Can Sleep and Resting Behaviours Be Used as Indicators of Welfare in Shelter Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)?

PLoS One. 2016 Oct 12;11(10):e0163620. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0163620. eCollection 2016.


Previous research on humans and animals suggests that the analysis of sleep patterns may reliably inform us about welfare status, but little research of this kind has been carried out for non-human animals in an applied context. This study explored the use of sleep and resting behaviour as indicators of welfare by describing the activity patterns of dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) housed in rescue shelters, and comparing their sleep patterns to other behavioural and cognitive measures of welfare. Sleep and activity patterns were observed over five non-consecutive days in a population of 15 dogs. Subsequently, the characteristics of sleep and resting behaviour were described and the impact of activity on patterns of sleep and resting behaviour analysed. Shelter dogs slept for 2.8% of the day, 14.3% less than previously reported and experienced less sleep fragmentation at night (32 sleep bouts). There were no statistically significant relationships between behaviours exhibited during the day and sleep behaviour. A higher proportion of daytime resting behaviour was significantly associated with a positive judgement bias, less repetitive behaviour and increased time spent coded as 'relaxed' across days by shelter staff. These results suggest that, in the context of a busy shelter environment, the ability to rest more during the day could be a sign of improved welfare. Considering the non-linear relationship between sleep and welfare in humans, the relationship between sleep and behavioural indicators of welfare, including judgement bias, in shelter dogs may be more complex than this study could detect.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Video Recording

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.