Is a Tired Dog a Good Dog?

The common adage says “a tired dog is a good dog.” Sounds reasonable, right? Like most things though, it depends!

Getting enough exercise and mental stimulation is important but so is getting enough rest. In fact, some dog behavior “problems” can be a direct result of being TOO tired!

Why Rest is Important

While we know it is incredibly important, the exact role of sleep is still being understood. So far, researchers have connected sleep to learning and memory consolidation, immune-system functioning, and general welfare (well-being). Sleep’s relationship to the welfare of an individual is cyclical – conditions that affect welfare (such as pain, stress, and not having needs met) can decrease sleep quality and decreased sleep quality can lead to lowered welfare. 

Paying attention to our dogs’ sleep patterns and making sure they have ample opportunities to rest can support their well-being, decrease stress that can cause behavior concerns, and also give us a way of monitoring their well-being and being alert to changes. 

Two small dogs sleeping on a bed
Photo Credit: Pexels/Pixabay.com

What’s Normal?

Normal sleep patterns in dogs have not been studied as much as you would expect, given that they are often sleeping in our beds. The average adult dog seems to sleep between 10-15 hours a day, with a big chunk of that being at night and more mid-day. Puppies and older dogs sleep more, with puppies reported to sleep up to 20 hours a day. A dog’s sleep cycle is shorter than a human’s and they go through more sleep/wake rounds during a 24-hour period. 

To best help your dog, pay attention to what is normal for them. With this baseline in mind, you can be on the lookout for changes to sleep patterns that may be signs of health problems or stress. You can also observe how routine, exercise, mental stimulation, and other behavior modification efforts (training, etc) affect sleep/rest. 

If you are away from home for long periods during the day or if your dog sleeps away from you at night, you may need a camera to monitor their sleep patterns. Some dog activity monitors include sleep tracking as well.

Why Your Dog Might Be Need More Sleep

Sleep is easily disrupted by activity and noise in the environment, as well as physical concerns. 

During the day (and maybe the night, depending on human behavior), your dog may struggle to get enough rest due to human activity, kids playing, or other pets in the area. Even if they don’t seem outwardly bothered by these things, the inability to nap could have a negative effect. 

Environmental noise can also be detrimental to sleep patterns. Household sounds (appliances, music, voices, etc) or external noises (construction, traffic, weather, etc) can all keep your pup awake.

Finally, physical discomfort can be a major cause of sleep disruption. This could be issues with the space, like being too hot/cold, not having enough space to choose a comfortable position, or not liking the surface (too hard, too soft). Medical issues can also be to blame – pain or discomfort due to an internal issue can easily interfere with rest. If there have been changes to your dog’s sleep habits or you have a behavior concern, check with a skilled vet.

Signs They Need Rest

Tired doesn’t always look the way you expect. Did you know that kids tend to get hyper when they are tired? It’s the same for many dogs, especially puppies and adolescents. 

Overtired dogs can appear:

  • Hyper or over excited: jumping, mouthing, running “zoomies”, tugging on the leash, etc.
  • Distracted or stubborn: ignoring training cues, paying attention to anything but you, etc.
  • Irritable, agitated, or “antisocial”: struggling to settle, barking, avoiding, snapping or biting, etc

It can be so easy to misunderstand these behaviors! Yes, there are (many) other reasons your dog may be acting this way, but make sure to include “tired” on your list, especially if your dog:

  • Has had a busy day of physical or social activity
  • Is young (under 2-3 years old)
  • Has health conditions
  • Exhibits these behaviors consistently in the late afternoon or evening

A reminder (because it can’t be said too often) that a change in behavior, including in ability to settle or sleep patterns, is often the first sign of a medical concern. Your dog could be hyper because they aren’t sleeping enough but they could be not sleeping due to physical concern.

Helping Them Get More

Help your dog get more rest by supporting their physical and emotional well-being and crafting an appropriate environment. This will include:

  • Getting a thorough evaluation from a vet and addressing medical issues
  • Meeting your dog’s physical, mental, and emotional needs, including enrichment that promotes calming
  • Giving your dog dedicated time to nap or rest quietly during the day, away from household activity and noise

Depending on your dog’s needs, you may need to go further, such as:

  • Adjusting your dog’s daily routine to better fit their needs (decreasing daycare days, leaving them at home instead of taking them everywhere, etc)
  • Teaching your dog that being still or calm can be reinforcing through dedicated skill building
  • Creating a “quiet zone” with sound proofing or noise buffers to minimize outside sound

Let’s rewrite the saying: “An appropriately tired (based on their individual needs) dog is a dog that is most likely to be happy and polite (after being taught the necessary skills).”

Okay, it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, but recognizing your dog’s need for rest will help both of you live a calmer, healthier, and happier life together.

If your dog has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.