Did you know that bond between dogs and their people can have profound effects on canine behavior?

Dogs see their humans as a “safe haven” and therefore look to us for protection, guidance and comfort in unfamiliar or stressful situations. The dog-human bond may even have an influence on canine sleep patterns, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. Published in the Journal Animals, the study looked at the quality of sleep experienced by dogs who slept in a new environment with their humans, and how it was impacted by the attachment between the dogs and their people.

Attachment Behavior and Sleep EEG

The researchers did parallel studies of attachment behavior and sleep electroencephalography (EEG) in 42 dogs. The bond the dogs had with their people was measured using an adapted version of the Strange Situation Test, developed by psychologists to assess the human infant-mother bond. Each dog’s sleep was examined during an afternoon nap with his or her person in an unfamiliar place — the university’s sleep lab — using a completely non-invasive EEG method (similar to that used in humans).

“Sleep plays an important role in processes such as learning, emotion processing and development,” explains Vivien Reicher, PhD student at the university. “When a human (or dog) sleeps, it is important to sleep ‘well.’ The quality of sleep can be measured by different parameters — for example, by sleep fragmentation or the length of deep sleep.”

Stronger Bonds = Better Sleep

The researchers found that higher attachment scores in the study dogs were associated with more time in deep sleep, known as the most relaxing sleep phase. “Sleeping in a new place for the first time can be stressful,” says study author Cecília Carreiro. “But these results suggest that dogs with higher attachment scores sleep better, presumably because the owners provide a more secure environment for their dogs, so they can relax and have a good nap.”