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Why Downtime Is As Important As Training For Your Dog

Maintaining an active lifestyle is incredibly important for our health. But so is rest, relaxation and a good night’s sleep. 

The same goes for dogs. It’s great to have regular stimulation through the day from walks, training, food puzzles, and playing tug (of course!). It helps relieve boredom and promotes health and good behaviour. 

But what lots of owners may not realise is that if you train hard and play hard, you need to rest hard, too!

Why does it matter?

It’s vital for dogs to have downtime in order to process what they’ve learned through play and training. Rest and relaxation, whether through sleep or downtime, is essential for improving performance, speed and accuracy, as well as promoting mental and physical well-being.

In fact, sleep is as important to a training programme as the training itself. And dogs need lots of it. All dogs are different, but an average adult dog can easily sleep 12-14 hours every day. Puppies need as much as 18-20 hours of shut eye. 

A dog deprived of these vital hours of downtime can struggle more with behaviour issues, like general ‘naughtiness’ and issues like destructive chewing

Tired or ‘naughty’?

Often we get training questions from puppy owners who are struggling with their pup running wild and behaving badly at all hours. Rather than being ‘naughty’, often these pups are simply overtired.

Puppies, and some older dogs, are much like toddlers. When they miss a nap or get too overstimulated, their behaviour goes rapidly downhill.

For successful training sessions, dogs need to be well-rested. If you’re working hard on a new behaviour or skill, it might seem counterintuitive not to practice constantly. But by taking a break and coming back to it at a later stage, you may see improved results.

How much downtime should a dog get? 

How long is a piece of string!? The amount of downtime a dog needs depends on their age, size, activity levels and personality. It’s about reading the signs that your dog needs a rest - like restlessness and hyperactivity - and acting on them. 

Bigger, more strenuous events may require more downtime to recover, sometimes as much as two or three days of chilling out. 

Also bear in mind that physical activity is not the only thing dogs need time to recover from. Stressful encounters or new surroundings can really play on a dog’s mind. Giving them lots of downtime in between these situations helps them to process what they’ve learned and to avoid trigger stacking. It also helps bring their stress levels back down to a healthy level.

What if your dog struggles with downtime? 

Ever tried to convince an overtired toddler to take a nap? It can be something of a challenge! And the same is true with some dogs. 

Relaxing doesn’t always come naturally, especially if you have a working dog, puppy, rescue dog or particularly excitable pooch, so it may need to be ‘taught’.

Having a crate or a spot where your dog feels safe and calm is always a good idea. Reward them for calm behaviour - although we recommend tasty treats over toys in this circumstance to encourage a lower state of arousal.

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