Many dog owners could tell you how much their dog is attached to them. And attachment is an important behavioural regulatory mechanism that has been shown as similar in child-mother and dog-owner relationships.
Now, researchers of the Department of Ethology at Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary have provided the first evidence that the sleep pattern of dogs who slept in a new place with their owners, was influenced by the dog-owner attachment bond. The study was published in the journal Animals.
“The owner provides 'safe haven' for the dog in dangerous situations, just like the mother does for young children,” said Marta Gacsi, senior researcher of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group.
The dog-owner attachment bond has already been studied in a number of behavioural tests. Gacsi added that last year, they “discovered in an fMRI study that the dog's attachment influences how rewarding it feels when it hears its owner's voice.” This time the researchers wanted to know whether in dogs, similar to in children, attachment has an effect on the quality of sleep in a new environment.
Researchers studied the attachment bond of 42 dogs to their owners using the adapted version of the Strange Situation Test, a standardised test developed in the 1970s by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, to understand attachment security in children, or infants, with their caregivers. The name, Strange Situation Test, was so coined because the test was conducted in a a context unfamiliar, and therefore strange or alien to the child, making him/her more in need for the parent or caregiver.
During the course of the study, the researchers at Eotvos Lorand Universiry examined the dogs' sleep during an afternoon nap with the owner in an unfamiliar place – in the University's sleep lab – using completely non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) method (similar to that used in humans).
“Sleep plays an important role in processes such as learning, emotion processing and development,” said Vivien Reicher, PhD student at the Department of Ethology, ELTE. “When a human (or dog) sleeps, it is important to sleep 'well', so restfully. The quality of sleep can be measured by different parameters, for example, by sleep fragmentation or the length of deep sleep. We were interested in how the dog-owner bond influences sleep quality.”
Researchers found higher attachment scores to be associated with spending more time in deep sleep, known as the most relaxing sleep phase. "Sleeping in a new place for the first time can be stressful. But these results suggest that dogs with higher attachment scores sleep better, presumably because the owner of these dogs provides a more secure environment for their dog, thus they can relax and have a good nap, " explains the first author of the publications, Cecilia Carreiro.