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Shih Tzu Sleep

Shih Tzu Sleep Issues

This section is dedicated to the topic of Shih Tzu sleep habits and patterns.  Many owners have written in, asking what is considered normal…

So, we are here to cover all sleep related issues with this breed.

We will go over:
  • How many hours per day is normal
  • Explanations for why a Tzu may be awake at night and steps you can take to resolve them (including for those new puppies that seem to only bark/ cry and/or whine at night)
  • Reasons for a disruption in sleeping patterns
  • Are elements such as "dog piling" and "bed take over" considered normal? We will also touch base in regard to position, since so many owners wonder about the element of a Shih Tzu sleeping on his back.
  • How you can help your senior Shih Tzu with bed and sleeping issues
  • Noises that you may here at night and medical issues - this includes snoring, sleep apnea and more
How Many Hours per Day is Considered Normal for the Shih Tzu

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 Tzu that is given the proper environment (comfortable canine bed, low noise level, etc.)

Newborn - While many new owners will have an 8 week old puppy, let's quickly touch on the subject of newborns first. As you can imagine, newborn pups sleep the majority of the time only waking to nurse from the dam every 2 hours or so. A 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 still with the dam will tend to mimic her 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. However out of a 24 hour period, very young newborns may sleep 23 hours and older pups that are on solid foods (5 to 7 week olds) may sleep anywhere from 19 to 21 hours.
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. 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. 

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 older Tzu will sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours out of a 24 hour period with the majority of this being throughout the 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. The number of hours that an adult dog slumbers will also depend on his or her activity level throughout the day. An engaged dog will stay awake, 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 - give an older dog 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 is challenging. Some pups may seem to do that exact opposite of what owners wish for: they will nap all day and be wide awake as soon as the sun sets.
A puppy's world is filled with fascination; its curiosity level is so intense and coupled with his ability to explore you usually have a pup that is hyper and active sprinkled with times of dozing off within seconds of taking a break. 

It will take time for a Shih Tzu puppy to learn where he is expected to sleep, so until that is instilled it will be normal for him to fall asleep just about anywhere. This brings us to the element of having an 'under the foot' dog - not only must one be careful about a Tzu suddenly being underfoot at any time, one must also take care not to step on or trip over a napping pup. 

It quite common for puppies to whine, bark and/or cry during the night. Let's take a look at some steps that owners can take to help train a pup to sleep at night:

1- Choose a designated sleeping area. Many owners ask about a Shih Tzu sleeping in bed with them and ask if this is a good idea. While the idea 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. 
Shih Tzu with Chewbacca pillow
Do you see any resemblance between Weston and his Chewbacca pillow?
Until a puppy has a very good understanding of housebreaking and has proven his ability to know the rules, there are 2 options to choose from: a small gated off area or a crate. Each has its pros and cons. The gated area can work well, especially for pups that are left home alone during a portion of the day and will be in that area at those times as well. You may want to consider placing a crate within that area. 

2- Do be sure to make this a comfortable area. A baby blanket (have 2 or 3 so that one is always available when others are being washed) can be quite helpful as it creates a cozy environment and prevents sores that can develop when dogs rest on wired bottoms. It can also be good to place a designated nighttime toy (soft stuffed animal) and some self-soothing toys as well (chew toys).

3- 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 to the area and set down to nap.

4- A puppy cannot be expect to sleep at night in the snap of a finger. There should be an established routine. An example would look like this:
  • 6PM - Last meal for the day
  • 6:30 to 7 - Evening walk - you will want this to be roughly 2 hours before your Shih Tzu's expected bedtime.
  • 7:30 - Small treat to reward for good behavior during the walk, this will be the last food given for the day
  • 8 - Visit to the designated bathroom area. Remember to remain in that area for a good 15 to 20 minutes.  
  • 8:30 - Lights are lowered. There is a decrease in noise levels. The general vibe is that of a relaxation period to transition into sleeping time
  • 9PM - With the last bathroom trip complete and some time given to unwind in a relaxed setting, it will be time to gently place your Shih Tzu puppy into his sleeping area. #1 most important rule: With a baby blanket for comfort and 1 or 2 interesting chew toys for self-soothing, it will now be time to walk away.
The #1 Mistake Owners Make & How to Help Your Puppy Self Sooth

It is natural human instinct to want to sooth a puppy and it is a normal reaction to rush to an animal that is crying. Fight this urge. Some owners sit beside their Shih Tzu, stroking his coat and offering soft words, in an effort to encourage sleep. While this may indeed work, all it is really doing is teaching the puppy to rely on these things in order to fall asleep. Just as counterproductive, are owners who rush to their Shih Tzu in the middle of the night each time he lets out a cry. Or in some cases, the puppy may bark for a very long time… Owners become frustrated (and sometimes worried that neighbors are going to be woken up as well) and rush over stop the noise. This as well is teaching a bad lesson and a puppy that is tended to each time he barks is only learning that barking at night is beneficial to him.

One of the biggest problems that owners encounter is barking that may or may not be caused by the need to go to the bathroom. Here are some rules and guidelines that may help:

• If your dog has urinated before sleep time, barking within that first hour of being placed down to rest will most often NOT be due to bathroom needs. Until it is taught a Shih Tzu puppy will have no idea that 10 PM is not a perfect time to play.

• If a puppy wakes up in the middle of the night, this will be due to 1 of 2 reasons: Needing to relieve himself OR wanting attention. The first need should be met, the 2nd should not. So what can you do? Give your Shih Tzu the opportunity to pee or poo, but with the least amount of attention as possible. Only put on lights that are absolutely necessary and keep them dimmed. Do NOT talk to your puppy - other than to give praise if he successfully goes to the bathroom in the correct area - and do NOT engage in any sort of play or offer food (as long as your pup is not underweight and is healthy) . Teach your pup that any nighttime needs are a serious matter and that when it is dark out, there is absolutely no play involved. Patiently and quietly wait 15 to 20 minutes in the designated area and then gently place him back into bed, assuring he is comfortable and then walk away. 

• Any barking/ whining / crying after this should not be acted upon. Again, it is human instinct to want to sooth a puppy to sleep; however it is best to think long-term. Allowing a Shih Tzu puppy to self sooth is an act of kindness that will help him sleep through the night and it will aid him greatly if he is to be left home alone during the day while you are at work or otherwise out of the house. 
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. 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… addition or subtraction of family member - animals or humans - can affect your 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.

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 was A/C is running in the summer. Do check for drafts or other issues that may be causing discomfort and make adjustments.

Finally, illness or injury can certainly disrupt sleeping patterns, this can range from a dog feeling weak and listless or manifest as the opposite, keeping him awake due to pain. A good rule of thumb is that whenever there is a disruption of any key aspect: eating, sleeping, energy level, happiness level, it is best to make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions. Even something like an infected tooth can cause a Shih Tzu to stop eating and have trouble getting comfortable enough to sleep through the night.

The Senior Dog & Sleep

Seniors dogs will sleep more than they previous did as adults and this is normal and expected. When a dog reaches 9 and 10 years old, there is wear and tear on the body. A senior Shih Tzu may have arthritis and other age related medical condition. Even a healthy dog will have diminished muscle tone and blood circulation to the extremities. For these reason, it is recommended to provide your Tzu with an appropriate orthopedic bed that will properly support his body and offer a comfortable sleeping surface that conforms to his body. For dogs with bladder control problems, most top rated models have waterproof coverings.

In general, it is expected that an older dog will wake up more during the night due to an increase in urination frequency. While a senior Shih Tzu may become restless at night, if you notice anything such as heavy panting, whining, discomfort or other red flags do bring this to the attention of your veterinarian.
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. The Shih Tzu breed, being a brachycephalic breed, may indeed have some heavy snoring going on, as well as some other noises. 

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. 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. Use that time to work on proper heeling. Schedule other training such as command training which is very important in having a well behaved, well trained dog. 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 special games 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 and 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 nice 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 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 she otherwise very well behaved Shih Tzu acted 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 the 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 more than 1 or 2 hours, bring along his/her doggie bed, favorite toy and food and your puppy or dog will thank you for it.
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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