Energy Crisis

Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds. ~JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom, 2002

It’s hard to read anything about modern lifestyles, at least in the US media, that doesn’t complain about what overscheduled, overactive, overstressed, sleep-deprived lives people are living these days. I’m not sure that this is actually a new phenomenon, but I do know that in some families even the dog suffers from over-scheduling. Too much stimulation and too little rest can cause all sorts of behavior problems, especially during the holiday season when we’re all a little busier and a little more social than usual.

I first began to realize just how much trouble excessive activity could cause when we opened a new training center last year in a suburb with a large number of young families. I immediately started seeing a type of case that was more or less new to me. Owners complained of very hard play biting, unusually severe destructive chewing, frequent barking, and pacing as well as chasing, humping, and even biting children. The common denominator was that the dogs were balls of frenetic energy who seemed virtually incapable of calming down or focusing long enough for even a good snuggle, much less for a training session. These families were often on the verge of giving up on their dog.

Our typical client for these cases is a stay at home mom with 3 or more kids, at least 2 of whom are not yet school age, and a young dog wreaking havoc in the household. In asking about the families’ lifestyles, I discovered that these dogs got very little rest. Their busy home environments combined with their active curious nature to keep them constantly moving and highly stimulated for 10, 12, or even more hours each day. This is far too much activity, especially for a puppy. While breeds and individuals vary, most dogs sleep 14 to 18 hours each day, including frequent naps. These overstimulated dogs, however, either failed to sneak off for a nap or found themselves interrupted by a child whenever they tried to do so. The resulting sleep deficit led directly to their tremendously frustrating behavior problems.

This problem, fortunately, has a very easy solution. Every 2 or 2.5 hours, or at any time that the dog seems exceptionally hyper or to be having trouble concentrating, put him in a crate or a quiet puppy-proof room with a nice chew toy. The chew toy helps the dog focus all that uncontrollable energy until he falls asleep, which usually happens quickly. Combine naps with a strict rule that nobody bothers the dog when he voluntary lies down and perhaps a slight increase in more structured exercise, like walks, fetch, tug’o’war or obedience training. These simple steps miraculously transform Tasmanian Devil Dogs into perfectly normal pets within a few days.

Young families may be the most common owners of these sleep-deprived terrors, but over-stimulation can affect any dog, especially around the holidays. If you’re planning to host parties or overnight guests this year, remember that your dog may need some help coping. Make sure he gets plenty of down time. Pay close attention to his mood. If he becomes overly hyper or seems shy or nervous around guests, put him somewhere quiet with a good chew toy. Be especially vigilant if you have young children visiting, and try to keep anyone from bothering your dog when he is resting. This special care, combined with vigilance to keep your dog out of all the tempting holiday goodies (desserts, wrapping paper, ornaments, etc.) will help make everyone’s holidays happier.

Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” ~ Robert Fulghum

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