Is there anything so sweet as your little fuzzy face when she’s sleeping? Her eyes slowly close; you can watch her muscles relax bit by bit. Maybe her tail unfurls. Sometimes, you can hear a little snore. Perfect rest, perfect peace.
Or so it would seem. Any dog owner can tell you that dog sleep isn’t exactly peaceful. Dogs often seem to act out their dreams, running and even barking in their sleep. And when they seem to be sleeping quietly, it often doesn’t last long, as any little noise seems to rouse them from a deep sleep to wide awake almost immediately. Of course, dogs often seem to go back to sleep almost as quickly. Dogs have minds of their own, and nothing illustrates that as well as the difference between the sleep patterns of dogs and people.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs, like all other animals, sleep. They even sleep a lot -- about 50% of the day, depending on the size and age of the animal. Larger dogs sleep longer, sometimes up to 18 hours a day, while older dogs actually sleep a little less. And although this may seem like a lot of time sleeping, the quality of a dog’s sleep is actually very different from that of humans.
Sleep consists of four different stages. In stage one sleep, a dog begins to lose unconsciousness. She loses control of her limbs, but this is a very light stage of sleep. In people, we might refer to this stage as a “catnap”.
Stage two sleep is a deeper stage of sleep, and it’s characterized by a slower pulse rate and slow brain activity, however, a dog can easily be awakened from this stage of sleep. Dogs actually spend much of their sleep time in this stage (about 45%) and although they may look like they’re in deep sleep, they are actually only napping. A dog can easily be awakened while in this stage.
Stage three sleep is also called “slow wave sleep”, and is characterized by a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, lower body temperature and slower breathing. A dog no longer will react or respond to most noises.
Stage four sleep is the REM or “rapid eye movement” stage of sleep, in which the brain is processing much of the information the dog has received recently. Although this is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep, dogs in this stage are more physically active and will move their limbs and make chuffing or barking sounds. Dogs spend only about 10% of their sleep cycle in restorative REM stage sleep vs. 25% for humans. The fact that dogs spend less time actually in REM stage sleep means that the dog must sleep longer in order to take advantage of this sleep stage.
Encouraging the Behavior
Sleeping may seem simple, but there’s a lot going on with your dog while she’s sleeping. Your dog may look like she’s deeply asleep, but she may very well just be taking a doze. In fact, dogs spend more time in stage two sleep than they do in deep sleep.You may find that your dog is, in fact, pretty much wide awake and ready to spring into action.
One interesting fact about your dog’s sleeping patterns is the fact that her sleeping positions will often provide an insight into her feelings. For instance, dogs will often curl up into a ball when they are cold. This is the most common sleeping position for a dog in the wild. Not only does it conserve heat, but it will also provide protection.
Another common sleep position for a dog is flat on his belly. A dog who sleeps like this is ready to jump up and start playing right away. This sleep position is often seen in puppies, who will seem to fall from exhaustion where they are, catch a quick nap, and then get up again to take on the world. This is also a sleep position that helps a dog to cool off, and is more commonly seen in the summer.
You may often find your dog sleeping on her side, with her belly exposed. A dog who is sleeping in this position feels relaxed and safe. An extreme, and very cute, variation on this position is the dog who sleeps on her back, all four feet in the air. That is a confident, happy pup!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs don’t sleep in the same way that people do. This can mean that your dog may be awake and more active when you are trying to sleep, but there are a number of ways to address this matter. Make sure that you are setting a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it. You should make sure that you are giving your dog a chance to go to the bathroom before going to bed at night in order to minimize disruptions. And speaking of minimizing disruptions, ensure that you have some wind-down time at night during which you are no longer stimulating your dog. After your dog’s final bathroom break, be sure that you aren’t throwing a ball or otherwise playing any energetic games with your dog.
A dog’s sleep needs and patterns are very different from a human’s. Dogs sleep longer than people, but they spend less time in deep sleep, meaning that they are often easy to wake, and often ready to deal with a non-existent threat. The old saying is right: You should let sleeping dogs lie.