Sleeping Dogs

Posted by Pia

One of the most rewarding things about rescuing an animal is witnessing them finally relax and fall asleep. Sleep in some form, is critical to the survival of most living creatures. Dogs are not much different from their two-legged counterparts when it comes to the need for sleep that includes dreaming and other restorative activities.

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Dogs have slow wave sleep cycles (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles, just like humans do.
(In photo: Alex and Winnie)

1 Dogs have slow wave sleep cycles (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles, just like humans do. (In photo: Alex and Winnie)

While human sleep cycles seem to be longer than dog ones, both humans and their canine counterparts dream during REM sleep.

2 While human sleep cycles seem to be longer than dog ones, both humans and their canine counterparts dream during REM sleep.

For a dog to enter the REM stage of sleep, her muscles must be completely relaxed.
(Pepper demonstrates one way to do so above)

3 For a dog to enter the REM stage of sleep, her muscles must be completely relaxed. (Pepper demonstrates one way to do so above)

A dog curled in a tight ball is typically using his muscles to stay curled up and is therefore not entirely relaxed.  He may appear to be sleeping deeper than he actually is.

4 A dog curled in a tight ball is typically using his muscles to stay curled up and is therefore not entirely relaxed. He may appear to be sleeping deeper than he actually is.

If you see your dog twitching or running in his sleep, he is likely in the very deep, REM stage of sleep.
(Stacey and Sonny snoozing soundly)

5 If you see your dog twitching or running in his sleep, he is likely in the very deep, REM stage of sleep. (Stacey and Sonny snoozing soundly)

Tests indicate REM sleep is when dreaming occurs and is the stage in which the most brain activity occurs. (Daisy above)

6 Tests indicate REM sleep is when dreaming occurs and is the stage in which the most brain activity occurs. (Daisy above)

A dog awakened from deep REM sleep may seem irritated or grouchy.  The same goes for humans!

7 A dog awakened from deep REM sleep may seem irritated or grouchy. The same goes for humans!

Perhaps that is the origin of the phrase,

8 Perhaps that is the origin of the phrase, "Let sleeping dogs lie."

A dog is more likely to wake up during SWS than during REM sleep.

9 A dog is more likely to wake up during SWS than during REM sleep.

A dog who is in REM sleep often twitches, wiggles 
and woofs a bit.

10 A dog who is in REM sleep often twitches, wiggles and woofs a bit.

It is believed that puppies and older dogs tend to dream more than middle aged ones.

11 It is believed that puppies and older dogs tend to dream more than middle aged ones.

Dogs tend to sleep on their backs when they want to cool off- because they have less fur on their tummies, this helps them cool off.
(Bruno shows off a cute belly)

12 Dogs tend to sleep on their backs when they want to cool off- because they have less fur on their tummies, this helps them cool off. (Bruno shows off a cute belly)

And to think I was assuming this was just Minnow's calculated attempt to be irresistible!

13 And to think I was assuming this was just Minnow's calculated attempt to be irresistible!

A dog in the REM stage of sleep could be dreaming of favored activities like playing fetch, eating a treat or spotting a squirrel...and their movements often seem in keeping with such canine fun!

14 A dog in the REM stage of sleep could be dreaming of favored activities like playing fetch, eating a treat or spotting a squirrel...and their movements often seem in keeping with such canine fun!

When animals first come out of stressful situations or shelters full of strange noises, smells and unfamiliar faces, they are typically exhausted. This is one reason I often tell people that it takes a new companion some time to recuperate and build a sense of safety before they exhibit their unique personalities.

I'll never forget how filled with emotion I was when my Luna, a feral dog rescued after a hurricane, slept for the first time in my care. She had been through so much. All of her energy had gone towards basic survival for so very long. After many weeks, and before I was ever able to really touch or pet her- I looked over one day and she was quietly snoring- her body totally relaxed and finally restoring itself. I wept as I imagined how long it must have been since she had really slept. I felt so grateful that she allowed herself to be vulnerable and surrender like this in my care.

Words really can't express how powerful that moment was for me but it solidified my commitment to helping animals in need- I'll never forget its magnitude.

Sweet dreams.
In kinship,
Dr. Pia Salk

Comments (8)

  • What interesting information on sleeping dogs...Minnow looks adorable..and the story of Luna is so touching. I can only imagine what poor Luna experienced, but what an awesome ending being with you.... Thanks for sharing this.

    Have a great weekend.
    delia and Kitty

  • Good Morning Pia,
    In your pictures the dogs all seem to be very comfortable and sleeping good, like me. I stretch out all four of my legs. My mom says it is my "frog pose". We dogs have the life, what can I say.

  • Dear Dr. Pia,
    Once again you have brought to light some very interesting facts. Mom and I never thought much about the dogs getting used to there new homes and settling in--it just seemed so natural to relax. Luna is a perfect example of how patience is really necessary in most rescues. I am so happy for all the rescues, just wish more were going on. Thanks again Dr. Pia for a very interesting segment. I looooove you lots.
    Love & licks,
    Basil

  • Hi Dr. Pia, Thank you so much for another wonderful blog post! These photos are absolutely precious and I love seeing everyone of them! My sweet little Dudley Do Right had never slept in a house until I got him at 11 months old. He did have trouble relaxing until I let him sleep with me and my beautiful Cricket who is now in Heaven. Now he sleeps many times just like sweet little Minnow does! Hope you have another wonderful week! See you next Thursday! Jan

  • Tanks Dr. Pia I'll let my Mom know. Course she always says that I chase squirrels in my sleep. So thats how she knew.

    woo woos, Tessa

  • There's nothing nicer than feeling safe. sleep is a time lots of rescue dogs have had bad people disturb them and do something mean. So when you are sleeping with your best friend , offer a little Prayer that the unrescued dog has a safe sleep for tonight. And a safe rescue soon. I am sure Dog hears Prayers.

  • Dr. Pia what an interesting blog.

    YO - MARTHA - did you read this blog - let sleeping dogs lie!!! Don't go waking Francesca up to give her a kiss while sleeping. Dr. Pia says a dog that is in REM sleep may be grouchy or irritated or accidently give you a head butt.

    Just saying :)

    Zoe

  • Thanks for a great post Dr. Pia!

    I am a foster parent for a local shelter and have had over 10 dogs pass through during the last year while they waited to find their families. One of my favorite moments with them is always the first time that they fall asleep. They are all completely exhausted from shelter life. You can almost see the moment they realize that they are safe to sleep and the sense of peace and relief.

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