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Sleep

Shih Tzu Sleep

Overview

This section covers the topic of Shih Tzu sleep habits, patterns, and issues that may be happening. 

We will go over:
  • How many hours per day is normal for puppies, adults, and seniors.
  • How to help a Shih Tzu puppy sleep through the night (including how to react when a pup wakes up barking or wakes up often).
  • Reasons for a disruption in sleeping patterns.
  • Reader questions including sleeping positions, noises at night, snoring, sleep apnea, and more.
  • Particular sleeping problems seen with senior dogs. 

How Many Hours Should a Shih Tzu be Sleeping?

When looking at this question, we must take into consideration the age of the dog. Other elements will factor in, however for now we will discuss the sleeping habits of a healthy Shih Tzu that is given the proper environment (comfortable canine bed, low noise level, etc.)
Newborns - Out of a 24 hour period, very young newborns may sleep 22 hours, only waking to nurse from the dam every 2 hours or so. Older pups that are being weaned or are on solid foods (3 to 7 week olds) may sleep anywhere from 19 to 21 hours.

A marked change can be seen around the 3 week mark at which time the pup is hearing at almost full capacity and is becoming much more mobile which allows him to explore the strong curiosity level that has arisen. 

This keeps him awake for longer periods of time and there will be more frequent bursts of activity.

One area to note is that newborns will tend to mimic the dam's behavior, cuddling up to her during the night while she is sleeping, therefore helping them quiet down during the nighttime hours. 

However, once separated things will change drastically and it is during this transition that sleep patterns may become disturbed - more on this ahead. 
Shih Tzu puppy sleeping on pillow
Bailey, 4 months old
Photo courtesy of owner: Stephanie
"Wake me up when breakfast is ready"
Puppies - Raising a puppy is a bit of a challenge. Most owners know that they will be taking on house training; however, a Shih Tzu pup also will need some training in regard to sleep. 

It is normal for a puppy to be bursting with energy one moment and then to be simply drained the next, falling asleep wherever he happens to be. 

While every owners wishes for their Shih Tzu puppy to sleep through the night, many will have disrupted sleeping patterns, some even sleeping most of the day instead of at night. 

Out of a 24 hour period, a Shih Tzu puppy will generally sleep 16 to 20 hours. This time will gradually become shorter during the first year and there will be a transition to most of the sleep occurring at night. 

If you have a pup that pops wide awake as soon as the sun goes down, you may wonder how you will ever get to this stage; However, we will discuss steps that you can take to promote good sleeping habits. 

Adolescents and Adults - During the first year, many things are learned and habits are developed. 
When an owner encourages nighttime sleeping and there is a proper environment to promote a good night's rest, the 1+ year old Shih Tzu will sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours out of a 24 hour period with the majority of this being throughout the night. 

The exact number of hours that an adult dog slumbers will also depend on his activity level throughout the day. An engaged dog will stay awake more, and a dog left to his own devices may take many more naps.
Seniors - It is normal and expected for seniors, especially those over the age of 10 years, to take more naps to rest a tired body. 

Many senior dogs relish peace and quiet - place an older dog's bed a comfortable spot in a sun room or a cozy corner in a family room and he may be very content to nap a lot. 

One important element to note is that even if an older dog does require more sleep, it is vital to continue to provide daily exercise (a nice walk at least once per day) and social interaction (humans engaging the dog, taking time to properly groom, bringing the Tzu along for errands, etc.)

It is not uncommon for sleep patterns to become a bit disjointed. Senior dogs may wake up during the night, either for bathroom needs or to re-position a sore body. With an older, senior Shih Tzu you can expect the dog to sleep anywhere from 14 to 19 hours per day. 

Helping a Shih Tzu Puppy Sleep Though the Night

As we touched on a bit earlier, most puppies will not automatically be awake during the day and zonk out in the evening. Right along with housebreaking, training a puppy to sleep at night can be challenging.
A common problem is when a puppy wakes up at night. He may bark or whine. And owners may find themselves sleep deprived, quite similar to those taking care of newborn babies. 

Let's take a look at some steps that owners can take to help train a pup to sleep at night:
1. Have the right set-up.
Many owners ask about a Shih Tzu sleeping in bed with them and whether or not this is a good idea. While the thought of cuddling up at night is appealing, this is something that can be worked in once the dog is housebroken and once a good night time sleeping pattern is established.

In addition, it can be quite dangerous for a puppy to sleep in his owner's bed, as being rolled on or falling off the bed are real concerns. 
So, instead, creating the right area for your Shih Tzu can really help with encouraging sleep, and is great for other elements as well. 
Shih Tzu with Chewbacca pillow
Do you see any resemblance between Weston and his Chewbacca pillow?
A really effective set-up is a properly sized canine playpen (preferably with a door). Within this should be a quality dog bed (bolster beds are best) sized for toy breeds, certain toys (more ahead), water (and sometimes food - more ahead), and pee pads (you may find that using a canine litter box is a great method for keeping pee pads in place - more ahead). 

This is the #1 method of keeping a dog in one area when potty training, is the perfect set-up for when a Shih Tzu is home alone, and is where he can go to rest, take naps, and sleep. 

2. Encourage naps to take place in the playpen.

If you notice your Shih Tzu becoming drowsy during the day, encourage him to sleep in his bed for naps. Most pups will not complain if they are gently carried or led to the area and set down to nap.
3. Stay with a schedule. 
Ideally, you will be taking your Shih Tzu for two walks per day, for a minimum of 20 minutes. Try to head out at the same time each day. The evening walk is best done after dinner, but at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Meals, grooming (brushing, taking care of the teeth) and trips outside for bathroom needs should be scheduled as well. 

There should be an established bedtime, with the goal of sticking to this plus or minus 15 minutes. 
4. Adjust meals as needed if there are early morning bathroom needs.

As a puppy matures, his bladder and bowels muscles will strengthen. So, any early morning bowel movements that may be happening often cease once the pup reaches the 9 to 10 month mark.

This said, even adult Shih Tzu dogs may need to poo very early in the AM, and for this, some slight changes with meals and bathroom trips may help. 

You may want to experiment with feeding dinner 2 hours earlier or later. If so, be sure to give a small snack at the previous dinner hour. 

Hopefully, your Shih Tzu will go to the bathroom during the evening walk; however, you'll also want to take him outside both 1 hour and then right before bedtime. 
shih-tzu-on-pillow
Malla, photo courtesy of Sameta
5. Change the household vibe 1 hour before bedtime.
When it is 1 hour before your Shih Tzu's sleep time, dim the lights. While it's perfectly fine to have the TV going, it's best if there are no blaring noises. 

The goal should be to create a relaxed atmosphere. 
6. React appropriately if your Shih Tzu wakes up.
a) If you feel that your Shih Tzu needs to go to the bathroom, do take him out. But, take steps to show that this is a serious time. 

Keep lights low and do not play with your pup at all. 

Quietly take him out, and then bring him right back. Do not talk to the pup except to give praise if he pees or poos. 
b) If you do not feel that there is a bathroom need (if you took him out within the last hour), and your Shih Tzu just keeps waking up and barking, this is where lessons of self-soothing must take place. 
It is important to teach your puppy that barking in the middle of the night does not mean that you will run to his side. If so, this will create very bad habits and a terrible foundation that can take a long time to break. 
So, you will want to resist the urge to sit beside him until he falls back asleep, and resist the urge to run to him if he barks or cries. 

Though there may be some periods of extended barking and this will be hard to deal with, if you can stay strong, this is generally resolved after the first week. 

Ahead, we will cover elements that the pup can learn to seek out instead of calling out to you. And if you can resist running to him, he will indeed learn to use these. 

c) Use toys to offer ways to self-soothe. In time, as a Shih Tzu stays engaged more during the day, he will sleep better at night. But, until then, you will want to teach him to stay busy if he wakes up in the middle of the night.

Of course, a puppy cannot do this all by himself. He'll need help. And this help comes in the form of certain toys:

1 - A treat release toy. This should be placed in the playpen after the puppy goes to sleep. If he wakes and can't fall back to sleep quickly, the toy will keep him busy. And if he wakes because he's hungry, all he may need to fall back to sleep is a few bites of kibble to satisfy his tummy. 

2- Silent squeakers toys. In the case of waking up and staying up for a while, you'll want your Shih Tzu to have something fun that won't keep you awake as well. So, this is when silent squeakers can come in handy. It'll be amusing to your puppy, but you won't hear a thing.

3- Companion toy. These are so fantastic for both offering a way to calm a puppy back to sleep and are wonderful to help with separation anxiety as well. The one that we recommend (below) emits a soothing heartbeat and, optionally, a comforting warmth. 
To Summarize:
The 1st part of this is to have the right set-up. The Shih Tzu will sleep within a canine playpen in a quality bed. Within in this will be pee pads, in case of bathroom needs that you are not alerted to. If you find that the pee pads move around, placing them into a shallow canine 'litter box' (minus the clay, since this does not usually work well) can be helpful. 
Recommended playpens, beds, pee pads, and pee pad holder are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn the screen horizontal to see all 4. 
And, then the 2nd part of this is to only go to your puppy if you think there's a real bathroom need. And for all other times, resist the urge. Instead, have helpful toys within the pen. 
The recommended toys that we discussed are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn the screen horizontal to see all 4. 

Disruptions in Sleeping Patterns

There can be times when a Shih Tzu that otherwise sleeps through the night suddenly has trouble. There are a few difference reasons why this can happen. 

1) The first issue would be a quick change in environment. A move to a new home is a huge disruption that can affect sleep. Also, any changes to the family… the addition or subtraction of a family member - animals or humans - can affect a dog. 

If this is the case, try to stick with the same schedule (feeding, walks, a period of relaxation before bedtime, etc.) and with time, a Shih Tzu will adjust.

2) Another possible reason would be temperature change. For those that live in areas that experience drastic changes with the seasons, what was once a comfortable room in the spring may be chilly in the winter… or a cozy room in the fall may be uncomfortably chilly if A/C is running in the summer. 

So, do check for drafts or other issues that may be causing this type of discomfort and make adjustments.

3) Finally, illness or injury can certainly disrupt sleeping patterns; this can manifest as a dog feeling weak and listless or can be just the opposite, keeping a dog awake due to discomfort. 

A good rule of thumb is that whenever there is a disruption of any key aspect: eating, sleeping, energy level, it is best to make sure that there are no underlying health conditions. 

Sleep Problems Commonly Seen with Senior Shih Tzu Dogs

Seniors dogs tend to sleep more than they previously did as adults.

When a dog reaches the 8, 9 and 10 year mark, there is wear and tear on the body. With this breed, it is the hips and back that tend to give the most problems. 

This said, even a healthy senior dog will have diminished muscle tone and blood circulation to the extremities.

For these reasons, it is recommended to provide your senior Shih Tzu with an appropriate orthopedic bed like the K&H Deluxe Orthopedic Bolster Sleeper that will properly support his body and offer a comfortable sleeping surface that gives sore joints some relief. 
You may also want to speak to the vet about offering a daily glucosomine  and chondroitin supplement like Doggie Dailies Advanced Hip & Joint Supplement for Dogs to help with age related joint pain, and if needed, prescribed medication for arthritis. 
It is not uncommon for an older dog will wake up more during the night due to an increase in urination frequency. For those with very weak bladders, canine diapers may need to be used or you may find it helpful to place a pee pad on top of the doggie bed. 

Some Quick Q&A

Q- Is it normal for a puppy to twitch and move around while sleeping? 

A - Yes, this is actually quite common. Dogs of any age may move at night which is often due to dreaming. However, when a puppy twitches during sleep this is often due to involuntary muscle spasms that happen during this stage of rapid growth. Some refer to this as Activated Sleep.

Q - Acting drowsy can be a sign of hypoglycemia, how can I tell the difference between that and normal drowsiness? 

A- Hypoglycemia is a condition in which blood sugar levels rapidly drop. Puppies and particularly toy breed dogs such as the Shih Tzu can be prone to this. Acting tired after a waking period of several hours, particularly if that time is spent engaging in play, is normal.
Shih Tzu fast asleep
In regard to hypoglycemia, you will see other signs as well, predominantly severe weakness and dizziness, often manifesting as an inability to walk correctly.

Q- Is it normal for a Shih Tzu to sleep on his back?

A- Yes, a Shih Tzu may find any number of positions that he personally feels to be comfortable for a snooze. Whether he is upside down, on his back, or curled in a cozy corner, as long as he is resting peacefully there is nothing wrong with this.

Q- Do Shih Tzu snore? And should I be concerned with heavy snoring?

A- All dogs are capable of snoring. With the Shih Tzu, being a brachycephalic breed, there may indeed be some level of snoring going on, as well as some other noises. 

Severe snoring should be brought to the attention of the vet, as this may caused by elongated palate and/or stenotic nares that requires a minor surgical procedure.  

Q- Can a Shih Tzu have Sleep Apnea?

A- Yes. Being a brachycephalic breed, the Shih Tzu breed may have sleep apnea which is a condition that causes repeated starts and stops of breathing while sleeping. 

However, many owners will be relieved to know that this is not overly common and most of the time noises at night will be harmless (see above). 
Being overweight can be a contributing factor for sleep apnea; while this is not a common issue seen with this breed, some adult Shih Tzu can indeed be carrying a few extra pounds. If so, there are steps you can take to help a Shih Tzu lose weight

Do bring any concerns to the attention of your veterinarian. Standard treatment will involve medication to reduce inflammation. In some instances, an antihistamine may help. Only in rare and severe cases will surgery be recommended.
Q- How Can I Get My Shih Tzu To Stop Sleeping All Day?

A- Dogs will often nap if no other favorable options are available. Be proactive in engaging your Shih Tzu. Take 1 to 2 daily walks. You may want to use that time to work on proper heeling. Schedule other training such as command or trick training which can give a dog a 'job' to do. 

Additionally, set aside time for grooming, making sure to take proper care of the coat and teeth. 
Play time is essential as well, as it promotes learning and bonding time - you can make homemade obstacle courses or obtain fun toys that promote bonding. 

Lastly, take your Shih Tzu with you when at all possible; Well socialized dogs are dogs that are given the opportunity to see and interact with the world.  

Where can you take your Tzu? The park, the beach, the local flea market, for a nice stroll downtown, or even to your nearby senior living center where residents would very much welcome a visit with an adorable Shih Tzu. 

The bottom line is that a dog will sleep if he is not engaged (or he will be extremely bored at the very least) and while naps are normal and dogs do sleep much more than humans, keeping your Shih Tzu active is good for both physical and emotional health.
Q- Is it Okay to Let My Shih Tzu Sleep in My Bed?

A- Once your Shih Tzu is housebroken you may be tempted to have your Shih Tzu sleep in bed with you. After all, it provides a nice bonding experience and it is enjoyable to be able to cuddle with your Tzu in this way. 

Do keep in mind that once you make this decision, there is no turning back. It really does only take 1 night for a dog to form the habit of sleeping in your bed. As long as you are in it for the long haul and take a few precautions, there is nothing wrong with this practice. 

Due to his size, a Shih Tzu may be injured if he falls off of the bed; therefore, you may want to have your dog's "side" be against the wall. 

In addition, take care to not have too many blankets that may smother him. One more tip: If you are a light sleeper and your Shih Tzu snores, makes other nighttime noises, or is prone to moving in his sleep you may want to reconsider.

Q- I have several Shih Tzu. Is it okay for them to all sleep together?

A- Yes, absolutely. In multiple dog households with more than 1 Shih Tzu, it is quite common for the pack of dogs to all huddle together and aside from being unquestionably adorable, it serves to make the dogs feel secure. 

This is commonly referred to as a dog pile and as long as your Shih Tzu are not forced to be in a close, confined area for sleep and are choosing to pile up on top of each other, this is just fine. Do keep in mind that this behavior may change over time… An older dog may find that he prefers his own area, for example. 

Tip - We had a reader send us an email, wondering why it was that her otherwise very well behaved Shih Tzu started to act up and seemed moody and restless when visiting with friends. It turns out, that the visits usually occurred during the time that her dog usually took a nap or at least rested and had down time. 

This breed will not usually just flop down anywhere and feel at home, snoozing away as if all is fine. We recommended that next time she bring along her dog's doggie bed… And it resolved the problem.

So please remember that if you bring your Shih Tzu to another house for several hours, it can help to bring along his bed and a few favorite toys.
Related: The Best Beds for Shih Tzu - From puppies to adults, those that need extra support and even dogs that are picky about their sleeping surface, we discuss the best choices. 
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