As a behaviourist, I often get calls about disturbed sleep. Sleep deprivation is devastating and dangerous for both humans and dogs, but at least dogs can catch up on their much-needed ZZs during the day with no effects on health! For humans, daytime naps just aren’t as restorative, so it’s a concern when guardians are being disturbed. This problem’s fixable, but first you need to do a bit of detective work to discover the cause, advises Toni Shelbourne.
The problem is usually easy to fix but first you need to work out the root cause. There are many reasons why dogs wake us during the night; here are the most common ones.
Dogs are social creatures, and many would prefer to sleep near their people.
Puppies — very young puppies, just separated from their mothers and siblings — may never have been alone, not for a single second. At this age, it is extremely scary and stressful to be isolated; in fact you can set up a lifetime of anxiety trying to make a puppy sleep on his own, so it’s a good idea, at least for the first months, to have your puppy with you at night. You can wean him out of your room later, but initially puppies need warmth, company, and to be let out regularly to toilet.
Dogs have a different circadian rhythm to us, which means their sleep patterns differ from ours. They are most active at dawn and dusk, so an adolescent dog is likely to be awake and ready to go at these times. Dogs can and do learn to adapt to our cycle, but it can take a while, so be patient and try to encourage a later start by adding on
a few minutes at a time before you get up.
If your older dog is waking you, he may need to toilet more often or be suffering from ill health or cognitive decline; seek veterinary advice if his sleep pattern changes.
Dogs are social animals; they thrive on company. If you go out to work, have children to ferry around to activities, or have a hobby your dog can’t participate in, your dog could be spending too much time alone. Add in the eight hours you disappear to sleep, and you may realise your dog is being deprived of meaningful time spent in your company.
Think of ways he can spend more time with you or work out a way he can sleep in the same room. He doesn’t need to be on your bed but being in the same room can make all the difference to his mental well-being.
Bad weather can frighten some dogs; if yours becomes scared keep him near you for comfort.
This is a common problem in the colder months. We think our dogs will be fine; they have a fur coat, right? But many dogs suffer from being cold, young dogs, old dogs, and short-coated dogs included. If your dog is regularly waking you during the coldest part of the night, usually around 3am, he is probably needing more warmth.
Think carefully about where you position his bed and what type of bedding you supply. Get down on the floor and notice how much colder it is at ground level, or if his bed is in a draught. Raising the bed off the ground, supplying him with extra blankets, or moving the bed to a warmer part of the house, can help.
If he sleeps in your room, it might be OK for him to sleep in a warm fleece coat but ensure it is safe for him to do so. Other options are keeping the heating on low or supplying a heated pad or special thermal bedding.
Older dogs with arthritis, or dogs with pain-related issues, can often suffer at night. If your dog has a known painful condition or your older dog is waking at night and is looking stiff, consult your vet.
Don’t miss an issue and subscribe! Become a Your Dog subscriber today and join thousands of dog owners getting helpful training tips and tricks, the latest advice, fantastic dog stories and more!
We have a brilliant trial offer on both print and digital of JUST 99p for your first issue!