Sleep Training for Puppies


A puppy sleeps for many hours in a given 24-hour cycle so it is a pretty good idea that we look into how we plan to have our little buddy spending those hours and what fits into our family the best.


Puppies are baby dogs. Don’t forget that they are babies! They will sleep a surprising amount and if they aren’t getting regular naps and adequate sleep then you may begin to have some behavioral problems on your hands.


Over-stimulated and over-tired baby dogs can get just like over-stimulated and over-tired human toddlers. That is, they can get cranky or emotional or revved up and super hyper and out of control. If this sounds at all like a puppy you know you may want to start paying closer attention to that puppy’s sleep schedule.


New Dog Journal


I provide a chart to my dog adopters that gives an easy way to mark out when your puppy is sleeping and how your puppy is sleeping. It is a very simple and easy tool to figure out what is going on with any dog and many, many problems can be avoided or fixed with the information provided in that handy-dandy chart.


If you’re contacting me after bringing home one of my dogs the information on that completed chart will be our best friend in solving your problem quickly and successfully.


If you are not bringing one of my dogs home with you, then I advise you to keep a journal for the first several days (I personally recommend a week) full of notes about your new pet. When does he sleep and for how long? When does he eat and how much? When does he poop or pee and what is the character and consistency of the poop? And when is he playful, revved up, crazy, sleepy or cranky?


So many problems can be resolved with this simple bit of information. It only takes a few seconds to scribble something down onto a note pad when your puppy does something that meets any of our animal’s most basic needs.


The point of this new pet journal is finding patterns in your pet’s behavior. If we can find patterns we can consistently anticipate our pet’s needs and dramatically speed up any housetraining. We can also spot many signs of illness and stress as well as determine if the animal is not adequately having his needs met and therefore is perhaps acting a bit “off” or is being difficult to manage, handle, train or get to sleep at night.


So this chapter will focus on sleep which is a pretty important need for all of us. And when we don’t get enough sleep we feel pretty miserable. We may under or over eat. We may be cranky and we definitely wouldn’t do as well in school. Every day is school for your puppy. She is learning new things just about every minute. She is not going to learn as quickly, efficiently, or learn the things you want her to learn if she is all out of sorts due to a scrambled sleep schedule.


It is a little bit more than just letting your puppy play until she passes out from exhaustion. If we are over or under-stimulating our puppy we may have a puppy that is sleeping too much or too little.


How Much Sleep?


Every breed is different and every individual puppy is different so how do we know the proper amount of sleep that is appropriate for your puppy?


To start you want to keep in mind that an adult dog requires more sleep than the average human, depending on the breed. Hard-working breeds with very busy daily jobs are a different story all together but your average companion dog that doesn’t have any particular “job” is going to need a good amount of sleep each day.


Most of our dogs will sleep through the night when we humans are sleeping and will take several naps throughout the day (which tends to coincide with when the humans are gone at work, busy or snuggling them on a couch)


If you feel that your puppy sleeps well and doesn’t have any problems, then you’ve probably got a good sleep pattern going on. If you feel that perhaps there are times when your puppy seems a bit “off” or even like a totally different dog, then you might want to consider adding more sleep-opportunities and calm-times to your dog’s day. Trainers often jump right to insisting that a dog’s problem is a lack of exercise but there are many puppies out there that have the exact-opposite problem.


This is where pattern watching comes into play and a journal will really help us out here. Pay attention to your puppy. When does he/she exhibit physical signs of being sleepy. Do you see any yawning or slowing down of the puppy? Has it been a while since the puppy had a nap? Has your puppy had a nice big meal recently? These things all contribute to our clues for a puppy that needs sleep. Follow your puppy’s cues.


If you feel your puppy is tired, then reduce stimulation and encourage your puppy to fall asleep. Snuggle the puppy into your arms or lap. Dogs bond socially with one another by sleeping on each other so this is a great way to encourage feelings of safety and family with your new addition (this goes for adult dogs too!) Remove the puppies exciting toys, ask friends and family members to ignore the puppy if he asks to play. Soothing petting and calm behavior by the family will encourage a puppy to follow those cues and think “ok, it is sleep-time now”.


If you find your puppy is going crazy at a specific time of day despite adequate exercise and stimulation that day it is a good idea to assess the puppy’s sleep schedule. It could be that your little Tasmanian devil is in need of a good nap. Our efforts to burn out this seemingly endless blaze of energy can actually serve to contribute to the problem, so take a look at the pattern of sleep and consider that you’re missing a sleepy window a little before the crazy phase comes on.


Encourage the over-tired puppy to fall asleep prior to the crazy-phase beginning or at the very first signs that you’ve gone into crazy-puppy territory. And try not to burn off that crazy-puppy energy. Perhaps try giving your overtired puppy a nap in his crate (even if he initially objects).


Where to Sleep?

Your options are pretty simple here: we can let the dog choose the where or we can choose for him.


Sure, we can allow the dog to sleep wherever he/she wants. But this isn’t a good option unless you never want your puppy to be housetrained and you don’t mind stepping in random spots of poop or pee throughout your house. This is also a really poor choice unless you plan on watching your sleeping dog to find out exactly when she wakes up so that you can ensure she does not chew on or ingest something dangerous. And finally it is a downright dangerous option in a home with more than one human being. Puppies are small and easily stepped on. Trust me. And a puppy can be a real tripping hazard and can cause significant injury to any human in the house and particularly the very young or the very elderly. And of course we don’t want our puppy injured either. So it’s just better to let this option go and accept that you’re going to have to do some initial training with your puppy to set up permanent habits that are safe and effective.

You can allow the dog to sleep in your bed with you at night. If you’re working with a dog that is not yet housetrained I don’t recommend this option, simply because you will have “accidents” on the bed. If you don’t mind this, then I recommend covering your mattress with a high-quality mattress protector and have at it. Your puppy will love sleeping in your bed and you’ll probably like it too. Your con is definitely going to be ensuring a small dog doesn’t get injured falling off the bed and ensuring your dog doesn’t make a habit of using your bed as a toilet. Placing a pee pad on the foot of the bed farthest from where you and the dog sleep is a very good idea if you have a small adult dog or a puppy. Another option is teaching your small dog to use stairs to safely get on and off the bed and provide a pee pad in the corner of the room near the stairs and a small nightlight near the pee pad. This will help your dog or puppy avoid peeing or pooping on the bed which she probably really doesn’t want to do (but when you have to potty you have to potty!)


In the Bed with People

If you’re going to go with bed-sharing at night, then I recommend you train your dog to sleep during the day in some specific chosen spot in the house such as a dog bed or the couch. Follow the instructions below for nap-training in a crate except use your location of choice instead of the crate and you’ll be on your way to a nice trained pup.


In the Crate

Our final (and our best) option is crate training. This is the option I recommend the most simply because most people do not want to deal with an untrained puppy going potty on the bed. And you can always allow your adult dog to sleep in the bed with you at night after the initial first year or slightly less of housetraining has rendered him/her a safe bedmate.


So why the crate? Isn’t it like caging your dog? It seems so cruel… these are things I’ve heard from many people over the years. And they are also the same sort of people who seem to have more dogs in their history they’ve had to drop off at a shelter or rescue or otherwise re-home. Crate-training can literally mean the difference between a happy dog-human relationship and a disastrous one. In fact, when I obtained my very first puppy at the tender age of 15 I practically begged my mother to allow me to crate train the dog. I was following around trainers at the local shelter (which is where I obtained my little mutt puppy) and crate training definitely was the way it was done with the most success. My mother refused and insisted that it was cruel to the dog. Less than a year later she returned my extremely well-trained border collie mix to the shelter because when I was away at school and no one could watch the dog she would chew things up in my bedroom where she was being kept in my absence. If she would have allowed me to crate-train that dog I would have been able to keep her to a ripe old age and she never would have had to endure the pain of changing families like that. Of course there is more to that story but as a shelter worker it was unfortunately not an uncommon issue.


I could never fathom why it was cruel to crate train a dog but not cruel to allow the dog to become so destructive that it was forced to be caged at a shelter with no family and then dumped on a rescue family who would then have to crate train the dog anyway in order to rid the dog of the bad and destructive behaviors (which are, by now, deeply engrained in the dog).


But I digress.


But just so you know for sure: a crate is not any more a “cage” than a crib is for a baby. Is a crib a “cage”? Well… it has bars like a tiny jail cell right? It locks your baby up right? I’ve seen my babies banging their sippy cups of water along the rails of their crib just like little inmates. Ha!


But we put our babies in cribs to keep them safe. It is absolutely the safest place for a baby to be sleeping (besides in bed with their mothers which is arguably safer). But your puppy does not need to be nursed and changed in the middle of the night so you really don’t have a pressing need to bed share with your little fluffball.


Keeping a baby safe if we cannot see her when she wakes up is the primary reason we put our babies in cribs. Safety. Your puppy is no different. If you cannot provide constant supervision, then your puppy needs to be in a safe environment. This means either a crate or a playpen. And for sleeping at night the crate is the most beneficial for house/potty training purposes.


So a crate is the way to go unless you are blessedly able to provide direct supervision to your puppy every single second of every single day (and night). A crate will keep your little one safe from ingesting dangerous objects, mouthing on wires and cords, pottying in the wrong places and delaying potty training success substantially. It is also the best way to prevent your puppy from learning to destroy things in the house which can cause all the human family members significant frustration, sadness and/or loss.


So most of you need to crate that puppy. Decision made.


How to crate train the puppy is a whole other topic. One that will be longer than the six pages I’ve written up here. So to keep it in somewhat bite-sized chunks the next post will be my updated Crate Training Crying Puppies piece.


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