Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Healing Sleep

Sleep, behavior and pain are often entwined. Here are some ways to recognize how sleep can affect dogs and signal underlying problems

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

William Shakespeare wrote of “sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care.” While our pets might not have cares such as paying the mortgage or staying safe during a pandemic, sleep is as important to their mental and physical well-being as it is to us. Amount and quality of sleep affect memory, learning and activity level.

Dog trainer Denise Nord in Rogers, Minnesota, sees it in her puppy classes, including an increase in behavior problems in the past year. With people spending more time at home, puppies aren’t getting enough sleep.

“People are home, so puppies are awake,” she says. “Or they just crash wherever and aren’t getting quality sleep. When I convince people to get their puppy quality sleep for 16 to 18 hours out of every 24, so many behavior issues ‘magically’ disappear.”

Like toddlers, puppies need a lot of sleep to fuel their growth. Nord says teaching puppies to be quiet and comfortable in crates and exercise pens is a skill they will benefit from throughout their lives. “Without exception, everyone who has taken the suggestion of more sleep for their puppy has had great improvement in behavior issues and are much happier with their puppies,” she says.

Our dogs seem to recognize a need for sleep as well -- or at least for a regular sleep schedule. Most dogs have a regular bedtime and ritual that they either come to on their own or adopt depending on their owner’s schedule.

Sharon Hawkins’ cavalier King Charles spaniel Daisy has set times that she sleeps and plays, and she uses different dog beds at different times of the day. Adam Conn’s Bernese mountain dog, Digit, who gets a biscuit at bedtime, usually starts to remind Conn about the treat an hour or so before his normal bedtime. “He really wants that cookie!” Conn says.

Besides napping beneath my desk throughout the day, my dog Harper has set 10 p.m. as her desired bedtime. Her predecessor, Bella, put herself to bed even earlier. But Harper nags me for her bedtime treat first.

Sleep is also a balm to pets in pain.

“In acute pain, there are many studies showing that rest can improve rates of healing,” says Michael Petty, DVM, an expert in pet pain management and owner of Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital and Animal Pain Center in Canton, Michigan.

When pets don’t seem to be sleeping well, veterinarians and owners should ask themselves whether pain may be at the root of disruptions in sleep patterns, he says. Other issues can cause sleep disruptions, but pain should always be ruled out as a potential cause.

Pain and sleep are related in other ways. For instance, pain may be more noticeable upon waking. Many of us have experienced how the body stiffens during the night after lying in one position for several hours. It’s another way that pain can affect a pet’s sleep pattern. They have to get up and move to find a more comfortable position.

Circling before lying down and going to sleep is a common and normal behavior in dogs and cats, but it looks different in pets who are in pain. For instance, you may see the circling behavior with several false starts before the pet lies down. And arthritic dogs often just fall into a down position because it hurts too much to ease themselves down, Dr. Petty says.

Finally, you may notice the mental effects of chronic pain on sleep behavior. Pain can affect cognition and make pets in pain seem befuddled.

“I see this as an additional problem as night approaches,” Dr. Petty says. “These patients often seem confused and want to wander the house. Pain can exacerbate this ‘sundown’ syndrome, and treating pain can help improve the severity of signs.”

As the Bard wrote, sleep is the “chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Make sure your pet gets enough.


How to cue

dogs to turn

Q: Sometimes when walking my dog, I see things ahead that I want to avoid, like a chatty neighbor or a kid on a skateboard. It’s not always easy to get my dog on board with the change in direction, though. Do you have any tips?

A: One practical trick I like to teach dogs is to turn on cue, for just such situations. To teach your dog to turn, use a favorite treat or toy as a lure. Whether he’s walking on the left or right, hold it near your dog’s nose. (For small dogs, smear peanut butter or squeeze cheese on the end of a long wooden spoon or bird perch so you don’t have to crouch.)

Say “turn,” and as you do so, move the lure in the direction you want to go. At the same time, move into the turn yourself so the dog stays at your side.

At first, reward your dog for each small movement of the turn. As he starts to understand what you’re asking, increase the amount of time between rewards. Eventually, you’ll reward him only when he completes the turn.

Practice left, right and 180-degree turns separately, because they’re each different logistically. For instance, if you’re turning left with a dog who heels on the left, use the lure to guide your dog to pivot in place as you move around him to make the turn. If you’re turning right with a dog who heels left, reverse this process: As you pivot in place, use the lure to lead your dog through the turn.

Gradually fade the lure until your dog responds only to the word “turn.” Practice indoors first, then outdoors with distractions until he’s reliable. Reinforce with treats occasionally so that he’ll always be working for that reward. -- Mikkel Becker

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raises $200,000

-- More than 7,400 virtual attendees helped raise more than $200,000 for the Delaware Humane Association during the “Indoguration” celebration featuring first shelter dog Major Biden, who went from being housed at the Delaware Humane Association to being a resident of the White House, along with German shepherd sibling Champ. Entertainment included performance of an original dog-themed song by Grammy-, Tony- and Emmy-nominated singer, songwriter, actor and dog lover Josh Groban. The funds will go to aid financially struggling pet parents as well as help more shelter animals find homes.

-- If you adopted a pet last year and are now struggling with behavior or training issues, don’t feel as if returning your pet to the shelter is the only option. Many shelters have trainers on staff or intervention programs that can help. You can also ask your veterinarian to recommend a reputable trainer or behaviorist who can provide guidance. And has articles and videos as well as a search option for veterinarians, trainers and other pet professionals who are trained to manage pets who are fearful, anxious or stressed.

-- Birds use their beaks in myriad ways, including biting, yawning, and jousting -- playing with other birds by slapping or grabbing beaks. Among the sounds they make with their beaks are clicking, sneezing and grinding, the latter characterized by side-to-side sliding of one jaw over the other. Birds who make grinding noises are indicating satisfaction and security. You may hear it after your bird has had a delicious meal or when he’s in the cozy state of still being half-asleep. And then there’s beaking, the habit of young birds putting things in their mouths to test them out. If your baby bird gently does this with your finger, don’t pull away; he’s not biting, but getting to know you. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.