Sleep is hugely important to our health, both physically and mentally – and it is no different for a dog. Sleep is a time for the body to repair itself and the mind to rest, and it is key for healthy growth, too. It’s quite a common issue that puppies and rescue dogs will start to condition your sleep rather than the other way around – while you’re wondering how to stop your dog waking up early, he’s thinking about how soon he can get you up for play time.
As a dog owner you naturally want to give your dog everything he needs, but if he thinks he needs you before you’ve had enough shuteye yourself this can be a problem. If your dog has started waking you up at the crack of dawn, it won’t be long before you’re asking how to stop a dog waking up early or how to stop a puppy crying at night.
Why is my dog waking up early?
There are lots of things that might cause your dog to wake up early. They could be one-offs events that manifest as a habit over time or they could be regular occurrences that disturb sleep and make your dog more alert in the night. Examples include…
- illness and fears of soiling in the house
- foxes, rabbits or other wildlife in the garden
- security lights triggered by wildlife
- an unfamiliar environment, such as a new house or holiday stay
- the clocks changing
How to stop a dog waking up early
If your dog has conditioned you (habit waking) or you’ve condition them inadvertently (by setting alarms), then you are in for a tough time breaking the habit. One of the quickest and easiest remedies is to extend the dark hours with a blackout blind at the window or by covering the crate with a blanket. It is not so bad in the winter months, but if there are no curtains or blinds in spring and summer you can expect your dog to wake when the sun comes up.
Make a routine and stick to it as best as you can so they know what to expect. Dogs notice your daily routine – they know when you are going on the school run, when they are going for a walk and when you are going to bed because you’ll have the same routine for each activity. Make sure that they are sleeping in the same place they have always slept, too, unless this no longer works for them.
Other ways to break the habit may depend on why your dog is waking up.
Waking you to go to the toilet
Avoid setting alarms in the early days and make sure your feeding times work with the rate of their digestion. This is different for all dogs and their ages but as a guide, it takes eight hours to digest kibble while raw food only takes four. You may need to tweak the time you feed them so that you can prevent them needing to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
It took me months to crack this initially as this was before I became a behaviourist. In the end, it was all about making my dog too tired to wake up in order to break the habit. I started by making his first walk longer of the day longer and adding more stimuli. Where possible, my husband or I would take him later in the day (at around 3pm) and again at 10pm, so that there was no big stretch of sleep period in the day to recover from the first walk, which finally broke the waking.
If outside stimuli is playing a part, then there are two ways to look at it. You can either move your dog to another part of the house to sleep away from windows and doors – many people choose the utility room or the upstairs landing. You could also leave the radio on so there is noise to mask what is going on outside.
Fear or anxiety
Having a good routine and making the dog feel safe is key. If they like to den, then den them. If they do not, leave them to sleep with a radio on and something that smells of you for comfort. A lot of dogs, particularly if they are the only dog, can be freaked out by the sheer silence night time brings. Here are some more tips on how to help dog anxiety along with a guide to the best calming dog beds, which are designed to help a dog feel safe and secure.
Adaptil Calming Spray | Amazon
This spray contains a synthetic copy of the “dog appeasing pheromone”, which a mother naturally releases to calm and reassure her litter.
Look at your dog’s diet. Make sure you are not feeding him food with lots of empty calories, such as kibbles with lots of filler in that have no nutritional value (potato, rice, pasta and grain). These make the dogs feel full for a while but they just poo more and he still feels hungry. Consider the times you feed, too.
Make sure your dog has his physical and mental needs met. This again is very much breed dependent, but the higher energy and more intelligent they are, the more enrichment and exercise they will need.
Yes, it is a thing – just like some people can only sleep with the fan on. I know a dog who slept in a crate and would wake without fail at 5am causing a real commotion. We tried the blankets, the radio, the food, the walking late at night, but nothing worked until I suggested leaving the crate door open and a pet camera on. It turned out that Hank was just fed up with sleeping curled up, despite it being a large crate, and once the crate was opened, he just literally sprawled out the entire length of his body and went back to sleep!
How early is too early?
All lifestyles are different. Some people get up at 5am, others not until 8am, so it is really a matter of what works for you. However, just for arguments sake 3.30am is too early. My first mastiff managed to get me into a routine of what I now know to be habit waking. At around 3.30am every night, he would start whining and barking to go out. This started with an upset stomach that lasted a few days – then he either cottoned on to waking up at that time to just go out and mooch about or he was worried about soiling in the house after his illness episode.
When people bring home new puppies, they sometimes set alarms to take them to the toilet or sleep with them in case they squeak in the night because they need to go out. Puppies have small bladders and stomachs, and they are fed little and often, which means the bowel is more active. Setting your alarm to wake a puppy to go to the toilet is asking for trouble as you are getting them into a routine.
Puppies are going to have accidents that is a given, so be prepared for it with my tips on how to puppy pad train. If you’re crate training, you should be able to start closing the crate door at around 18–20 weeks as they should be able to go through the night. If you get up every time the dog needs to pee or poo, then the sleep routine is going to be poor for both of you. Not only are you getting up, but the puppy or dog now has the added bonus of your company and may create a scene when you try to go back to bed.
How long do dogs sleep for?
On average, an adult dog will sleep between 12–14 hours in any 24 hour period, while elderly dogs and puppies can sleep for 18–20 hours each day.
How long can you leave a dog overnight?
This is down to you as the owner. If the dog sleeps with you, it may be content to just sleep next to you until you stir, whereas if the dog is in another room, it is about lifestyle and what is normal for you. If you normally get up at 7am, then get up at 7am.
Routine is key and it is very much your routine they need to fit into, not the other way around. Everything takes time.
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