Sleep Startle: What is it and how can it be managed?

Jan 15, 2020 | Greyhound care, Training

Greyhound Rescue Ambassador Ash London explains sleep startle

Ever heard the expression “let sleeping dogs lie”? This saying has its roots in common sense- dogs don’t always like to be woken up! ‘Sleep Startle’ is something that can present in any breed but is especially prevalent in greyhounds.

Greyhounds are typically raised in environments where they sleep alone from a very young age and would not be in a situation where they are woken from sleep by being touched. Think about it like this: if you go to sleep in your locked bedroom and are awoken by somebody touching your shoulder, you’d be pretty startled! You would likely throw up your hands and yell. It is similar with a dog who is unaccustomed to sharing sleeping space with anyone else if they are startled awake unexpectedly. The main difference here is that dogs don’t have hands to throw up and so can snap and/or snarl.

While sleep startle presents more often in greyhounds than in other breeds it is not something that effects every greyhound, nor is it an insurmountable problem. Often-times the hound will become more accustomed to having company and be less likely to startle. In other cases, it simply comes down to safe management of a known concern.

If your greyhound does have sleep startle there are a few simple things that you can do to create a safe environment:
Firstly, it is important to provide your hound with a quiet and secure sleeping space that is out of the way of the household hustle and bustle. That way it is less likely that the hound will be disturbed when they are trying to sleep, and they know that they have a space to retreat to when they want some rest.

Secondly, a hound that has sleep startle should be discouraged from sleeping on couches and people beds. It is not fair to put the hound in a position where they will be expected to share their sleeping space when you know that it is not something that they are comfortable with. Instead, give your greyhound a couple of different comfy dog bed options in different areas of your home.

Lastly teach everyone in the household that they need to gain the dog’s attention and call the dog off the bed before touching it. This is something that you could teach children regardless of whether a dog has sleep startle. Easy ways to do this are to call the dog loudly from a distance of at least 1.5 meters and wait until it has roused before asking it to come to you. Don’t assume that because the dog’s eyes are open it is fully conscious as greyhounds do sometimes sleep with their eyes open.

Some common sense and respect for the hound’s space are key, and simply being aware that a greyhound may experience sleep startle is the first step to managing it safely. If you have any concerns about how to manage your hound’s sleep startle you should consult a behaviourist.

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