Getting to know your puppy takes time, especially when you consider that over a 24-hour period she may be asleep for as many as 19. In the few hours she is awake her world must be gentle, friendly, understanding, and devoid of stress and anger.
Crucial is sleep for puppies, but like the human baby they don’t want to go to sleep. Instead, they have a tendency to run around until they cause an accident or until they go out like a light. Unlike the human baby, a puppy is given a relatively short space of time to learn what we want to teach her and, crucially, if she is overtired she will not be capable of learning.
Why do puppies sleep so much?
Studies of the sleep patterns of young dogs reveal just how sleepy puppies are. On average, dogs have 23 sleep/wake cycles over the course of eight hours.
The question why so much sleep? is asked of human teenagers as much as it is of puppies and the answer is the same: young puppies (like young humans) are growing, and as new cells are made, their bodies need energy to grow. A puppy needs her sleep to enable her body and mind to grow healthily. In addition to these physiological demands, the mental exertion of their daily life exhausts them.
Learning to feel safe when she is alone
In order to get your puppy into a good bedtime routine, you need to provide her with a safe and quiet sleeping area. Your first task, should you choose to accept it, is to teach her that falling asleep alone is safe and normal. Follow these simple steps to teach her to sleep alone:
1. Let her run, play and learn
2. Feed her and let her burn off some more energy
3. Take her into the garden and let her go to the toilet
4. Take her to a quiet room and place her in her dog bed
5. Wait there with her until she falls asleep, perhaps cuddling her or playing quietly with a toy or chew
6. Leave your puppy while she is sleeping and do not disturb her during her sleep
A sound sleeping routine
In nature, wolves in a pack sleep when they have eaten. If food is plentiful, they sleep more often than if it is scarce. Allowed to return to its instinctive behaviour, a puppy would eat when it could and then sleep, and repeat the rhythm endlessly. However, dogs rely on us for our food, and therefore their sleep pattern is determined by us. The trick here is to have your puppy’s sleepy stage fall in line with yours (i.e. at bedtime).
It is not always possible to bring your puppy’s sleeping pattern in line with yours but it can be done with careful planning. Importantly, her exercise-feed-exercise-sleep regime should be regular and well-timed to coincide with the close of the day. Your puppy needs to have a structure to follow otherwise she will begin to feel anxious and you may find that she becomes more restless at night when the house is quiet.
If she becomes restless at night you should attend to her. You want to check that she doesn’t need to go to the toilet. If she’s very young, she might also be hungry.
Ignoring her cries is frowned on by some behaviourists for two reasons: 1) Ignoring the problem often makes matters worse. 2) If you have ignored the problem but keep going back to her, your puppy will know that she can ‘call’ you anytime she wants.
The only successful way to deal with excessive nighttime separation anxiety is to bring a temporary bed into your room. In a few weeks, her nighttime stressing will have gone, and you can gradually move her bed further away from you. However, it is perfectly normal for dogs to sleep with members of their social groups, so you could simply decide to let your dog sleep in your bedroom.
The process of structuring your puppy’s sleep takes time. It is not natural for a dog to have the sort of waking and sleeping rhythm that we have. It takes time and patience to achieve a positive result, and it is important that your puppy gets enough sleep and the right kind of sleep. Her body and mind need rest, and sufficient sleep aids her healthy development. As tempting as it is for us to endlessly play with a new puppy, we should take care to not disturb her sleep, over-excite her or over-tire her.