Last night, I lay in bed, unable to fall asleep. Nishi and Tigger, my dogs, were curled up with me. I had been away for a month, getting my dog training education in Norway, from one of the leading experts in canine communication – Turid Rugaas. Ever since I got back from Norway, they are sticking close to me.
As Nishi’s head pushed against my neck, I could feel her twitching and making tiny whimpering noises. She sounded afraid. I wondered what she was dreaming of. I went through all the things she had done during the day and wondered which of those events she was currently reliving. Then I knew. We had an argument during the day and arguments always stress her out immensely. I felt guilty at my own behavior. I looked down at her, wondering if I should wake her up. Then I remembered the lesson that made most impact on me in Norway – “Let Sleep Dogs Lie”.
Seems like there is a lot of wisdom in some of these age-old sayings. When it comes to dogs, this one rings quite true. A normal, healthy adult dog requires at least 16 hours of sleep a day. Young dogs, old dogs, stressed dogs and unhealthy dogs need more than that. That means more than half of all dogs need a lot of sleep – a lot!
Sleep does two critical things to us – it rests the brain while restoring damaged cells and it gives time for our mind to sort through the events of the day, learning to cope with it. Not having enough sleep not only impoverishes the brain, it also severely impedes our ability to cope with what life throws at us. And not to forget how cranky and irritable lack of sleep makes us.
The scene is not very different when it comes to dogs. When a dog is irritable or is struggling to cope with different life scenarios, it’s time to look at how much sleep a dog is getting and help the dog get more sleep.
To help a dog sleep, one needs to understand what induces sound sleep in dogs. This is where dogs are different from us and we really need to understand these nuances. Unlike humans, dog are polyphasic sleepers. That means, they sleep in bits and pieces, not 8 or 16 hours at a stretch. And several times, when they get up, they like to change positions or even the spots they sleep in. Providing several different spots all over the house will make your dog a happy napper.
Dogs are social sleepers. They need company to fall asleep. It’s a familiar scene to pass a pile of sand near a construction sight and see more than one dog curled up and in deep sleep. The reason they do this is that, if they don’t have company, they are on constant alert mode and sleep very lightly. Does this mean that the only way to have a happy dog is to let him on bed or have multiple dogs? Certainly not. But having a little cozy bed of his own, in a corner of your bedroom will be quite nice. Being around you is most conducive for good sleep.
Sleep time is when dogs drop their guard the most. So when they are startled during sleep, it is by far one of the most scary things for the furries. It shoots a dogs stress level up almost 100%. There are several days that I look at my dogs sleeping and looking so adorable that all I want to do is cuddle. But my husband thankfully reminds me that a sleeping dog must never be disturbed. I reluctantly agree. If disturbed, not only does a dog get highly startled, his ability to let go of all fear during sleep reduces, impeding sound sleep. Soon we have on our hands a sleep deprived, stressed dog.
Now, before you trot off to the pet store to pick up a nice bed for your dog, I’d like to quickly identify preferences dogs have in beds. Oh yeah! They do have preferences. Some are very specific to a dog and some are rather common across the species. Remember what happens in a dog’s mind during sleep – dogs go over the events of the day and develop coping strategies. This is done during what is called REM sleep.
One can recognise that a dog is in REM sleep by just looking at the sleeping dog. The dog will either be running or chewing or whining etc…depending on what part of the day he is revisiting in his mind. In order for him to do this well, he needs to stretch out and sleep. Hence a bed that does not limit his movements when in sleep is important. Hard rims and edges, cages, crates etc are very limiting and not advisable at all.
Having several sleeping spots is critical. Some spots under the fan, some in AC, some where the balcony catches the sun, several around where humans lounge… Remember dogs are social sleepers. So when people lounge peacefully, dogs like to hang around them and fall asleep. It’s not necessary to buy the insanely expensive dog beds for all these spots. Just blankets or fleece or even jute bags laid out in different places will do just fine. So it’s a good idea to stock up on several of those and try out what spots your dog likes. Move them around till your dog approves.
And finally to some personal preferences of dogs. Some dogs like elevation, some like dens and some like both. No wonder dogs are always trying to sneak up on sofas. And as my teacher says, “Every dog deserves a sofa, and why not?” In our house, though we let the dogs on the bed, we don’t let the dogs on the sofa, as it can make guests very uncomfortable. So we did something better. We got the dogs their own little sofa that looks far better than ours and is far more comfortable than ours. They sit there, when we have guests and watch them with a smug look on their face, as if to say “Now, we can start the conversation. And by the way, our sofa is better than yours”.
The special “Sofa” for just my girls
Do share with me ideas on the cozy sleeping spots your dogs prefer and how many of them there are around your house. What have you done to make the spot nice and special for your dog? What are the sleeping preferences of your dog? Isn’t it just lovely to watch a dog sleep? I love it! A dog sleeping peacefully is my favorite sight in the whole world. It brings me peace.