Greyhounds make wonderful pets. They are loving, funny and usually pretty quiet….except in their crazy zoom times! Anyone who owns a greyhound understands they have some unique and interesting characteristics.

Sleep aggression, or sleep startle as many know it as, is a common problem and there are a lot of dog trainers out there who think it is a myth! But it’s not, it is a very real and very scary behaviour, that to a new owner can be frightening.

This article explains sleep aggression, causes and ways to fix it. But first things first, we have to know if it is actually sleep aggression or is it resource guarding?

It is sleep aggression if:

  • The growling or snapping happens only when the hound is sleeping and they get bumped or woken by touch
  • The hound may have their eyes open and look awake, but any touch sets them off
  • The growling or snapping does not happen if you are only walking towards the bed
  • The growling or snapping does not happen at any other time when the hound has their head up off the bed

If the hound exhibits any growling or snapping when:

  • you are moving towards or near their bed when they are on it
  • they have a toy or food and you are moving near it
  • they have jumped up on furniture and you have asked them to get off
  • they are on a either the couch or bed and growling happens as you are about to sit down
  • they growl or snap at you when you reach for their collar to get them off the furniture

Then it is more likely to be resource guarding, which is a VERY serious behaviour. We’ll get to that a little later.

History of hounds in kennels

Let’s start with history of hounds. In their racing life they were in kennels by themselves where they were not patted or touched while sleeping. They had their own space and would be woken by the sound of people or the kennel gate opening or other dogs around them. They had their own bedroom as such that was not entered while they slept and not shared with others.

In a pet life their beds are exposed and in the main living space with their people. People let them up on their couch and the human bed. They can sleep so deeply they don’t hear you coming. Then you pat them, usually leaning down. Next thing you know you’ve got a snapping, snarling greyhound just cm from your face! Pretty darn scary!! But then all of a sudden, they realise it’s you and look like they had no idea what just happened. They can even wag their tail.

What can you do?

What can we do about it I hear you ask? There are a few things that can help for sleep aggression. First and foremost, it is about management and changing our behaviour. Our changes can have a desensitisation effect on them and they can start ‘listening out’ for our approach. However, some hounds will still sleep very soundly and may not change.  The below steps are in order of priority:

  1. Do not allow your greyhound to share your bed with you or be on the lounge with you while they are sleeping or you are sleeping! As much as you love having a cuddle with your hound, continuing to have them sleep so close to you just continues putting you in danger of a bite. You can cuddle them while they are awake!

Let’s be blunt here, if you are not willing to do step one, then there is no point in continuing to read. You’ve chosen to continue to have broken sleep and live in fear of potential bites.

  1. Teach them a solid ‘off’ cue, because if they are used to sleeping on the lounge or human bed, it is going to be tough to change that habit. Make it a game, invite them ‘on’ reward, tell them ‘off’ reward….lots of repetitions!
  2. Give them a crate or separate room to sleep in. A crate will provide them with a physical barrier that can make them feel more comfortable. The door doesn’t have to be closed, but a ‘room’ of their own also means we are less likely to accidentally bump them or their bed. If you have very young children then a crate is a must. This stops the potential of a toddler accidentally falling on the hound’s bed, which becomes a serious bite risk.
  3. Make sure any children or guests in the home do not approach your hound while on their bed. If they have a crate and your hound is in their crate, teach children and guests that this is their ‘bedroom’ and they need privacy. If need be, put a sign on the crate that says “I need my beauty sleep and get cranky if you wake me so please leave me alone”
  4. If anyone wants to pat your hound, call them off the bed, to the you or the person. If they don’t want to get up for a pat, leave them alone.
  5. Before you approach your sleeping hound, call their name, clap, make noise until their head comes up off the bed. That is the important thing to note, it’s not if their eyes open, we all know that they sometimes sleep with them open!

The points above are pretty simple to do, it is about changing our behaviour to help them.

Resource guarding

If your dog is growling at you at any time when they are awake, then it is likely your hound is resource guarding and does not have sleep aggression. It is a VERY serious behaviour problem that needs professional help. It can escalate from growling to biting very quickly. I’m not going to give any advice here other than to get in touch with a good, qualified trainer to come to your home and deal with the resource guarding. It is not something that can be fixed by a training tip post. If you are in my service area, I can help, if not, I can give you the contact details of trainers in your area that I trust.

Resource guarding is not a behaviour you should ignore from your hound, or any dog and I can’t stress enough how important it is to find the right trainer to work through this with you.