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Thinking about puppies – the importance of sleep

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

In this article we look at the importance of sleep for puppies. Most people that have raised a puppy will agree they have a “mad half hour” now and again throughout the day. This can be due to frustration at not being able to do something they find rewarding but usually its due to tiredness. Just like us, when tired, puppies find life difficult, sleep is in fact more important than food! There are a variety of factors that can have an effect of the puppy’s ability to fall asleep. Body temperature, hunger, health, comfort, security for example can all play a part. Its important to consider all these factors when raising a puppy.

Puppies can be adorable balls of fluff or horrific demons that drive us mad! Quite often behaviour issues start to occur because the puppy is tired. Sleep is important for all animals. During the first 3-4 weeks they spend around 90% of their time asleep, 7-8weeks 70% and by 8-16 weeks they need at least 11 hours of sleep in each 24 hour period.

Sleep deprivation is actually more harmful than starvation. Studies in the 19th century indicated fatality within days. In 1894 Marie de Manacéine a Russian physician and scientist carried out a study on puppies, keeping them constantly awake and active. The puppies died within a few days. The cause was found to be lesions in the brain. In a further study in 1898, carried out by the Italian physiologists Lamberto Daddi and Giulio Tarozzi dogs were walked constantly and deprived of any sleep. The dogs died within 9-17 days. Again the cause of death was attributed to degenerative changes in the brain.

Obviously these experiments were extreme and one has to say very cruel, but it does give us some food for thought. Quite often people say to me that they need to keep their puppy busy as its very energetic and won’t settle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always help – without a proper routine and regular naps the puppy will simply become more and more unmanageable due to sleep deprivation which as we learned from the studies can cause changes in the brain.

So how can we help our puppies to develop a regular sleep pattern?

· Toiletting – make sure your puppy has emptied bowels and bladder before you start to settle them down.

· Hunger - make sure your puppy isn’t hungry, just like us if they are hungry they are less likely to be able to settle down and fall asleep, those hunger pangs will keep them awake.

· Calm – make sure your puppy is calm. If you have just been for a walk or had a play session they are probably highly stimulated so it will be difficult for them to switch off and settle to sleep. Set up a calm area for them, with as few distractions as possible, use a calm, soft voice to speak to them and use soft light slow strokes if you touch them. Aiming to slow everything down.

· Warmth - puppies haven’t developed a thermoregulation mechanism, so we need to make sure they aren’t too cold or too warm. Make sure their sleeping area isn’t in any draughts and they have a comfortable bed they can curl up in. When they were with their dog family they would have cuddled up with Mum and siblings. If you look at litters of puppies they are usually all on top of each other when they sleep. Sometimes a warm hotwater bottle, wrapped up in a towel or fleece will help them to settle (make sure its wrapped well and isn’t too hot – just body temperature).

· Position - dogs like to sleep on a raised platform – probably why they like to sleep on the sofa or our beds! So, think about this too, it will also keep them out of any draughts. There are many different type of beds these days, they can be expensive, but if you get one that will suit your puppy when they reach adult size its an investment that will last a lifetime if you look after it.

And finally, consider allowing your puppy to sleep in your bedroom. Not necessarily on your bed if you really don’t want this, but keeping them close will offer security and also help to build a bond. Its also a great help with toilet training as you are close at hand if they wake up needing to toilet during the night. If you really don’t want them in your bedroom, then how about you moving to theirs, sleep in their room with them for a few days or even weeks to offer them security.

At the end of the day, taking responsibility for a puppy is making a commitment to another living being so you need to ensure their welfare needs are met. But, apart from that if you want a dog in your life then surely you want them to be a close companion that you can share your life with. Putting in the work during those critical first weeks and months will pay off and you will have a dog that will offer you unquestionable loyalty and love.

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