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Bonding differences between dog, owner reflected in canine’s sleep

THE STATESMAN – Researchers of the Department of Ethology at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary provided the first evidence that the sleep patterns of dogs sleeping with their owners in new locations were influenced by their attachment.

The study was published in the journal Animals.

Many dog owners could tell you how much their dog is attached to them. Attachment is an important behavioural regulatory mechanism that has been shown to be functionally similar in the child-mother and dog-owner relationships.

“The owner provides ‘safe haven’ for the dog in dangerous situations, just like the mother does for young children. If we want to use the dog as a model for human behaviour, and we do, it is important to know whether this similarity is also evident at the level of behaviour in our everyday activities.

“Last year, we discovered in an fMRI study that the dog’s attachment influences how rewarding it feels when it hears its owner’s voice. The current result is another important similarity in the mother-child context,” said senior researcher of the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group Marta Gacsi.

The dog-owner attachment bond has already been studied in a number of behavioural tests; this time the researchers wanted to know whether in dogs, similarly to children, attachment has an effect on the quality of sleep in a new environment.

The answer was sought by parallel studies of the attachment behaviour and sleep EEG of dogs. The attachment bond of 42 dogs to their owners was measured using the adapted version of the Strange Situation Test, developed by psychologists to assess the human infant-mother bond.

Dogs’ sleep was examined during an afternoon nap with the owner in an unfamiliar place, in the university’s sleep lab, using a completely non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) method (similar to that used in humans).