There is something about watching your dog sleep that is comforting and sometimes even comical. Do you know, several of your dog's sleep behaviors are similar to ours and others are inherent?
The average dog sleeps 12 - 13 hours per day. It may not seem that way, but puppies snooze even longer! That is almost half their life! Dogs are skillful at catching a few winks whenever they can. That form of napping is similar to Stage 1 sleep, where they are sleeping, but just barely.
Sleep is a vital part of the health, physical and emotional well-being of your dog's life. It is during sleep that puppies grow, wounds heal and energy is conserved and stored for what lies ahead.
Companion dogs kept indoors, sleep longer and deeper than dogs kept outdoors and working dogs. Dogs kept outdoors and working dogs try to slip in an extra nap here or there, but rarely relax enough to reach a healthy, deep, restful sleep.
Do Dogs Dream?
It appears dogs follow similar stages of sleep as humans. Stage 1, is barely sleeping. This is where most outdoor dogs, wild dogs and working dogs sleep. At Stage 2, the animal's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperatures gradually lower. Stage 3 is a transitional state between light and deep sleep. Stage 4 is the slow wave stage where usually the dog is now oblivious to their surroundings. If awakened suddenly, they often appear confused. Stag 5 is where the fun begins! This is the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep. Here, their body relaxes, but their brain remains active. At this stage, your dog's eyes roll under the lids and they slowly ease into those dreams we find so amusing. They whimper, growl, make lapping and eating sounds and motions, whine, bark, and/or appear to be chasing something!
Most indoor dogs spend up to 12% of their sleeping time in REM. Puppies spend a greater percentage of time in REM. During this stage, it is thought puppies process and merge what they are learning every day, into behaviors they will follow.
Interestingly, smaller dogs tend to dream more than their larger cousins.
Shaking during sleep can be perfectly normal for the average dog. Dogs that have suffered trauma and puppies removed from their mom too soon, may also shake in their sleep. Shaking could also be an indicator of health problems in dogs, such as hypothyroidism, pain, chills, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
If your dog is shaking while sleeping, calmly call their name and gently pet or touch them, to reassure them that everything is OK. Do not shake them awake! It is not known, if dogs have nightmares, but given the fact many rescues and dogs that have suffered severe physical and emotional trauma shake in their sleep, a little assurance goes a long way.
Favored Positions of a Sleeping Dog
The sleeping position of your dog tells you a lot about him or her. Some like to sleep on their stomachs, almost like in a "down" position. This allows them to jump up at the slightest perceived threat or fact they may be missing out on what you are doing.
Others prefer sleeping on their side. This is a restful position. Your dog is comfortable with their surroundings.
Then we have the "Superdog" sleeper. They choose sleeping stretched out, on their stomachs. They look like they are flying. They are in a restful sleep, but ready to go as soon as they hear you move!
The most inherent position for sleeping is curling up. You will see this as a favorite sleeping position of dogs kept outdoors. You will find them curled up into a ball, with their paws under their body and their tail wrapped around their face. It is the least vulnerable and least restful position for sleep. They are conserving body heat, they protecting limbs, face, throat and vital organs. This position gives them the advantage to be on their feet immediately. The dog's muscles are tense and ready to spring into action, if need be. Dogs that sleep in this position rarely relax enough to drift into the REM stage.
Curling is the normal sleeping position for wild dogs and wolves packing together. It offers a sleeping position for awareness upon awakening as their senses are heightened to movements, sounds and scents. They conserve space in the den; protect their offspring and share body heat. You will notice even most domesticated puppies inherently curl up together or around their mother.
Finally, we have what looks the "dead roach" position. There are dogs that favor sleeping on their backs; with their legs in the air...looking just like a dead cockroach! This is the position found only in a very secure and confident indoor pet. Sleeping on their back is the most vulnerable position for a dog to sleep. It is thought to be the most comfortable and most restful position. Plus, it's your dog's way of cooling down quickly. Indoor dogs that have expended lots of energy and/or are over-heated will sleep on their backs.
The sleeping on their back position has not been observed as behavior exhibited by dogs or wolves in the wild. Dogs kept outdoors will not sleep in this position either. This position sends a message of vulnerability and submission.
It should be noted; dogs sleeping on their backs with their paws "protecting" their chest are indicating they prefer not to be bothered. Use caution when suddenly awakening any dog sleeping in this position!
Now that you know more about what goes on when your dog sleeps, you will have some insight about their confidence and sense of well being. In addition, it will give you a clue of why your dog behaves the way it does, when they are awake.
Bottom line: Comfort equals healthier, more and deeper sleep. Whatever sleeping position your dog prefers, make sure their sleeping accommodations are safe and comfortable. A dog that is well rested is generally healthier and happier.
Karen A. Soukiasian, GOOD DOG! - DOG TRAINING and BED-n-BISCUITS dog boarding and training - Owner/Trainer, St. Augustine, Florida - AKC CANINE GOOD CITIZEN and S.T.A.R. PUPPY Evaluator