10 Tricks To Get Your Dog To Sleep Better At Night

My 2 year old puppy Zach wasn’t sleeping through the night after we decided to ween him off sleeping with us. At 65 lbs of pure lean muscle, his doggy nightmares were resulting in bruises and scratches that couldn’t be avoided as long as he shared our king sized bed. He didn’t like sleeping in the room with us either so we opted to create a space in our living room where he felt secure enough to catch some rest.

At the beginning it went perfectly well but once the summer heat wave started, and the earlier sunrises fully kicked in, he was barely getting 3 hours of sleep at night. Because he interrupted our sleep to go outside and cool down while entertaining himself with his backyard toys we figured it was time to apply the scientific method and figure this out. His stellar team of supporters, doctors and trainers all pitched in ideas and now Zach is lasting at least 6 hrs asleep which gave us 6 hrs of uninterrupted zs. Seems we are getting there. Without truly knowing if his condition is malignant cancer and if it has spread, all we can do is assume that pain is not the culprit and that with more exercise and additional food servings of home cooked goodies he is finally hitting a stride.

Here are the top 10 things that worked to get Zach to sleep at night and allow us a good night rest:

1. Feeding enough food based on activity levels and nutritional values.

In the post Zach and the Big C we mention that in order to feed the appropriate portions to your dog you need to use the food calculator. However, this calculator requires that you know the median caloric value of the food you are serving per ounce to determine the amount of food, in cups, that you should serve. Based on Zach’s activity level we should have been feeding him 7 cups or between 3 to 6 lbs of food. That’s about 1-2% of his body weight. Some sites even recommended we feed him 3% without relating it to the calories. At 250 calories per 4 oz serving we were not taking advantage of high calorie healthy foods like cottage cheese or natural peanut butter which makes for excellent snack time meals. Now that we knew Zach was waking up because he was hungry we were able to correct one of the main reasons he wasn’t sleeping: stomach pangs. Yay!

2. Cutting off the drinking water supply 3 hours prior to bedtime.

With our active schedules and Zach’s  ew diet we realized we were giving him too much water during the evenings. This was why he was waking us up originally, to go out to pee and sometimes poop. Now thay we had decided to cut his water and limit it to one ounce per pound of body weight he wasn’t having to go out to pee. However he still wanted to go outside to play with his Jolly Ball and toys which prompted his 2-3 am barking fits at our door. That’s where tip #3 and #4 came in handy.

3. Increasing mental stimulation.

If your dog is as spoiled as ours he has enough toys, puzzles and chews for entertainment while you are away. We failed to noticed that at night he wasn’t really engaging much with his toys because we hadn’t set up enough treats inside them to make up for the feeding snafu. Between his peanut butter filled bone, bully sticks, 100% natural meat-naturally processed or freeze dried- chews and a few destructible toys he is finally entertained enough to take a nap or not come to our door to ask to play with his outside toys. (See the Kong article for some toy suggestions.)

4. Infusing essential oils into sleeping and living areas.

Frankincense and lavender have a calming effect on both animals and people. Usually people try Rescue Remedy of chamomile infused treats on their pets with some success but in this case the effects were minimal on Zach. When we started putting a few drops of lavender on his wash of bed covers and drops of frankincense – diluted in water – around his sleeping area he started to chill a lot more than usual. This coupled with the drinking water cut off and the extra mental stimuli got us to stretch 3 hour breaks during the night into six hours!

5. Adding CBD oil to the drinking water an hour before anxiety inducing events or bed time.

For a few nights Zach was given CBD oil. It didn’t super mellow him out but other dogs from his Rescue org have been given the remedy and it has yielded excellent results to curb reactions to thunderstorms and fireworks. This oil works on people as well and places like The Spice Shop sell teas that are formulated with CBD. Unlike THC, which is the main ingredient in marijuana, the CBD is not detected in regular tests and is not toxic for dogs. Do not give human marijuana to dogs! It is toxic for them. Check out Heel Pet products for more info on where to purchase it and its benefits. It works better than Rescue Remedy and is a little bit pricey as well but worth looking into. CBD helps ameliorate pain too. 🙂

6. Using Benadryl twice a day (histamine blocker).

Zach’s condition, mast cell tumor or cancer, is histamine based. The more of it he has in his system, the bigger the tumor gets and the itchier and yucky he feels. By giving him Benadryl he has less of an allergic reaction to pollen, dust and dirt curbing the releaseof histamine in his system. If the room is cool and the night calm, the Benadryl helps him stay asleep for a while longer too. In some dogs the effect is more pronounced than in others so it is worth a chance. Recommended dosage ranges from 1 mg per lb of dog weight to whatever your veterinarian suggests is safe. Do not give meds to your canine companion without getting the okay from your vet or behaviorist. Overdosing on Benadryl will result in serious health complications and even death.

7.  Turning on music or the TV to mask outdoor noises.

A white noise machine or a heartbeat noise generator (the ones used for newborns) is ideally the best investment for puppies and adult anxious dogs but, if you can’t find one in your price range, using your TV and existing radio sets can work as well – youtube and Pandora have doggy approved music. Make sure you set it up loud enough so that outside noise is covered up but not too loud that it drives neighbors and your dog crazy, and that the music or TV show doesn’t have noises that trigger reactions and anxiety like loud booms and rain. If all fails create and NPR shows work well and can be found in your native language. (In our case Spanish speaking shows make Zach feel like we never left home without him.)

8. Regulating the temperature inside the home.

During the hot weather months Zach was getting overheated during the day because the temperature inside the house was in the mid to low 80s. He loves the lower 60s and upper 50s so we had to get creative to keep him cool. Between the cool mat, two fans on high and lots of cold water we got the house down to a more agreeable temperature for him, especially at night when we learned we could crack a window and he wouldn’t throw a barking fit because he likes the outside noise. (Our curtains dampen noise as well and the soundwaves are muffled in both directions.) When he is feeling too cold he nests between blankets. The colder it is the better he sleeps. Win-win.

9. Implementing a daily exercise regimen.

Many dogs are content with two 15 to 30 min walks a day but Zach needs exercise like a crossfitter! We enlisted the aid of a dog walker that comes twice a week to let him out into the yard for an hour. When we get home we play fetch for another 15 to 30 mins and he gets free reign of the yard for 3 to 4 hrs. Only when he gets tired does his sleep through the night soundly. If he is left alone for 8 to 10 hrs a day and doesn’t get the exercise he stays awake all night. If you can’t swing the door walker invest on more puzzles. Mental stimulation and exercise work wonders to combat boredom and insomnia.

10. Amping up the cuddle time.

When dogs feel neglected they can get depressed. Even though Zach is already on Prozac to keep his anxiety in check, he can get insomnia because he is bored and sad that we are not spending enough quality time with him. Every opportunity we get we give him lots of cuddles, treats and praise. (To make sure he is comfortable we trained him to react to cuddles a command.) The more time he spends with us the happier he feels and the more comfortable he gets when he is on his own because he knows he can count on us to not ignore him. 🙂

Certain dogs trade actual cuddle time with having their beds in the room with you during the night. They retain their independence that way and roam as they feel like.

If you have already tried all these here are other ideas to consider:

  1. When they are in pain they may call out to you so a pain medication may be in order to help them sleep.
  2. If your dog likes to wake you up tp have a late night snack or breakfast early morning during your days off use an automated feeder or timed food box to feed them remotely. (This way you can stay in bed a bit longer.)
  3. Using melatonin as a sleep aid.
  4. Rubbing lavender oil behind your pet’s ears or neck. (Less than a drop works. Too much can be harmful.)
  5. Use a Thundershirt or tight clothing on your pet to ward off anxiety.
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