I remember when we first got our puppy; the restless nights, crying, and lack of sleep actually reminded me of when we had a real-life baby. Caring for your dog is much like caring for an infant or an aging family member; both can wake you up at night when they become restless.
From puppyhood through to my dog getting older and more senior, I’ve developed strategies to help him (and us) cope with restless night. What follows is a collection of my tips and those of experts in the field. So, if you want to know how to calm a restless dog at night, please read on and choose from the tips which will work best for you.
How to calm your restless dog at night and sleep time
The tips below should work with young puppies, but also can help to calm restless senior dogs at night. Pick and choose which elements you use depending on your dog’s character, personality, and age.
Know what to expet though,and what’s normal. For example, 16-week old puppies generally sleep longer during the day but are more awake at night compared to 1-year-old dogs. As they grow older, they will be more active during the day and less hyper at night.
By 1 and a half years, dogs will spend around 3 hours of sleep between 8 am and 8 pm and 7 to 9 hours of sleep between 8 pm and 8 am. Unlike humans, dogs don’t have continuous hours of sleep but rather have sleep-wake cycles of an average of 16 minutes asleep and 5 minutes awake.
Knowing this can help account for some of what might appear to be restless behavior at night, but not all. When it’s a constant waking up, and pacing around, you need to take action to calm your restless dog.
To start with, here are some tips to establish a healthy sleeping habit early on. These tips will also help to prevent a similar problem where your dog simply stares at you as you sleep, wanting you to wake again to be with them.
1. Establish a pattern
When your dog wakes up, take him outside for a potty break before giving him his breakfast or lunch. After eating, he will usually need to take another potty break before he starts running around, playing, exploring his surroundings, and interacting with you, other family members, other pets, his toys, the rug, the mop, the broom, and other interesting objects.
After an hour, encourage him to take a nap. Repeat the cycle when he wakes up. In the evening, give him a final potty break before settling down for the night.
During the first few nights, he may resort to whining or barking even after he has just had his potty break. Ignore him. He will eventually calm down and go to sleep. If he wakes up and starts whining again, he may need another potty break.
2. Make his crate cozy
Tiny pups are best nestled in comfy crates (view on Amazon). Your puppy may be too young for a puppy bed which he will probably chew to pieces. If he is not yet potty trained, sharing your bed with him is not the best idea.
At night, when you put him to bed, dim the lights in the room, or cover his crate.
3. Try dog-appeasing pheromones (ADAPTIL)
A recent randomized placebo-controlled trial in very young puppies 4 to 8 weeks old during their weaning period showed that ADAPTIL did not affect the duration of sleep, but puppies exposed to ADAPTIL had spent significantly less time crying or looking for their mother when she is away.
Based on that study, this gadget on Amazon could be just the think to calm your restless dog at night, whether a puppy, or old and senior.
4. Try playing music
In a study on the influence of five types of sound stimulation (human conversation, classical music, heavy metal music, pop music, and a control group of ambient sound) on the behavior of 50 dogs aged 6 months to 6 years old, dogs spent more time resting when classical music was played. When heavy metal music was played, dogs spent more time barking.
5. Offer behavioral support and an enriched environment
Senior dogs may have declining vision, hearing, and cognitive function but they can still enjoy new opportunities for exploration and games.
Keeping them busy during the day will help them remain calm and help stop restlessness at night in older dogs.
Food toys and food puzzles that require some manipulation to release food help older dogs remain active and alert and less restless at night. More importantly, these toys should provide interaction with you and other family members or pets.
Here are some suggestions.
KONG Wobbler Food Dispensing Dog Toy (view on Amazon)
Dispensing Dog Toys (view on Amazon)
Puzzle Game Dog Toys (view on Amazon)
Senior dogs with arthritis or stiff limbs may have difficulty going up and down elevated areas of the house, including climbing up their favorite couch or bed, and this could lead to whining or pacing and a restlessness at night.
Ramps help address this.
Bed ramp (view on Amazon)
Behavioral enrichment and support should be introduced gradually. Too many new things may also be stressful and could lead to even more restlessness at night.
6. Consider nutritional and dietary therapy
Several studies have shown that nutritional and dietary therapy may improve cognitive function in senior dogs. While most of these studies are sponsored by the makers of the products, it is mentioned in peer-reviewed journals as an effective intervention when combined with behavioral enrichment.
There is no head-to-head comparison to identify which nutritional or dietary product is superior to another for canine cognitive dysfunction.
So, you may introduce these products one at a time and observe which products are to your senior dog’s liking. If he enjoys it, he will consume the necessary amount to bring about the desired effect. Providing variety will make him look forward to these treats. . Studies usually show improvement in 8 weeks.
Here are some foods and supplements you can use for nutritional and dietary therapy – they are said to help calm a restless dog at night, particularly senior animals
- Brain aging care food
- Vibrant Maturity food
- Senilife Regular supplements
- Chewable tablets
- Anxiety reducing tablets for dogs
You might also want to consider some of these other supplements and canine drugs you can give your dog to help them sleep better through the night.
7. Consider drug therapy from a vet
If all else fails, and you cannot calm your restless dog at night, then the vet might prescribe drugs. Drug therapy for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction may target the changes in the brain (Selegiline, Propentofylline, adrafinil, and modafinil) or reduce anxiety to reestablish a normal sleep-wake cycle (Melatonin, Diphenhydramine, phenobarbital, trazodone, benzodiazepines, Gabapentine, Fluoxetine, and Paroxetine).
These drugs have benefits and risks for specific situations and are best administered as advised by the veterinarian.
Why do old dogs get restlessness at night?
As your dog grows older, his daytime and nighttime activities will reflect his home environment. A study on 42 dogs aged 2 to 9 years old showed two periods of increase in activity, at 7 am and at 7 pm, which roughly correspond to the time their humans wake up and the time they come home from work.
The dogs exhibit low activity levels from 11 pm to 6 am which correspond to their owner’s sleeping time. They were also more active during weekends, which shows that dogs also have their version of TGIF.
As the years go by, you and your dog will grow old together, your playtime will be his playtime, your work time will be his rest time. And then all of a sudden, your dog will grow old faster and faster.
All of a sudden, he seems older than you. He sleeps more during the day and is awake and restless at night. His memory, ability to learn, awareness, and sense of sight and hearing start to deteriorate. He now has a condition referred to as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Unfortunately, most dogs with this condition are brought to the vet when they are in their senior years, usually at age 15-16 years old (5). Earlier detection could lead to effective interventions that will slow down this process.
Schütt, Toft, and Berendt conducted a study on the cognitive function and progression of age-related behavioral changes in 51 dogs aged 8 years old and above and observed them for 2 years.
After recruiting dogs aged 8 years old and above with no brain disease or medical condition that could mimic cognitive dysfunction, the dogs were evaluated using the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Rating Scale (CCDR). This is a questionnaire with a scoring system.
According to the CCDR, a total score below 39 classifies a dog as having a normal cognitive status (non-CCD), a score of 40 of –49 classifies a dog as having Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or being at risk of developing Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and a total score above 50 classifies a dog as having Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD).
Dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) showed aimless wandering, staring into space, avoid getting patted, has difficulty finding dropped food, and exhibited anxiety. This was also seen to account for a lack of calm, coupled with restlessness at night (occasionally with fast breathing).
Of the dogs initially classified as normal, 33% showed signs of mild cognitive impairment after 2 years,
While 22% of dogs with mild cognitive impairment progressed to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This study has confirmed that Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is a progressive disorder and increases exponentially with increasing age.
At this point, if your dog is 8 years old or older, you may want to screen for cognitive dysfunction using a Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Rating Scale developed by Salvin et.al. These are the questions in the form:
How often does your dog pace up and down, walk in circles, and/or wander with no direction or purpose? Stare blankly at the walls or floor? Get stuck behind objects and is unable to get around? Fail to recognize familiar people or pets? Walk into walls or doors? Avoid, being patted? Have difficulty finding food dropped on the floor?
Compared with 6 months ago, how often does your dog now pace up and down, walk in circles and/or wander with no direction or purpose? Stare blankly at the walls or floor? Urinate or defecate in an area it has previously kept clean? Have difficulty finding food dropped on the floor? Fail to recognize familiar people or pets? Amount of time your dog spends active?
Brain disease and other potentially reversible medical conditions may mimic the symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Epileptic dogs may show behavioral changes right before or after a seizure. Hearing loss or vision problems may cause spatial disorientation. Dogs with arthritis may show reluctance to move, may limit interaction with humans or other animals, or may even become aggressive to avoid contact with the painful joint.
Sleep-wake cycle disturbances and house soiling may be symptoms of diseases of the liver, kidney, thyroid, or heart. Thus, a consultation with a veterinarian to rule out these medical conditions is necessary before a diagnosis of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can be applied.
The therapeutic options for dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction are classified into three: Behavioral support and environment enrichment, nutritional and dietary therapy, and drug therapy.
In many ways, dog ownership can be like parenthood, even after your dog has navigated the restlessness at night of the puppy months.
Puppies will go through changes in sleeping and waking schedules which will eventually fall into a comfortable daytime and nighttime routine with a little help from you. You will then both enjoy years and years of warm companionship, filled with pleasant surprises and inevitably some heartbreaking moments.
However, as dogs get older and more senior, keeping them calm from restless nights can become more challenging and prolonged.
It is heartbreaking to see your senior dog pace restlessly around the house at night as if he is lost or hear him whimper behind a corner chair because he could not find his way around it.
It is heartbreaking to come home and find your dog staring blankly at you, as if you are a stranger, or hear him repeatedly and restlessly getting up and lying down, unable to go to sleep at night.
But when you remember all the years he has brought you so much joy – how excited he is to meet you when you get home, how he catches your attention by pressing his snout on your lap, how he snuggles beside you on the bed or just lies down on the floor near your feet while you’re typing away on the computer-then you know you cannot just give up.
You know you will try all available means to make your dog’s senior years more comfortable. And to make him know that he is still loved.
I hope I’ve been able to give you some ideas on how you can calm your restless older dog at night and you start to have better sleeps.