My Saluki-Greyhound cross occasionally snaps at us if we disturb him when he’s sleeping. Can we train him not to?
Denise Price advises…
In short, my answer is no. You know the saying ‘let sleeping dogs lie’? Well, that would be my advice! Dogs have what is referred to as a sleep startle reflex. In some dogs, it is more pronounced than in others. It’s a bit like the doctor testing the knee-jerk reflex (knocking your knee with a hammer). Some people’s legs swing up a little bit and others’ whiz up! Some dogs, when disturbed from sleep, will just look a bit miffed. Others will air snap or even bite.
The thing is, it is a reflex: it is an involuntary response, almost instantaneous, in response to a stimulus. In my experience, sighthounds do seem to be more sensitive to being woken up compared to other breeds. When you’re training a new behaviour, you’re generally teaching your dog to provide a specific response to a stimulus. For example, when you say, “Down”, you want your dog to lie on the floor. These behaviours are voluntary responses and there’s a time lag, albeit brief (although in some dogs, there’s a delay as they ponder about the availability of treats). Quite a different proposition. If your dog is allowed to sleep on the sofa, think about whether this is safe for you – it’s all too easy to accidentally knock him when you adjust your position. I know Greyhounds do love a sofa, perhaps he needs one of his own? Wherever he is, ensure that your dog has a safe place to sleep and that he can remain there undisturbed while he sleeps soundly.
If you do need to move him, call him quietly from a distance so that he wakes more gently. This is desensitising him to the stimulus that wakes him, so is technically training, especially if you associate it with something fabulous. However, my main focus would be on preventing accidental disturbance.