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Pups Need Rest and Relaxation, Too

Bay Area Dog owners are a savvy bunch of high achievers who like to show off their pups’ skills, offering high-fives at the local watering hole, strutting out for a day in the office, or riding the waves on a surfboard. With plenty of dog-friendly activities to do and amazing locales to visit, it is tempting to keep your cute new puppy or dog out and about from dawn till dusk.

That way, when you get home, they’re so tired they forget to chew up your favorite kicks, nibble your ankles, or play search and destroy with the cat. Instead, they pass out in cute poses, face to floor, providing social-media-worthy expressions (that I thoroughly enjoy, by the way). But what is the cumulative effect of this lifestyle in the doggy fast lane?

According to researchers at UCLA, there are numerous significant negative effects of sleep deprivation on humans, including decreases in cognitive function, decision-making skills, memory retention, and motor skills. Some people experience instability in behavior, changes in mood, and higher susceptibility to illness.

We see these effects in ourselves, inadvertently snapping at a loved one, yelling at people in traffic more often, or simply spilling our morning coffee down our nice white work shirt. In children, lack of sleep typically shows itself through temper tantrums, extra boo-boos on the knees, and decreased cooperation. Not fun.

The American Kennel Club writes that puppies sleep 15 to 20 hours a day. We’ve all enjoyed the comedy of watching a young pup play hard one minute only to fall asleep the next. However, much like children, if they’re too busy engaging with you or are highly stimulated by the surrounding environment, it’s easy for pups to forego sleep in the moment. Keep your puppy out adventuring all day and she’ll highly likely to try to keep up with you to her (and our) detriment.

Sleep is critical to a young puppy’s mental and physical development as well as for all dogs’ long-term health and well-being. There is ample evidence that without adequate rest periods throughout the day, dogs often display behaviors similar to that of a toddler allowed to stay up too late at night.

Some overstimulated and under-rested pups will practically vibrate with excitement all day long. This appearance is often accompanied by uncontrollable jumping, mouthiness, and barking. Their eyes take on a glassy expression as if their precious, perfect souls have momentarily left their bodies and been replaced with tiny demons cackling and rubbing their hands together while those pearly white teeth repeatedly sink themselves into your hands, arms, and favorite pants. Others may develop anxious and avoidant behaviors, barking at anything and everything, and becoming hyper vigilant to every stimulus.

Help! That’s what you’re thinking. And that’s exactly what your sweet puppy needs. Short of the times your puppy literally falls asleep on his or her face, most puppies will go and go and go until you step in and make the parental role decision otherwise.

It’s time to make the all-important commitment to provide your pup with rest and relaxation. Prevention is the best medicine. Teach habitual periods of calm from the moment you bring your new best friend home. Sit down and write out your pup’s daily schedule. Be sure to include short training sessions for mental stimulation, play sessions for bonding and exercise, and public outings that match your dog’s comfort level and socialization needs. Now, go back and pencil in mandatory periods of R & R throughout each day. Help structure independent naptime by using a crate, xpen, or baby-gated area. Or, invite your dog to relax quietly on a bed at your feet or snuggle up next to you on the couch with a favorite chew.

Even full-day adventures have ample opportunities for R & R. Is your dog settled under the restaurant table? Politely decline people’s requests to greet. On a hike? Settle down off the beaten path for a leisurely lunch. Bring a sandwich for yourself and a water bowl and snack for your dog.

If your puppy or dog needs help learning to enjoy the calming portion of their schedule, provide extra-special delicious chewys. My dog’s personal favorites are bully sticks, beef tendons, frozen Kongs filled with kibble soaked in meat-broth, frozen raw marrow bones, and a variety of interactive food puzzle toys filled with tasty morsels (always supervise your dog the first time you provide him or her with a new chew or toy to ensure it’s safe for your dog’s unique chewing style). Food puzzle toys encourage innate canine foraging behaviors followed by naturally occurring periods of digestion and relaxation.

Continuing this practice over time will help your pup learn to self-regulate his or her central nervous system and easily establish long-term positive behavior habits. Your pup may be loathe to stop the fun and games at first (even expressing disappointment loudly). However, if you’ve checked off the boxes of your dogs’ pre-nap needs (mental, physical, social, and potty) and allow your puppy a few minutes to adjust to the new non-negotiable agenda, he’ll discover that the allure of tantalizing chews and food is irresistible for a hungry, tired pup.

For new-to-you adult dogs (and occasionally puppies with specific temperaments), know that teaching calm is sometimes a long-term training process. Depending on individual brain chemistry, natural arousal tendencies, and previously established daily habits, some dogs will require extra support. Changing habits is a challenge for most people and dogs. Commit to following your daily schedule and be patient with the process. If you feel you or your dog could benefit from additional guidance, contact a skilled trainer or veterinary behaviorist for help.

Now go relax. Trainer’s orders. 

Carlie Seelig Miller, the owner and head trainer at CSM Dog Training, has been involved in the canine training field since she brought home her very own puppy and has experience with pet dog training, behavior modification, shelter and rescue, competitive dog sports, AKC dog shows, and service dog training. A former teacher, she is passionate about educating humans about canine cognition while training canines in cooperative behaviors to further enhance the human-animal bond. She teaches group classes for Kelly Gorman Dunbar and Dr. Ian Dunbar at Sirius Puppy and Dog Training and private training at www.CSMDogTraining.com. She was voted Best Private Trainer-San Francisco in the 2019 and 2018 Beast of the Bay contests.

Each month, this column is written by a different trainer or dog professional. If you’d like to contribute, contact Editor@BayWoof.com.

Main article photo by: Lisa Fotios-Creative Commons