Experiments show that dogs consolidate their memories while they sleep. Sleep can therefore allow dogs to learn new tricks more efficiently.
There's more to pup naps than we think.
Earlier this year, a discovery led the hearts of dog lovers everywhere to burst. According to a Harvard scientist, when our dogs dream, they dream of us. “Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you,” said psychologist Deirdre Barrett.
Of course, as of now, this is mostly conjecture. However, a team of researchers took dog dreams from conjecture to actual experiments. We may never be sure of what our dogs are dreaming about, but it’s highly probable that, like humans, dogs learn and remember while they sleep.
What helps dogs retain information better? [Photo by Getty Images]
When we sleep, our brain puts all of our memories together and consolidates them into a neat little package that we can access later on. Sleeping helps humans remember things like what started the first World War, or the definition of nuclear physics. The effect of sleep is largely the same for dogs.
A team of researchers in Hungary performed two experiments exploring sleep in dogs. The first experiment, a sleep study, involved giving the dogs something to learn and examining their sleep with an electroencephalogram (EEG). The second examined how post-learning activities affected short- and long-term memory consolidation.
15 dogs participated in the first experiment in a learning and non-learning condition. The dogs, who were used to Hungarian commands, were taught the “sit” and “lie down” commands in English. In the non-learning condition, the dogs simply practiced the “sit” and “lie down” commands they already knew in Hungarian.
The dogs then went to sleep, during which the researchers monitored the dogs’ brain activity over the next three hours. Researchers then retested how well the dogs in the learning condition remembered the “sit” and “lie down” commands in English. The results showed that the dogs were more responsive to the English commands after taking a nap. The EEG scans also showed that learning a task alters the brain activity of dogs during sleep.
Let a dog play, go on a walk, or sleep after learning something new.
In the second experiment, 56 dogs were also taught the “sit” and “lie down” commands in English. The researchers then divided the dogs up into four post-learning groups, each of which did four different things after learning the new task. One group spent an hour sleeping, another went on a walk, one learned more, and the last played with a Kong toy. After that hour, the researchers retested the dogs on how well they learned the English commands.
The dogs that slept and went on a walk performed better in the retest. However, after a week, results showed that the dogs in the sleeping, walking, and playing groups did better than the dogs that learned more as a post-learning activity.
Dog experts have long been recommending that we don’t spend too much time on training our dogs. It overwhelms and overstimulates them, and now we know that making them learn too much isn’t actually effective. Thus, if you want to teach your dog new tricks, make sure to allow it to engage in post-learning activities that don’t interfere with what they just learned.
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