We’ve all had those nights where we’ve just lay in bed, tossing and turning and worrying. Stress has affected us all in some way and not being able to sleep is the worst. It’s not just humans that can be affected by stress though, did you know it’s also a problem for our furry friends? Just like us humans, 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. There are a lot of different factors that can cause a dog to feel stressed, so it’s important that you know what they are and you are able to avoid them. Researchers monitoring the test discovered that negative actions caused the dogs to have a fitful sleep that they awoke quickly from, while the pooches that enjoyed more positive experiences managed an hour of deep, consistent napping.
Just like it is for humans, 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 your dog has a problem with stress or anxiety is the first step to helping them. As they can’t tell you what’s on their mind, you need to keep an eye on them and look out for the following symptoms:
- 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. If they’re not in a warm environment, panting is a tell tale sign of a problem.
- 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. If your dog isn’t usually one to bark, you should try to get to the root of the problem.
- Damaging behaviour – Is your dog suddenly misbehaving? If they’re out of that naughty puppy stage, 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, especially when it’s coming up to summer. But if you’ve noticed more fur around the house than usual, they might have a stress-related problem.
- Licking nose – If you your dog is constantly licking their nose and lips — and they haven’t just eaten — this could also be a sign of anxiety.
- Yawning – 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 be getting.
How to de-stress your dog
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.
- Routine – Dogs are like (most) children in that they thrive on routine and rules – although they’re generally less hassle than children. 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. It’s a good idea to make sure they eat and have their daily walk at the same time each day.
- Diet and exercise – We all benefit from exercise both physically and mentally and it’s the same for dogs. If your dog is stressed, extend your walk time by 10 or 15 minutes, or head to the park for a nice game of fetch. 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 grain-free dog food or cutting out the human treats you give them, which can be harmful to canines.
- Socialise – 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’re out all day, you probably won’t realise that your dog is sat at home barking for you – unless your neighbours have told you. If you can, book them into a doggy day care centre or ask if a family member or friend can dog-sit for an hour or two to break up their day, this is what we do with our cat who really doesn’t like being alone. 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.