Ever had a restless night’s sleep or just lay awake for hours worrying about tomorrow? You
might not be the only one. Just like us, our dogs are also kept awake at night due to stress
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. 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.
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 2017 study
The three-hour experiment was carried out by scientists in Hungary and involved a mix of 16
dogs, including a Labrador Retriever, Shetland Sheepdog and Boxer. To test the effect of
stress on sleep, some of the dogs received ‘positive’ experiences before sleeping, while the
others endured ‘negative’ experiences prior to resting (all dogs were subjected to both types
of experiences). After monitoring the sleeping brainwaves of the canines, researchers came
to the conclusion that anxiety plays a part in the ability of a dog to relax and rest.
Typically, dogs that received a ‘good’ experience — filled with petting, attention and games
— managed around an hour of deep, non-REM sleep. Conversely, ‘bad’ experiences —
which included isolation from their owner and being approached menacingly — caused the
dogs to have only around 40-50 minutes of non-REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement)
sleep is the more active, lighter resting stage consisting of increased heart rate and quicker
breathing, while non-REM is a deeper sleeping stage that provides optimum rest and more
regular breathing and heart rates. Although REM sleep takes up around 20%-25% of overall
sleep time in adult humans, it’s important that we achieve the non-REM stage in order to get
what we’d refer to as a ‘decent night’s sleep’, free of tossing and turning.
Research leader, Dr. Anna Kis, said: “We found dogs get less deep sleep after a negative
experience. It suggests that, just like humans have a bad night’s sleep after a difficult day,
dogs may have a similar problem.”
Interestingly, after a negative experience, the dogs in this experiment tended to fall asleep
much faster than the canines that had received a more pleasant pre-sleep time. Dr. Kis,
explained: “In humans, stress causes difficulty falling asleep, whereas dogs fall asleep more
quickly — we think as a protective measure to remove themselves from the stressful
Although the dogs all slept for roughly the same amount of time, it was the inability for the
‘stressed’ dogs to enter that vital non-REM stage that highlights how negative experiences
can adversely affect their emotional state.
The tell-tale signs of a stressed dog
Identifying if our dog has a problem is the first step to helping them. As they can’t tell you
what’s on their mind, keep your eye out for the following stress indicators:
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.
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.
Is your dog suddenly misbehaving? Biting furniture or ripping clothes is another indicator that
your dog has something on their mind.
All dogs shed their fur now and then. But if you’ve noticed more fur around the house than
usual, they might have a stress-related problem.
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.
Considering the study we looked at above, this indicator is an obvious one. 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.
How to de-stress your dog
According to Dr. Kis, 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
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.
Dogs are like (most) children in that they thrive on routine and rules. 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.
Diet and exercise
We all benefit from exercise both physically and mentally. If your dog is stressed, extend
your walk time by 10 or 15 minutes, or head into the garden once a day to play fetch. Taking
them swimming is a great way to tire out your anxious pooch and an excellent stress booster
— granted that your dog actually enjoys the water.
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.
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 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.
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,
My little pooch Tula even has her own Instagram @Tulatula2009 - hope over to see what she's up to here!