Updated: Oct 21, 2022
Trying to work out what our dogs need isn’t always easy, it doesn’t help that many behaviours which suggest our dogs have excess energy to use up can actually be a sign they’re really tired and in need of a good sleep!
The old saying that ‘a tired dog is a happy dog’ is far from true for many dogs. Our dogs do need exercise and activities to keep them happy, but occupying them to the point of over-tiredness is unlikely to keep them happy.
When a dog is tired, they won’t be able to cope effectively with stress, this stress could come from excitement or it could be caused by frustration or fear. Tiredness also makes it harder to make good choices, the dog is unlikely to be thinking carefully or learning when in a tired state. If you think how you feel when you’re tired, everything becomes more difficult and you might be more likely to make bad choices
Did you know, puppies need up to 18 hours of sleep a day, and adult dogs up to 14 hours.
How do you know when your dog is over-tired?
Mouthing can be a tell-tale sign, especially in puppies and young dogs, it can also be a sign of over-excitement, but perhaps even more often it’s a sign of over-tiredness. In a tired state, young dogs particularly will struggle to regulate themselves, they may not have the ability to decide to go and sleep, which means their stress and arousal levels are likely to increase as their body isn’t getting the rest it needs.
With increased arousal comes increased challenging behaviours. Mouthing can serve as an outlet for frustration and it can become reinforcing if it triggers a reaction from people. Your dog isn’t capable of learning effectively in these moments so it’s far better to take any excessive mouthing as a sign your dog needs a rest and some time to calm down.
Maintaining regular rest time through the day will help your dog learn to regulate their needs better and enable them to gradually make these choices themselves without you needing to step in. A crate or a quiet room will provide your dog with a safe space where they can rest without being disturbed.
A confusing sign of over-tiredness is a dog who struggles to settle, they can appear to have so much energy and be impossible to tire out, when actually inside they’re in desperate need of a rest. These dogs will need more help to settle and rest, they might benefit from a smaller space and less choices (i.e. a crate or a room on their own).
Making rest time regular and enforcing more frequent sleeping time through the day can really help to teach these dogs to switch off and settle down.
Don’t be tricked into assuming your dog just needs more exercise, in fact you could do the opposite and swap out some physical activity for more mental stimulation and calmer activities which will encourage your dog to think and behave more calmly.
3. Attention Seeking
A tired dog can often be an annoying dog, especially when they’re young and lacking the skills to regulate their sleep properly. It can be tempting to give in to attention seeking and assume we’re not doing enough with our dogs, but if you can say you have given your dog a good amount of exercise and stimulation, now is the time to be stricter and expect your dog to settle without constantly asking for attention.
Encouraging your dog to chew on a long-lasting chew or working on training on their bed can help break attention seeking and encourage calmness, making it easier for them to sleep. Alternatively, if attention seeking behaviours are becoming hard to manage or ignore, make sure your dog has their own space where they can go for some quiet time.
Most dogs bark, it’s a natural behaviour and something we can’t always avoid, but if your dog is barking more than normal or the behaviour is developing further, you need to think about why it’s happening. When our dogs are tired, they aren’t in a good state to learn or process information, so they may be quicker to bark simply because it’s something which comes so naturally.
This links onto our next point, but a tired dog will also struggle to cope with stressors in the environment and barking can be a product of this. For example, barking at noises in the house or escalating into a reaction more quickly or in a more extreme manner can indicate tiredness.
5. Alert and aware
Dogs who spend a lot of time alert to their environment will become tired more quickly. This can turn into a vicious cycle where they can’t switch off so they become increasingly tired and increasingly aware of their environment.
Dogs who aren’t usually very aware of sights and sounds around them, may become noticeably more alert as they get more tired. This is where you need a careful balance between doing enough with your dog but also making sure they’re not so tired that they can’t cope with all the stimulation around them.
For dogs who are more alert and aware, try to look at whether there are patterns to indicate a link between alert behaviours and the activities/events in recent days. Does your dog become more alert after a busy weekend with visitors and long walks? Is your dog more alert after a busy walk through the city centre?
If you can find patterns, make sure you follow busier or more stressful/exciting days with quieter, rest days. If there are no obvious patterns, aim to build in more frequent rest time every day, making sure your dog has regular times where he can fully switch off and not be exposed to noises or sights which make him more alert.
Most people can probably relate to this, when you’re really tired, everything becomes slightly more overwhelming and we’re more prone to feeling stressed and anxious about things which may not ordinarily worry us. It’s the same for our dogs, those who already struggle with anxiety will be worse when they’re over-tired, and those who don’t typically show anxiety may not cope so well with normal events when they’re feeling really tired.
It's a perfectly natural response to tiredness, so make sure you’re aware of why your dog may display more anxious behaviours and if it seems linked to tiredness then take this into account and put more emphasis on rest time.
An over-excitable dog can be wrongly diagnosed as having too much energy, in some cases this will be true, but at other times it will be another indicator of a dog who just needs to sleep. In the same way our dogs can’t always cope with negative stress when they’re tired, they will struggle to cope with the stress of exciting events.
If your dog has had some really busy exciting days and not as much sleep as normal, you may notice they start to find everything super exciting or their level of excitement escalates rapidly. Rather than becoming calmer and quieter as they become more tired, they seem to gain energy and craziness!
These dogs will need help to control their excitement levels and learn to cope better with exciting events, they will also benefit from more enforced periods of rest. It can be fun to have our dogs around all the time, especially if we want them to be involved, but when this leads to problems because they don’t have any time to sleep, then it soon becomes challenging and frustrating. It’s far better to set aside some time for sleep, meaning they can be involved in our activities in a positive way and without tiredness starting to cause problems.
8. Lack of focus
As we’ve mentioned before, a tired brain is not good for learning or thinking. Very few people work well in extreme tiredness, nor would many perform well in tests or exams when feeling tired. It’s the same for our dogs, if we’re asking them to listen and focus when they’re feeling tired, they will struggle to process the information and respond accordingly.
Learning and focusing are tiring for our dogs, so when you need your dog to be focused or you want to teach him something, make sure he has a good rest before and after. Sleep is essential for processing and learning, it should always be a central part of any training situation otherwise all the information you need your dog to understand will simply disappear.
If your dog is struggling to focus, there can be a whole range of reasons why, but don’t neglect to consider whether he’s too tired to focus. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop and let your dog sleep!
You may notice during training sessions that your dog 'checks out' and starts sniffing and dis-engaging from your training session. We call this a 'mental reset' and it's important to allow your dog to do it. It gives their brain an opportunity for a mini rest, allowing them to process the training session. Often your dog will come back to the session on their own within a couple of minutes and will be fresher and ready to continue learning.
It is essential to keep your dog well hydrated during training. A dehydrated brain can't learn, so ensure drinking water is available during your sessions - you will notice your dog drinking more during these times.
9. Reactive behaviours
When dogs are tired, they’re more likely to ‘react’ rather than ‘respond’ to stimuli, they might have a lower tolerance in social interactions or find it harder to deal with frustration. If they’re feeling more anxious as a result of being tired, this can also trigger more reactive behaviours.
If your dog is reacting out of character or their reactions are quicker or more extreme than usual, there could be many reasons why but tiredness could be playing a part. It’s important with any behaviour change to consider why it might be happening, rather than trying to stop the behaviour immediately, take some time to think about the reasons or the contributing factors.
Giving your dog a few days to rest and sleep can be hugely beneficial in improving reactive behaviours, once your dog is well rested and has had a break from stressful situations, you will be in a much better position to work through the behaviours. Remember a tired dog won’t be a good learner or a good thinker, so don’t push your dog if they are in need of sleep.
10. Let sleeping dogs lie
The clearest sign your dog needs to sleep is that they are SLEEPING! How often do we wake our dogs up so they can participate in our plans or our activities? How often do our dogs get disturbed because they’re trying to sleep in the middle of a busy house?
One of the reasons why our dogs don’t sleep enough is because we don’t let them. We expect them to be able to switch off amidst the chaos of daily life or we decide we’d like them to accompany us everywhere or we don’t help them understand the importance of sleep.
Not letting our dogs sleep or allowing them to be disturbed when sleeping can lead to all manner of problems. If your dog is sleeping then leave them be, even if it means they miss out on coming with you somewhere. Make sure they have their own space where they can go and sleep in peace. If they can’t regulate their sleep themselves then help them out, put them somewhere quiet and safe to sleep, don’t involve them in every activity of the day, and don’t try to constantly exhaust them.
Sleep is often underrated when it comes to our dogs. We can be surprised by how much sleep they actually need when it’s so easy to assume problem behaviours are always caused by a lack of exercise or stimulation. Life is a balance, our dogs do need exercise and activities, but they also need to sleep regularly and they need the space to be able to do this in peace in order to fully relax and rest.
Have a read of our blog on the importance of rest days
Written by Naomi White
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