WATCH | Dogs learn while they sleep, study says

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Scientists in Hungary say they have measured brain activity in dogs which shows they learn during their sleep. Reuters’ Matthew Stock reports.

Kamilla the labrador is about to take part in a science experiment. And all she has to do is sleep.

It’s during her slumber that scientists in Hungary say her brain makes sense of what’s she’s been taught.

She may look peaceful, but Kamilla’s brain is showing brief bursts of activity, known as sleep spindles.

“From studies with humans and rodents we know that they are extremely useful markers both of memory and cognition but also of ageing and activity… in the dog, sleep spindles have only been described, they were never quantified, they were never related to function: this is the first time we were able to show that sleep spindles predict learning in the dog,” Ivaylo Iotchev, neuroscience researcher, saying.

Dogs were first taught commands in English instead of Hungarian, then left to sleep in a darkened room for three hours.

Female dogs, they found, could memorise tasks better than males.

Their brain activity backed this up – with females having twice as many sleep spindles.

The study hopes to shed light on how dogs’ cognitive ability and memory changes with age. Research that could help better understand the human ageing process.

“Among very old dogs, up to two thirds of them show signs of dementia, and this dementia is really very similar in a lot of aspects to that of humans, so we could use dogs as a natural model of human ageing,” Eniko Kubinyi, senior researcher, saying.

The team has set up a Dog Brain and Tissue bank to share samples of brain disease and ageing with researchers worldwide.