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Study: Like Humans, Dogs Integrate Learned Information While Sleeping

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Ever wonder what’s going on in your dog’s mind when she’s sleeping? I mean, you see her running in her sleep and think, “Aww…she’s chasing rabbits in her sleep!” But what is she doing?

Related: Does Sharing a Bed With Your Dog Affect Your Sleep?

New research suggests that much like humans do when they are sleeping, our dogs are learning and adapting information they’ve acquired throughout the day while they are sleeping.

Researchers in Hungary worked with 15 dogs and taught them to sit and lie down, using English command phrases. They already had commands in Hungarian. The researchers attached electrodes to the dogs’ heads so they could monitor what was going on in the dogs’ brains while the slept.

During the three-hour naps, the dogs’ brains went through short, repeated moments of ‘slow-wave’ brain activity for several minutes at a time, according to the Electroencephalogram (EEG) data. Much like human brains experience when sleeping, when the brain activity was in these slower waves, the researchers were able to see ‘sleep spindles’–very short bursts of brain activity that lasted anywhere between half a second to five seconds. The waves were quick and rhythmic and in humans and rats, are thought to support memory, learning and intelligence.

This is the first time that it’s ever been studied in dogs. The dogs’ sleep spindles happen in the same range that humans and rats do–9-hertz to 16-hertz, and the cycles are known to be associated with how memory is consolidated in the brain.

Related: Dogs Remember More Than They Let Us Believe

The researchers also found that there was a correlation between how well the dogs learned the new English vocabulary words and the number of sleep spindle sessions per minute they were able to observe. They also noted that female dogs had more spindle sessions in a minute than males did, and did better on retesting when awake. Approximately 30% of the female dogs learned the new English commands while only 10% of the male dogs learned the words.

Researchers believe that the similarity in dogs will help serve as a way to understand our own sleep spindle functions.


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