The Overtired Dog

Some dogs (generally adults) are really good at self regulating and getting the sleep they

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Tom & Zora snoozing in the sun

really require to stay mentally fresh and with good stress tolerances and coping skills.  Others not so much.

This is a topic I frequently found myself discussing with puppy and adolescent dog owners, and sometimes with adult dogs who came to me for behavioral concerns.  In order to be mentally able to handle the stressful world at large, you dog needs to have enough down time and sleep.  Which for adult dogs on average is somewhere between 14-18 hours per day, and puppies closer to 18+ hours.  It’s one of the many reason I’m a big fan of dogs being comfortable in crates, not just puppies, but all dogs.  Since while dog beds are nice, in a crate your dog really learns to stop and rest since getting up to follow you isn’t really an option.

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A very relaxed Zora sleeping on her back

While there is some truth to the old adage, “a tired dog is a good dog,” it all has to be in balance.  As an over tired dog or puppy is less likely to well tolerate stress, excitement, environmental changes, arousal, and so much more.   And more likely to be socially inappropriate and reactive to their environment.  Just as a dog with excess energy and not enough exercise will display similar behaviors.  When I see a new puppy with owners concerned about the level of mouthy biting the puppy is doing to them, 98+% of the time the culprit is the puppy is over tired and needs more rest time.  Once the owner starts putting the puppy in a quiet space for scheduled naps multiple times per day, the mouthy bities start to decrease to more normal levels.  So my ideal new adage is, “Enough exercise + enough rest = a good dog.”

Tom is and seems to always have been really really good at self regulating for sleep.  Right now as I type he is in his usual position at my feet completely relaxed and sleeping.  If I were to get up, he might rouse slightly and watch where I am going but then likely fall back to sleep.  If I am out of the room long enough or open a door, then yes he’d get up and come check on what I am doing (and if it’s nothing much, then again he’ll pretty quickly go find the nearest comfy spot and snooze), for the most part he’s a very relaxed, chill old soul of a dog who is the epitome of ‘conservation of energy’.  When it’s truly go time then he’s all there and ready to roll, but until go time happens then he’ll probably be taking a nap.

Tom lying on a mat wondering why I woke him up to take a photo

Zora, on the other hand, often needs a bit more help.  While she has overall in her young life been better at self regulating than many adolescent dogs that have come through my doors with their owners, a large reason she is good as good at it as she is, is such behaviors get a lot of support from the humans in the house.  I keep a fairly accurate running tally in my head of activity levels and how much our life as been go-go-go.  As after about 3 days, she starts to get into her super intense so wound she can’t even blink mode.  Which many would say ‘oh she needs more exercise!  She’s got so much energy!’ but really what she desperately needs is some quiet down time and a really long nap.  She’s at that point, over tired, and more exercise will simply exacerbate the crazies that come out.  Which for Zora are generally expressed with lots of barking at every little thing in the environment.  Which drives me kind of nuts.  And I’m sure my neighborhood loves it too.  Right… And lots of really really intense inability to stop.  Even when asked to lie down she is still in high drive.

The past couple of days in our life have included a lot of out door time.  With me doing yard work or gardening.  Which for Tom means lots of naps on the porch or wherever I happen to be in the yard, but for Zora means lots of running around the back yard, following me, sniffing, chewing sticks, playing with her toys, searching out the chipmunks, watching the ducks, and generally lots of up, down, up, down and very little actual taking a good long nap.  And because our life also includes our nearly daily walk either in the woods, or on the street, or in the park, and we’ve had some friend and family over to visit meaning more excitement and activity, and we had the agility trial about a week ago, and it’s just plain spring meaning more going on in the world as a whole, Zora has reached the over tired stage.  I generally know I’m correct in this when I make the executive decision that despite that we are home and doing things (which she usually wants to be a part of and out of her crate for), she is going to spend a good chunk of time in her crate and she not only willingly goes there but then indeed zonks out for hours ignoring all sorts of household movements, noise and activity.  I am very much looking forward to her levels of sanity returning to more regulated normal levels when she finally wakes up (and the barking to decrease, oh yes I cannot wait for the barking to decrease once again.)


0 thoughts on “The Overtired Dog

  1. I just want to thank you for posting this. Unfortunately, I hadn’t diagnosed this in my 1.5-year old pup until just now. He gets frustratingly overly reactive to every little noise in the house, and I just realized that it’s much worse after a really good romp in the park. I realize now that he really doesn’t put himself down for a nap – ever! So with this in mind, I’ll be treating him much more like I did my kids when they were young: time for a nap!

    1. Hi! So glad you found this helpful. It is a very common problem as so often we hear “a tired dog is a good dog” or if your dog is bouncing off the walls or barking it’s because he hasn’t had enough exercise. When some times it’s the opposite, he hasn’t had enough rest. It’s all about balance. Hope some structured nap times help you and your dog. Take care and thanks for reading and commenting!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! The balance between well exercised and over tired can be a fine line with puppies, but one often not considered. Glad this article was helpful. Good luck to your friend and their pup 🙂

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