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IndyMama77

Sleep Startle Reaction?

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Hello Everyone, long time dog owner but first time grey owner here. I apologize for the novel here, but I need advice. We adopted a lovely 4 year-old ex-racer mid-February. He was a bounce from a previous adopter who only had him for 6 months, he has been off the track for about 9 months. Other than being told he was likely cat friendly (he is not), he has adjusted well to our home. Seems to adore our 3 kiddos (ages 14, 11, and 7) and meets other children eagerly, whether visitors in our home or on walks. We have seen zero aggression toward people during the 6 weeks we have had him here. Our kids all participate in walking and feeding and otherwise caring for the dog. Yesterday we had an alarming incident, however. We were all in the living room as usual, hanging out on the couch and my youngest was playing with a tablet on the floor near the dog who was resting on his dog bed nearby. None of this was out of the ordinary, we are all typically in that room, watching tv, walking thru, whatever. I was sitting literally 2 feet away from my son, who had been near the dog for about half an hour. Suddenly the dog sat bolt upright and began barking and flashing his teeth, directing this behavior at my young son. I immediately yelled NO at the dog, and he stopped without further incident (it lasted only seconds). My son had made no movements or sound before this occurred, didn't bump the dog or anything like that. The dog was not sound asleep at the time. The only trigger I can think of was that a car door may have slammed outdoors. The dog is not an easily spooked type of personality. He hardly ever barks, he is very quiet. I was left very shaken by the incident, as was my son, understandably. I spoke with several dog people, including a rep from my rescue group, who chalked this up to a sleep startle response. I know this behavior can be typical of racing greyhounds. I guess my hesitation here is that we frequently bump and touch the dog while sleeping (we are a busy household) and have never previously encountered this in the time we have had him. We do not crate him because he was absolutely miserable and howling in the crate, to the point of injuring himself trying to escape. Except for baby gates, he has free roam of the main level of the house and does very well. We have a smaller, open concept home and there is no "out of the way" area to put his dog bed. He often chooses to snooze in the most high-traffic ares of the house, and doesn't seek to isolate himself or get away from our normal activities. He gets a great deal of exercise and I have started clicker training him as well. He has been a balanced member of the family pretty much since his arrival. Does this incident sound like sleep startle to you? What actions could I take to prevent other incidents of this kind? I will confess that I thought this dog was an ideal match for our family and now in the past 24 hours, I am afraid he will bite my kids. Curious whether anyone out that has any ideas that might help put my mind at ease.

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We have a sleep startle hound who has bitten twice. Both times were human-caused by those who knew better than to reach down by him (one of them was me.)

 

We announce ourselves anytime we walk near him if he's laying down. 3AM on his own bed? I announce myself if I get up and walk by. Laying in the floor and looks like he's watching TV? I announce myself before I walk by.

 

Many of these hounds sleep with their eyes open. The "third-eye" deal sometimes makes it look like they are awake when they aren't.

 

We don't have kids so I didn't have that as a consideration when the incidents happened, but both times that he bit, the human reached down by him without thinking about it and startled him - definitely not his fault.

 

We've not had the issue ever again since we announce ourselves, but we also know that he is not a snuggler. If he wants to put his head on my lap while I'm on the floor, I let him, but continue talking to him. He often sleeps with his legs wrapped around my feet when I'm in a chair. I always call him and wake him up before moving (no touching - just call him until he wakes up and knows where he is).


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Always missing my boy Hi Noon Rocket. The home of Petunia, MW Neptunia and Kate, Miss Kate.

 

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Without actually seeing the incident, it's always hard to know for sure, but it does sound like a classic sleep startle reaction. We have had three (of eight) sleep startlers, and I can tell you from experience the episodes are almost always terrifying and almost always NOT the dog's fault.

 

One thing you need to understand *very well* is that this is NOT a voluntary behavior your dog is doing. It's instinct. And it *can* come and go throughout the life of the dog. Of the three we've had, two worked through it and were able to sleep near other dogs and people quite well. One was never able to overcome the instinct and had to be separated from everyone at night her entire life.

 

We see it a lot here after 1 or 2 months of a dog being in a new environment. They finally begin to relax and settle into the life of the home, and become used to their new living situation. That allows them to fall more deeply and quickly into a sleep state in more crowded situations. And the sleep startle reflex happens, seemingly out of the blue, but it's really not. The dog just hasn't been sleeping that soundly prior to that.

 

Being an instinct, there's no reliable way to train the dog out of this behavior. Correcting them in any way is basically useless since they don't have any control over it. Some people have had *some* success by repeatedly tossing soft items (dog toy, rolled up socks, etc) onto the sleeping dog to wake them up over and over, essentially attempting to desensitize the dog to unexpected contact when sleeping. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.

 

Usually the behavior will go away or modify as the dog gains trust in the people they find themselves living with. Maturity level and age also make a difference.

 

Only you can determine if you feel you and your family can work with this dog. Since you have a younger child in the house you need to assess their maturity level as well, to see if they can follow some simple rules for interacting with your dog.

 

1) Do not approach the dog when he is sleeping. Period. If a kid wants to interact with the dog, have the child learn to call the dog awake and over to them so they can make *sure* the dog is awake and aware. Or have an adult do the calling.

2) Create a "safe zone" for the dog. No adults, no kids inside the safe zone without calling the dog's name and making sure they are awake. Say, 2 or 3 feet around the whole dog. If necessary, mark the space around his bed with tape or set up an xpen partially around his bed so there's a physical reminder of The Zone.

3) If the dog wants to settle in a place that's too close to family members, hook his leash on (don't grab his collar), and gentle urge him to a more appropriate spot. Make sure you reward him for moving promptly with a very yummy treat. Or you can forego the leash and use the treat to lure him to a better location. Teach him a command for this while you're at it and things will be easier shortly.

 

I hope you can regain your trust in this dog and use this incident as a teachable moment for your kids. He's NOT being aggressive or making any serious attempt to bite anyone (if indeed he is sleep startling). If he had wanted to bite your child in the above described incident, he could have in a heartbeat. He DID NOT. I've seen too many parents simply return the sleep startling dog without even making an attempt at accomodation or education. I get that you feel you have to protect your child(ren), but there's another thinking, feeling creature in this equation that you have agreed to be responsible for for the rest of his life. It does a disservice to both the dog and to your kids if your response is to completely eliminate a troubling but workable (and completely normal) behavioral issue by shipping the dog back after one episode. In my opinion.

 

With a few simple rules, patience, and time there's no reason this dog can't be a valuable and loving member of your family for the longterm.

 

Good luck.


Chris - Mom to: Lilly, Felicity (DeLand), and Andi (Braska Pandora)

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Angels: Libby (Everlast), Dorie (Dog Gone Holly), Dude (TNJ VooDoo), Copper (Kid's Copper), Cash (GSI Payncash), Toni (LPH Cry Baby), Whiskey (KT's Phys Ed), Atom

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Guest fannysmom

We are also brand new to greys. The other night my husband was nodding off in the sofa. The pooch was snoozing on the door mat. My husband got up half asleep and headed for bed. As he passed the dog he reached to let her. She growled. It was difficult for my husband because our previous dog was a lab. He was ready for lovins no matter what he was doing. But we know she's a different breed and you really do need to listen to the old adage, "Let sleeping dogs lie".

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Thank you all for the replies! You have given us a lot of useful information and I am feeling much better about this since first posting. We had one other episode the next day when he woke up and was briefly barking at the curtain hanging near his bed, and I am now confident that it is sleep startle behavior. Although it looks frightening, we have talked about it as a family and understand why Ringer is affected this way. We have worked a bit this week on tossing socks and such at him and then rewarding. We have also talked to the kiddos about not approaching him unless they are sure is wide awake. He really is a loving, stable guy and already a cherished member of this household. We are all so happy we had a chance to bring him in!

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Worst bite I've eve had was Rex's sleep startle reaction. He and I were asleep and Poodle1 jumped on the futon and Rex just lahed out and too a huge bite of me. It never happened again as he grew more comforta;e in our household.


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Guest razz70

Any updates on this IndyMama77? I am going through something similar where our grey has started the exact same behaviour with the kids (randomly barking/snapping at us) and he has not been asleep at the time.

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I will say, in response to fannysmom above, this isn't really a "greyhound" thing and can happen with any dog, any breed, any age. "Let sleeping dogs lie" wasn't coined because of greyhounds...

 

I would agree to just use caution with your pups - we've only had one truly space aggressive hound and he let us know early on. He was also a bounce, returned because of this. We have no kids and our other greyhound wanted nothing to do with him when he was lying down - we respected his issues, always made sure we didn't touch him while he was asleep and woke him with claps and calling his name when we needed him to wake up. He accepted my husband sitting on the floor petting him, but never while asleep. He would let me sit with him, too - but I would typically sit on a footstool or something to give us more separation - it seemed to make him more comfortable (but mostly we just left him alone).

 

We've also had two other hounds that would sleep startle and have reactions like you've explained. Two very sweet hounds with no aggression and it really never seemed directed "at" us - only at the world when they wake up barking/growling. But...we always respected their space while sleeping and watched them closely for signs of stress while sitting with them.

 

Seems like some good teaching moments for the kids! Good luck and keep us updated!

Edited by Sundrop

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Any updates on this IndyMama77? I am going through something similar where our grey has started the exact same behaviour with the kids (randomly barking/snapping at us) and he has not been asleep at the time.

Hang in there! We had several episodes like this in the first few months. We followed the suggested steps here and have had 0 additional incidents, it just took a little time for him to feel more comfortable in his surroundings and for the kids to learn to give him boundaries while he is lying down. He is not allowed on the furniture, but he has several areas with dog beds or blankets to choose from. We have worked hard (especially with our youngest child and visitors) to remind the kids to leave him alone when he is resting. He has really settled in nicely! Time & patience... :)

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My brand new hound hasnt had this reaction, but I have read this thread and taken the advice. Last night I moved her bed next to mine and she laid down but just didnt look comfortable. Panting, ears pinned back, and she kept getting up to lay in the corner. Finally it occured to me that she probably felt more secure with her back to the wall where she could see the doorway. I moved the bed and shes been chill ever since.

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Guest nicky604

Could he have had a bad dream?

 

One of my fosters woofs in his sleep and is obviously dreaming about something!

 

It can go on for some time and he's most definitely asleep while all this is going on.

 

He moves his feet like he's walking in his sleep too.

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