Ever had a restless night’s sleep or just lay awake for hours worrying about tomorrow? You might not be the only one. Just like us, our dogs are also kept awake at night due to stress and worry.
A 2017 study published by Proceedings of The Royal Society B showed that canines suffer a worse night’s sleep when they’re feeling anxious or stressed and this broke my heart a little. Researchers monitoring the test discovered that negative actions caused the dogs to have a disturbed sleep that they awoke quickly from, while the pooches that enjoyed more positive experiences managed an hour of deep, consistent napping.
A good night’s sleep is vital to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing — so how can you make sure your dog is free of stress when they head to bed?
The tell-tale signs of a stressed dog
Identifying if our dog has a problem is the first step to helping them. As they can’t tell you what’s on their mind, keep your eye out for the following stress indicators:
Panting; Commonly a way to cool down, you only need to worry if your dog appears to be panting for no reason, with their ears back and low on their head. Barking; You might have heard a neighbour’s dog barking in the back garden for hours and thought it was nothing more than a nuisance. However, excessive barking could be your dog’s way of telling you that they’re anxious. Damaging behaviour; Is your dog suddenly misbehaving? Biting furniture or ripping clothes is another indicator that your dog has something on their mind. Extreme moulting; All dogs shed their fur now and then. But if you’ve noticed more fur around the house than usual, they might have a stress-related problem. Licking nose; if your dog is constantly licking their nose and lips — and they haven’t just eaten — this could also be a sign of anxiety. Yawning; Considering the study we looked at above, this indicator is an obvious one. Watch your dog for signs of yawning — this could let you know that they aren’t getting as much deep, non-REM sleep as they should.
How to de-stress your dog
According to Dr. Kis, consistently poor sleep could stop your dog ‘consolidating memories’ and ‘dealing with their emotions’, which might make them more aggressive. In agreement is senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, Gudrun Ravetz, who said: “We know that positive interactions with our pets are important for their overall health and welfare.” If you’ve picked up on some of the indicators above and aren’t sure what to do, there are a few ways you can alleviate the issue and help your dog.
Dogs are like (most) children in that they thrive on routine and rules. If your dog knows roughly what time you go to work, they get fed, you come home, and they head out for a walk; it’ll make them feel calmer and more settled. This isn’t always possible but try and maintain some consistency to keep your dog from worrying.
Diet and exercise
We all benefit from exercise both physically and mentally. If your dog is stressed, extend your walk time by 10 or 15 minutes, or head into the garden once a day to play fetch. Taking them swimming is a great way to tire out your anxious pooch and an excellent stress booster — granted that your dog actually enjoys the water. Also, take a look at what they’re eating and make changes if necessary and after checking with your dog’s vet. These could include switching to natural dog food or cutting out the human treats you give them, which can be harmful to canines.
Try not to leave your dog for long periods during the day. While some dogs handle being alone better than others, some suffer from separation anxiety which causes stress and panic. If you can, book them into a doggy daycare centre or ask if a family member or friend can dog-sit for an hour or two to break up their day.
Dogs are extremely perceptive and can pick up on bad atmospheres easily. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that, if there’s a negative vibe in your home, your dog will be affected by it, too.