Sleeping dogs how to win every cockfight

On Morpheus' wings - Why you should actually not wake sleeping dogs

+++ READING SAMPLE from SPF 29 +++

From Petra Balai


Hand on heart: Who of us doesn't sometimes envy our own four-legged friend in the morning when he goes to work, lolling comfortably in his basket? The stomach stretched upwards, the legs relaxed and bent, with the fixed plan to spend several hours in this position while the mistress or master rushes into the rush hour more or less motivated. The dog is only doing its "job" because that includes an average of 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day[1]. This corresponds to the sleep needs of a one to two year old child, while an adult can get by on only 6 to 8 hours of sleep[2].


First, let's take a closer look at the dog's activity level. While we humans follow a binary sleep rhythm and roughly divide the day into a waking phase and a sleeping phase, it looks a bit more differentiated for our four-legged friends: The dog sleeps around 50% of the day, a further 30% is awake but inactive, and the dog is awake and actually active for only 20% of the day.

But all of these are only approximate figures that can vary considerably depending on the individual. This applies to humans as well as to our dogs: Of course, a puppy needs more sleep than an adult dog, but senior dogs also have a significantly increased need for sleep. In addition, breed, size and lifestyle influence the sleeping behavior of our animal companions. Do you lead an active, sporty life or are you exposed to a lot of stress? Do you have a safe haven where you can relax and “let go” or are you exposed to constant disturbances and restlessness? Because as with so much in life, the quantity is less important than the quality of the dog's sleep. But what does a good quality sleep look like in dogs?


Sleep phases of the dog

In fact, the dog's sleep phases are similar to those of humans. The first phase, the so-called NREM sleep [3], is again divided into three stages. The first stage, N1, denotes the transition from being awake to the state of unconsciousness. The dog loses control of its muscles, even if you can often see a slight twitch in the legs. As in humans, in the stable sleep stage N2, the EEG shows a wave-like pattern, so-called sleep spindles. There is some brain activity going on here, but the dog remains calm during this stage. It's the longest section, taking up about 45% of total sleep time. In the deep sleep stage N3, the heartbeat and breathing slow down, and blood pressure drops. The body temperature drops and the dog hardly reacts to disturbances or noises. This phase of deep sleep [4] is replaced by the more active REM phase after 15 to 20 minutes.

This REM phase is where most dreams occur in humans, and as recent research probably shows in dogs too. Every dog ​​owner has already observed his dog during this phase, how the eyes flicker and the legs can twitch. Sometimes the dogs whine and whine too; the temptation to wake them from a dream that may be bad is sometimes great. Although this phase is more active than the previous N2 and N3 stages, sleep paralysis in humans and animals ensures that we do not actively live out our dreams and possibly sleepwalk. In dogs, this phase is only 10 to 15%, i.e. only 2 to 3 minutes [5], with puppies staying longer in the REM phase, as new impressions are processed in this phase - and there is much more need for this in puppies.

An important difference to humans is that they spend up to 25% of their sleep in the REM phase. Since the REM phase is significantly shorter in dogs, it only makes sense that they sleep more quantitatively and, in contrast to us, are very flexible in their sleep behavior, i.e. they can fall asleep anywhere and anytime and distribute their sleep throughout the day, while in our long sleep phase we go through the NREM and REM cycle about every 90 minutes several times. REM sleep has been demonstrated in almost all mammals and is of great importance for wellbeing [6]. In humans and animals, a lack of REM sleep leads to learning, memory and concentration disorders, but also to a lack of drive and impulse control. Complete sleep deprivation always ends in death, as has long been shown in animal experiments [7].


Like dogs dream

Even without research results, every dog ​​owner is convinced that his dog is dreaming, but it can also be scientifically proven that this dream phase is actually similar to the human dream phase, even if it is much shorter.

In 1959, Michel Jouvet [8] removed the locus caeruleus in the pons, part of the brain stem, from cats. As soon as the cats got into REM, they started jumping up and running around like they were chasing mice or attacking an opponent. The sleep paralysis, which is so important for sleep, was overridden; the animals exhibited behaviors that they also carried out when they were awake - but without being awake. Stanley Coren [9] even claims that by temporarily inactivating the pons, researchers observed dogs doing very specific activities, such as For example, displaying a pointer, scaring a bird into a Springer Spaniel and catching an intruder in a Doberman. Unfortunately, he does not cite any sources or evidence for this. On the other hand, his assertion that puppies and small children show more pronounced movements in REM sleep during sleep is more plausible because their pons are even less developed.


In addition, the phenomenon of a lack of sleep paralysis exists as a pathological condition in isolated cases in humans and dogs. The REM behavior disorder (abbreviated as RBD) leads to dreams being converted into simple or complex movements. An animal can jump up and run into a wall that it - while sleeping - does not notice. As uncomfortable as this disorder is, it provides further evidence that dogs dream too.

In 2001, Louie and Wilson [10] demonstrated that neuronal patterns recorded during the day in rats running through a maze were repeated during the REM phase. Those areas of the brain that are responsible for visual processing and memory corresponded with one another. The scientists concluded from this that what had previously been experienced in rats also passed into memory through visualization, i.e. repetition in dreams. The fact that dogs with a more complex brain than rats also dream is only a logical consequence of the results of Louie and Wilson.

On the other hand, the assertion of the psychologist and dream researcher Dr. Deirdre Barrett of Harvard Medical School: “Since dogs are very attached to their humans, it is very likely that they will dream about your face, your smell, and whether you make them happy or upset. People dream of what they do on a daily basis and there is no compelling reason why dogs shouldn't [11]. Even if there is no scientific evidence here, people like to hear and believe such things.


Sleep and memory

In any case, sleep makes a decisive contribution to the learning process and memorization: According to Wilson, NREM sleep classifies and categorizes what has been experienced during the day. During the REM phase, on the other hand, the brain can play through new impressions without negative consequences and link them in completely new ways - an experience that we make almost every night even in dreams. Physical boundaries do not exist and we write new, absurd and unrealistic scripts based on real events and encounters.

Let us take a closer look at this important process of memory consolidation: Our brain has to collect and consolidate new information that should later be available as memories. Anna Kis's team recently researched the influence of sleep behavior on memory consolidation [12]. Most of her colleagues belong to the "Family Dog Project" founded in 1994 by Vilmos Csányi, Ádám Miklósi and József Topál in Hungary, which has set itself the task of researching the relationship between humans and dogs on a cognitive and behavioral level. In contrast to the ethically questionable animal experiments of earlier times, the animals are not harmed here and are family dogs, the owners of which take part in the studies voluntarily.

Polysomnography was performed using small electrodes attached to the dogs 'heads, and the dogs' brain waves were measured while they were sleeping. Two aspects were examined: on the one hand, the influence of learning on sleep and, on the other hand, what influence certain activities had on memory consolidation. To do this, a group of dogs learned new commands for “sit” and “down” in English. The other group only repeated the already known Hungarian commands. Then the dogs were allowed to sleep. Based on the changed brain waves during the respective sleep phases, an improved learning success could already be predicted. But sleep not only improved the dogs' learning, the learning experience also influenced the quality of sleep: During the NREM phase, a change in the delta and alpha waves indicated that the deep sleep was, so to speak, even more solid than in the dogs that did nothing Had learned something new. From this, the researchers concluded, among other things, that the dogs' newly acquired “knowledge” was processed and stored during sleep or that the changes measured in the EEG are directly related to the consolidation of memory.

So far, so good, and not entirely unexpected. But is that proof that sleep optimally supports the learning process? For the second experiment, 53 more dogs learned the commands for “sit” and “down” in English. These dogs were then divided into four groups which, after learning, either slept for an hour, were taken for a walk (physically active, no cognitive performance), completed additional learning units (low physical activity, high cognitive performance) or ate out of a Kong ™ and were allowed to play with them (low physical activity, high emotional arousal).

At the end of the lesson it was tested how well the dogs remembered what they had learned. Here the researchers were surprised that both sleeping and walking had improved the performance of the new commands, while further learning units or playing with the Kong brought no improvement. But when the dogs were tested again after a week, playing had also led to better results in the long term.

Anna Kis also explains these findings with regard to the training of dogs: During the week at home, what had been learned was processed in further phases of sleep. So it is not absolutely necessary that the dog sleeps immediately after a learning unit, but it is sufficient if he can sleep at some point after what he has learned. Walking is a relaxing activity that also helps consolidate your memory. Such cognitively undemanding activities, in which one can let one's thoughts wander, also achieve better learning results in humans.

Testing immediately after the game gave poor results, but also good results in the long term. Therefore, it is possible that the emotional arousal did not negatively affect memory consolidation itself, but rather impaired concentration during the initial testing. It is interesting that another study comes to the exact opposite conclusion, namely that play as an activity after training improves learning success [13]. Above all, it is important that what is newly learned is not overlaid by further strenuous cognitive performance. Whatever we train with our dog: So we not only have to pay attention to how we train the dog, but also to create an optimal environment for memory consolidation after learning. A dog that is supposed to learn five new commands in one unit will not be able to remember any of them well in the end.



So what conclusions can be drawn from these findings for our four-legged friends? Dogs are quite flexible when it comes to falling asleep, but in order to guarantee a certain quality of sleep, they should have a place of retreat where the family does not constantly make pilgrimages. An open box as a den or a basket away from the TV can make a big difference. It is advisable to get the puppy used to being alone and to let them sleep alone in a room. In this way, you can help him later to his happiness - completely undisturbed sleep - even in a turbulent household. Even if dogs tolerate being petted in their bed, this should be taboo, especially for children. Even the most peaceful dogs sometimes react less patiently when they sleep, and so you can ensure that the dog can go through its sleep phases undisturbed and does not get startled and perhaps react unpredictably.

It doesn't have to be the most expensive kudde made of the finest baby moose leather, but most dogs prefer a slightly elevated surface and therefore like to find themselves on our couch. In summer, on the other hand, the hard, cool tiles can be the most attractive place to sleep for your four-legged friend. As long as he can make the choice himself, it is worthwhile to observe the preferences a little and then offer appropriate options. In general, it is advisable to pay attention to the sleep behavior of your own dog and to question it from time to time: Not every dog ​​that sleeps a lot is automatically happy and satisfied. Chronically stressed dogs in particular withdraw into so-called conflict sleep and only seem to be asleep. Noticeable changes in sleeping behavior in dogs can not only be an indication of an illness, but even of depression.

Even if dogs need a lot of sleep, they should be kept busy. Only when they are mentally and physically busy can they process what they have experienced in their sleep. As we have seen, new impressions also guarantee better sleep. As with most animals, lack of sleep or poor sleep can lead to reduced performance and a weakened immune system, ultimately the saying mentioned at the beginning turns out to be meaningful not only in a figurative sense, but also taken quite literally: So don't wake your sleeping dogs, maybe dream they from you!


Petra Balai ...

... M.A. the linguistics and teacher for German and English, has been doing dog sports (agility, obedience and rally obedience) since 1999. Since the beginning of 2013 she is also certified Blauerhund® trainer and has already written several articles for SitzPlatzFuss.

Petra Balai is committed to the Romanian organization Asociatia Homeless, which tries in Bucharest to combine help for street children and street dogs. A report about the Asociatia appeared in SPF 19 and is available on the SPF website. Any support is gratefully accepted.



[1] The information varies considerably here. While 17 hours is often given as the minimum in German specialist literature, the norm in English-language literature is usually 12-14 hours. However, this deviation may also be a matter of definition.

[2] Sleep Health Journal, March 2015, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 40-43

[3] Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep as opposed to REM, Rapid Eye Movement Sleep.

[4] Slow Wave Sleep, or SWS for short.

[5] Pappas S., What Do Dogs Dream About ?;; February 17, 2016

[6] In fact, dreams can occur during the NREM phase, but they are not as intense. According to Wilson (see below), all vertebrates and possibly even some invertebrates are potentially capable of dream-like processes.

[7] Everson C.A., Bergmann B.M., Rechtschaffen A., Sleep deprivation in the rat: III. Total sleep deprivation. Sleep. 1989; 12: 13–21 ((? Please correct))

[8] Jouvet M., Delorme F., Locus coeruleus et sommeil paradoxal. CR Soc Biol. 1965

[9] Coren S., Do dogs dream;

[10] Kenway L., Kenway W., Matthew A., Temporally Structured Replay of Awake Hippocampal Ensemble Activity during Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, Neuron, Vol. 29, 145-156, January, 2001

[11] Slightly abbreviated and translated from:

[12] Kis et al. (2017), The interrelated effect of sleep and learning in dogs (Canis familiaris); an EEG and behavioral study. Scientific Reports 7, 41873


[13] Affenzeller et al. (2017). Playful activity post-learning improves training performance in Labrador Retriever dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).Physiology & Behavior, 168, 62–73.