Study Shows Your Dog Is Listening to You Even When They’re Sleeping

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic

For millennia, dogs have been our most loyal companions – naturally, this means that we’ve evolved together and that canines and humans share a special bond like no other. Not only that but they’ve also learned how to communicate with us without speaking, from using “ puppy eyes” to  tail wagging, and other body language that’s unique to their species. Their ability to understand us, too, never ceases to amaze us, and it has been further confirmed by a recent study by ethologists at the Hungarian Eötvös Loránd University.

small pilot study that was conducted on 13 dogs revealed that even when in deep slumber, a dog’s brain can still light up in response to human voices and the sounds of other canines - just like when they are wide awake. Eötvös Loránd University’s ethologist Huba Eleőd says that “this finding is significant insofar as it is the first evidence of complex auditory processing during sleep in dogs.”

To achieve the most accurate readings, the experts used special devices that measured the dogs’ “event-related potential brain wave responses”. In different stages of the testing, the dogs were presented with the voices while awake, drowsy, and fully asleep. Sounds lasted only for a second and included laughs, sighs, yawns, growls, and yelps. The sounds were carefully chosen so as not to startle the doggos awake. 

The results surprised everyone. Even when they were not in deep REM sleep, dogs could tell if a noise was coming from a human or a dog, and whether the “communication” was positive or not. Previously, such abilities were only seen in primates, including us humans. The only non-primates to display this ability were mice – and now, dogs as well. That primates possessed such an ability came as no surprise, as we spend plenty of time asleep, and having that ability ensured our continued survival. But dogs, dogs definitely surprised researchers!

Luckily, modern studies allowed us to learn a lot of new things about dogs. Their sleep, for example, sheds a lot of light on how exactly they function. While snoozing, pooches process emotion and “consolidate” their memories. They can even dream as well! And now we know that they can hear us as well.

While undoubtedly exciting, these findings are just the tip of the iceberg. Important research will continue in Hungary, in search of further similarities between canine and human sleep behavior. We can only eagerly wait to see what new discoveries are made in the coming months and years. 

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

More by Angela Vuckovic