Should You Wake A Dog From A Nightmare?

By Ashley Tyler

We've all seen our pup whimper, whine, and twitch in their sleep, but have you ever wondered what's really going on behind those eyelids?

You may be tempted to wake up your canine companion when they have an intense episode that looks like they're going to take off running with their eyes still closed, but should you?

First, we have to examine whether dogs are even capable of dreaming or not.

sleeping dog
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Do Dogs Dream?

Cuteness has covered this before, but in short — yes, dogs do dream.

Stanley Coren, psychology professor at University of British Columbia and author of numerous books on dog behavior including Why Does My Dog Act This Way and How Dogs Think, wrote an article for Psychology Today explaining that "during sleep the brain wave patterns of dogs are similar that of people, and go through the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans, all of which is consistent with the idea that dogs are dreaming"

More surprising than the fact that your dog can dream is what she is dreaming about, because it's YOU!

Beagle dog sleep with his owner in bed
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Besides her loving owner, her dreams may also be based around anything from the days activity of playing at the dog park and chasing squirrels up the tree in your backyard to more broad breed specific behaviors.

Coren goes on to add that "researchers found that a dreaming pointer may immediately start searching for game and may even go on point, a sleeping Springer Spaniel may flush an imaginary bird in his dreams, while a dreaming Doberman pincher may pick a fight with a dream burglar."

So the next time you think it looks like your Jack Russel is chasing a cat in his dream, she probably is!

Dream or Nightmare?

Okay, so we've established that your pup's brain is sophisticated enough to sustain dreams, but how do you know the difference between a pleasant dream and a terrifying nightmare?

After all, it would be a real shame to wake your dog when she's in the middle of a fantastically satisfying dream about playing in a pool filled to the brim with fresh new tennis balls.

dog siesta at park
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The website Petful offers some tips on how to tell the differentiate between the two:

Dream — twitching, kicking and quiet noises

Nightmare — growling, crying, appears disturbed

Either way, dream or nightmare....

Should You Wake Them Up?

While there isn't any hard scientific evidence to back this up, the general verdict is no, you shouldn't wake a sleeping dog. The saying 'let sleeping dogs lie' is around for a reason.

All-natural pet food company Canidae published an article on their blog explaining that since dogs sleep and dream in REM patterns just like humans, they also need uninterrupted sleep like we do too and that waking your dog constantly can be "unhealthy" for him.

dog sleeping
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The animal website Pets4homes elaborated by adding that "a dog dreaming, even through a nightmare, needs to complete their sleep cycle, and in some cases, playing out their dream or nightmare naturally is an integral part of this."

If you do feel the need to wake your pup from a particularly violent nightmare there's certain protocol you should follow, thanks to the Minnesota dog lovers site Sidewalk Dog:

English Bulldog in the bedroom
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  1. Use only your voice (and not your hands) to wake them since abruptly shaking them awake them from a vivid dream can leave them disorientated, confused ,and sometimes aggressive since they may not realize they're awake right away.

  2. Call their name in a soft, pleasant voice to wake them up gradually because no one likes being pulled from their dream (or nightmare) by a panicked, screaming voice.

  3. Show them some love when they finally wake up so they know everything is okay and that it was just a dream. Offer them a familiar toy, t-shirt with your scent, or a blanket to help them drift back to sleep peacefully.

Geez, it's no wonder most people say their dogs are more like their actual children than just a family pet.

Sleeping baby and puppy
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