for more on that subject!