Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sleeping Dogs...

There's something so sweet about watching a dog sleep, the way they curl up tight and rest their heads on their paws. My dogs are very picky about their sleeping habits. The chocolate lab twins have padded beds, three of them, because Buddy is a very large dog. I line the beds up at night next to the couch--Holly likes to rest her back against the couch. The beds are covered with old sheets and blankets that I wash once a week because they love the smell of clean sheets. Who doesn't?

In the summertime, the blankets cover the beds and when it's time to sleep at night, I tuck the dogs in with the sheets. In the wintertime the sheets cover the beds and the dogs are tucked in with their blankets. Buddy likes to have his head covered and Holly likes to have the sheet tucked in tight around her back.

Buddy and Holly. That's Buddy you see with his head sticking up beneath the blanket. 

I'm not sure when this happened, my husband and I originally agreed that no animals would be allowed in our bed, but we now share our bed with two--Niblet the giant black cat and Chewy the chihuahua. Chewy is a fair weather friend. If I'm taking too long to get ready for bed, he slides up next to my husband, wiggles his way beneath my husband's arm and closes his eyes. Most of the time, though, he waits for me then wiggles his way beneath the blanket. He curls into a ball with his back against my stomach.

Chewy refusing to get out of bed. 

The cat used to wait for everyone to settle, then he would make himself comfortable somewhere around my husband's legs, trapping my husband so he could not move. Niblet is now 15 years old, though, and seems to be having trouble getting up onto our tall bed, so my husband moved a chair next to the bed. At first, Niblet used the chair to climb into bed, but he's now decided he prefers to curl up on the seat of the chair to sleep. This makes it difficult for Chewy who frequently wakes up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water--I keep a bowl on the floor of the master bath. Chewy has no problem jumping down, he just leaps over the cat and the chair, but he can't jump back up! The cat is on the chair, the chair blocks most of my side of the bed, and my husband stretches out along his side of the bed, so I am often awakened in the middle of the night to a soft "yip," letting me know that Chewy needs a helping hand to get back onto the bed.

Why does Chewy wake up so often in the middle of the night? Chewy has frequent dog-mares. Chewy was abandoned near our property in Texas--five acres of forest land surrounded by vast acres of the same. He appeared at our home during a thunderstorm. We were later told that he had tried to seek help at the home of many of our neighbors who chased him away. No offense to my neighbors, but he was a tiny, helpless pup at the time and I cannot imagine turning my back on an animal begging for help, but that's the story we were told.


I don't know how long Chewy was roaming the forests looking for a home, but it may have been days, perhaps weeks. He is now solid muscle with a shiny, healthy coat, but when he appeared in our driveway, he was tiny, thin, and his coat was dirty. I can only imagine what happened to him before he arrived at our house, and I do not imagine his life in the forest was easy.

Our other animals have dreams, too. The chocolate twins were attacked by a pack of coyotes once and suffered severe injuries. Holly was bit three times on the stomach by something--the vet believed it was a brown recluse spider, but the local university vet clinic thought it was baby rattlesnakes. We had 35 acres on the Colorado prairies at the time so either one is a possibility. She was so sick the vet sent her home to die. Her belly was black from her chin to her tail. I was desperate and determined to keep her alive, and my daughter was helping me. She eventually found a natural treatment on the internet, a "draw" using flaxseed meal, lavender oil and activated charcoal. I used a paint brush to paint her chest with the mix every 15 minutes for three days before pink started to show around the edges of her stomach. I did not sleep for three days, holding her head on my lap, gently washing her chest, then repainting it with a fresh batch of charcoal. After seven days, only a small circle of black remained. She now has three small scars, and our vet sells activated charcoal in her office.

Buddy sleeping.

Holly Sleeping

Buddy was hit by our truck. He saw my husband coming home from work and took off running down the hill. He darted out from between two trees just as my husband turned into our driveway. The truck hit him softly, but sent him sprawling across the pavement, which scraped the skin from his belly. He was bedridden in serious pain for two weeks. I am assuming these are the sources of my dog's dog-mares, but to be honest, I don't know. They don't speak English.

Our cat has cat-mares. He was abandoned in a dumpster as a kitten and rescued by my daughter's friends, but he was so young! Is it possible he still fears abandonment and dreams of that hot, dark, metal box? I don't know. He used to sneak out of the house (I only have indoor cats) and tease the neighbor's dog by prancing back and forth on the fence when he was a kitten. He is a Maine Coon and has a long, thick, fluffy tail. The dog must have nabbed the tail because he came into the house without any fur on the last half of the tail. His fur grew back, and he stopped sneaking out of the house, but is it possible he still dreams of the near-loss of his tail?

The FYI section in the February 2012 issue of Popular Science attempts to answer the question "Do Animals Dream?." According to the author, Kaitlin Miller, dogs actually go through the same sleep stages as humans, "only faster." Miller refers to research by Stanley Coren, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of The Intelligence of Dogs.

Research has shown that dogs enter REM sleep, or dream sleep, within 20 minutes. I have seen this in my chocolate labs when they lie down at my feet, their limbs and chins draped across each other's bodies looking comfortable and peaceful, then suddenly one of them will start twitching and softly "woofing" as if he or she is "chasing bunnies" as we call it. My chocolate labs are very large dogs, even for labs. They are not overweight, but tall, and each weighs nearly 90 pounds. According to Coren's research, large dogs dream longer, though he does not understand why.

Coren also states that the dreams of little dogs come faster, and they dream more frequently. My chihuahua sleeps on my bed, on my lap, or beside me on the couch, so I have the opportunity to observe his sleep habits more often. When we first rescued him, as I said before, he had been abandoned in the forests of Texas. When he was young, I noticed that he often appeared to be dreaming that he was being chased. I had to wake him carefully because he often woke up frightened. Now, two years later, his dreams are sometimes more peaceful, but he still has those moments when he whimpers or cries in his sleep.

Coren's research also showed that infants of all species dream more often than adults, and I wonder why? One would think they would dream less as they would have less experiences to recall, or perhaps there is an answer to a mystery in this discovery, as well. What do infants dream about? If, as some psychologists claim, dreams are metaphorical, a way that we work out our day to day problems, then why do infants dream?

Another interesting aspect of Coren's research shows that insects and fish do not experience REM sleep, but some birds do, and all mammals. Finches, Coren claims, dream about the melodies of their songs, which is a lovely thought, in my opinion. Rats often replay the mazes they have run through during tests. Again, this piques my interests--how did Coren figure that out?

Coren suggested the possibility that reptiles might experience REM sleep because many scientists believe human dream processes might be "a holdover form our reptilian brains." Of course, this also draws on the question of whether or not one believes in evolution or creationism.

For the most part, animal dreams, like human dreams, remain a mystery, but there is something about a whimpering, sleeping dog that tugs at my heart. I do not know if he or she is dreaming of a fun romp through the woods or being chased by coyotes and I would rather gently wake the dog up than take the chance that he or she is reliving a bad experience.

Buddy and Holly Cuddling

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