If Scruffy's whimpering, barking or howling during his sleep have scared the living daylights out of you, rest assured you are not alone. Countless dog owners are startled by such dramatic vocalizations. If Scruffy is sleeping, he's most likely not sick, in pain or suffering; chances are he is simply having a bad dream. What dogs dream about remains a mystery. Perhaps your bird dog is flushing imaginary birds, your terrier dog is searching for fantasy rats or your guardian companion is being chased by a burglar.
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Doggie Sleep Patterns
Dogs appear to share similar sleeping patterns as those observed in humans. When your dog hits the pillow, he enters a non-rapid eye movement phase that is followed by the rapid eye movement phase. This latter phase is when people acknowledge having dreams. Dogs during this phase appear to become more agitated and start twitching, rolling their eyes, moving their legs, whining, barking and even howling in some cases. These behaviors are a normal part of your dog's sleep cycle.
What's Going on in There?
Spared from the ability to express themselves, dogs will never be able to reveal their wildest dreams. Most likely, dogs dream about common dog activities. To be more specific, Scruffy could be dreaming of activities he engaged in during the day. Perhaps he is dreaming about those loud police sirens he howled along with earlier or being left alone in the home, triggering his mournful howling.
Sleeping or Awake?
Make sure your dog is actually sleeping when you hear the howl. If your dog is actually awake, make sure there is nothing physically wrong with him. Sudden pain may cause howling or yelping in dogs and so can seizures, so it's best to check with your vet if you cannot find a possible explanation for the howling. Other causes of howling when a dog is awake can be attributed to triggers, such as other dogs barking, a siren or the sudden absence of a person the dog is attached to.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Once you have assured yourself that your dog is actually sleeping, you may feel compelled to awaken your howling dog. The famous saying "Let sleeping dogs lie" is a wise approach in this case. Some dogs may startle when suddenly awakened and may even engage in a defensive bite. Also, keep in mind that just as in humans, dogs require a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep in order to keep their healthy mental activity in top shape.
By Adrienne Farricelli
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.