Dogs and Sleep

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    Sep 15, 2013
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Dogs and Sleep Photo by Raquel Cervera

I have a friend who simply adores sleeping. She works, but the slightest chance she gets, she tries to get in a horizontal position and fall into Morpheus' arms. Sometimes, when I have some friends invited to a little beach house I own and she comes along, I always anticipate that when she disappears for a while or nobody hears her, I just show my face at the door of her bedroom and there she is…sleeping like a baby. It really makes me laugh.

When she looks at my dogs sleeping, her favorite comment is: “Boy, do I envy them! How can they sleep so much?”

The answer to that last question cannot be a sharp, definite or perfect one for all dogs, since there are differences that have to be taken into consideration when trying to explain the sleeping habits of dogs.

One of the variables affecting sleep in dogs is the breed. It has been observed that large breeds tend to require more hours of sleep than smaller ones, and there are some of these large animals that can even spend up to 18 hours sleeping, although we also have to point out that when you observe a dog sleeping, it does not do it in a continuous or not interrupted manner. I found out that there are some breeds called “mat dogs” because of all the time they spend sleeping. These include, for example, the Newfounlands, Mastiffs and St. Bernards, so if you have one of these huge and wonderful companions, you should never worry if you see them sleeping so much or even think there may be something wrong with them.

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that when a dog is not sleeping its usual hours, that is when the dog owner should worry because there is probably something happening to her pet. When we humans are under severe stress, no matter what kind of it, or if we feel ill, do we sleep the same as always or is our sleeping cycle disturbed?   Dogs also respond to these negative stimuli the same way and it is important for the dog owner to be aware of this fact.

I mentioned before that dogs do not usually fall asleep and wake up X number of hours after like we “normally” do. What they really do is take many, many naps. My dogs, for example, have their individual beds in my bedroom, and when I wake up at night for whatever reason, it seems they are connected to me, because they immediately open their eyes watching to see what I am going to do. The minute I go back to bed, that is when they return to their interrupted sleep. If I am home from work or during weekends, I also observe that constant sleeping and waking too. So yes, if we add the total time a dog sleeps, we do come up with a large number of hours. That is how they are genetically designed, so there is nothing to worry about.

Another factor directly affecting the sleep in dogs is what  kind of activity do the owners provide it. If the owner is a couch potato and does not exercise the dog, we are going to have a dog that probably sleeps much more than the appropriate number of hours just out of plain boredom. If on the other hand, the dog belongs to the working group in its innumerable manifestations, the story differs greatly. Dogs that are raised in farms and trained to care for the other animals, like chickens, cattle or horses, will be more alert for more hours. Other dogs trained for rescue purposes or for detecting drugs, bombs or to work during natural disasters are also more active than our typical home pet. Also, dogs that were trained to care of a person with disabilities will not show the same sleep pattern.

Age and health conditions are definitely part of these factors affecting our dogs’ sleep. We cannot expect an older dog or a sick one to show normal sleep or, for that matter, any other kind of what could be considered “normal” behavior were the circumstances different.

The question of the possibility of dogs dreaming has been asked many, many times. As is usual in these cases, there are opinions and opinions. What I tend to believe is that they do, because when dogs sleep patterns are studied, these are very similar to ours. When a dog falls asleep, it enters the REM stage usually after around ten minutes. This stage is known as the active stage of sleep and it is when you can observe movements of the eyes under the dog’s eyelids, jerking of the legs and even whining, as if responding to a particular stimulus. Those studies of the dog’s brain activity while in this stage have shown the similarity of it to what happens to humans in the same stage, that is, when we are dreaming. That is what I base myself on when I answer that question in the affirmative always.

We have been talking here about what dog owners should expect when having a dog and considering its sleeping habits, which have been presented as normal long hours dedicated to this. No matter if this is the general case, attention should always be paid when the dog sleeps excessively, as that may also be a signal of other problems, including even depression.

Understanding what sleep means in the dog world can help dog owners stop worrying and contribute via several activities to help their dogs live a more balanced life.

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The author is running a site and a blog related to dog training,grooming and dog care. For more information about dog training and dog care, pay them a visit.

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