Should You Wake Your Dog from a Dream?

July 24, 2012

By Tamara McRill

Those mournful wails and yips let loose by our sleeping dogs tug on our heartstrings so hard that it can be impossible to resist waking our dreaming pets. The same goes for when their four legs get to moving and we wonder if they are happily bounding after squirrels or if something big and scary might be chasing them. Even the heavy-duty doggie snoring sometimes sounds like it can’t be a good thing. But should we wake our dogs up from a dream?

The hardline answer is: Probably not. Dogs dream and sleep much like humans, with similar REM patterns. Although most dogs sleep 14 to 16 hours a day, they still need some of the deep, uninterrupted sleep we do. So, if you have a dog that seems to dream a lot, constantly waking your pup may be unhealthy for him.

But…what if you just can’t help yourself?

No Touching

The aforementioned mournful wailing and heartstrings being tugged upon pretty much guarantee that we’re going to awaken our pet anyway. At least I do—even though I know better—when my Wuppy sounds so sad and lonesome that tears spring to my eyes and I just want to hug his crying away. Which is exactly what not to do, at least not until your dog is fully awake.

No matter how loyal, well-trained and loving your pet is, awakening them by contact can get you snarled at or even bit. Remember that you are bringing your dog back from a dream state, where the dream is reality. One of our other dogs, Dusty, is a sweetheart, but it is extremely hard for him to assess his surroundings quickly if he is startled awake. He needs a minute to go from growling to his normal happy.

Use a Gentle Voice

Our natural instinct can be to wake our pet as quickly as possible, even sometimes by shouting their name, as we too are distressed for them. Taking that tone, however, can put your dog on the offensive. He will think something is wrong upon waking and go into protection mode.

Imagine an alarm clock that goes off sounding like the panicked voice of the person you love the most. That would be more than a little stressful to wake to. For these reasons, use a soft and loving tone to coax your dog out of a dream and into a safe environment.

Lay On the Love

Once your dog has successfully been retrieved from the Land of Nod is when you can finally soothe them by touch. Give comforting hugs, rub their head and give that favorite spot a quality petting. Talk to your dog and let them know everything is safe – basically everything comforting you would want after being abruptly woken up.

What sounds or movements does your pet make while dreaming? Can you resist the urge to wake them up?

Photo by Jason Empey

Read more articles by Tamara McRill

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Vanessa says:

    My big baby is a 10yr old French Mastiff, Bluto, and he of course sleeps in bed with Mom. He has had dreams for as long as I can remember. Sometimes he’s lowly barking or growling, which shakes the bed, LOL, usually he is running/paddling and in turn kicking me! Lol During those times, I think he is just having a “dream” not a bad one or a nightmare, but dreaming of something random like us humans do… perhaps an interaction with another dog or chasing a cat down the street?
    It’s when he sometimes is sleeping and I will here him whimper, then look at him and see his face scrunch up, eyes squeezed tight, then, I think in those instances he could be having a nightmare. He is often doing a slower running/paddling motion as well. That is the only time I interact, and I scoot as close up to his back as I can so I’m spooning him and then lightly stroke him from his head to his mid back, focusing especially around his ears where he loves the most. It seems to sooth him within several minutes, and he usually wakes up, adjusts himself and then goes back to sleep.
    Sometimes I wonder if our dogs nightmares involve us, ya know, because we are their world…

  2. Mariah Kirouac says:

    My dog always acts like he’s running in his sleep. It takes a few times, but softly calling his name wakes him up pretty well.

  3. Debra Hunter says:

    My dog acts like she is crying in her sleep. Kind of like she is hurt. I wait for awhile but if she doesn’t come out of it I calmly call her name until she opens her eyes then she goes back to sleep and all is well no more whining or crying.

  4. Dakbash says:

    My problem with my dog is not the fact that I am sad about him wimpering I am concerned for the damage he does in his sleep. I have a Great Dane and he constantly runs in his sleep. He has put gashes in my walls, knocked over tables, and has scratched me up pretty bad. In these cases I must wake him up because he causes distress throughout the house. Thankfully he never wakes up alarmed or shows any signs of aggression. I was just curious if it was normal for a dog to dream every time they fell asleep?

  5. Autumn says:

    When my puppy get a dream his heart starts to race and I don’t know it that is bad his breathing is fast

  6. Jenny says:

    I can’t wake him . It’s. A Rottweiler mix with lab

  7. colbey says:

    Why cant you wake up your dog when it is asleep.

  8. Darlene says:

    Article was very helpful. I was waking all wrong. ThNks

  9. Liesha Sheneman says:

    My baby dreams a lot and I usually leave her alone cuz it’s cute to watch. She will usually wake up if I go to record it. She also tends to smile and come over for love when she wakes up.

  10. Lisa says:

    I have a chuwwa and he’s temperamental even with me the owner but he does take to me what can I do

  11. Michael C. Goncalves says:

    Coco was ‘gang raped’ by four small & medium dogs and puppies resulted. Although she lived 21 years FOX Terrier, she used to have violent dreams that only my mother could handle—she bit my dad and drew blood when he tried to wake her. You are right. Gently stroke and talk to your dog but don’t shake & wake.

  12. julie wickerham says:

    Thank you for the info my Ziggy is the sweetest little man until I tried to wake him up wow I thought I was a gonner.

  13. Jane Hall says:

    Thank you , this was very enlighting.

  14. Trin says:

    Thanks for that info

  15. jo wingfield says:

    Our 2 year old Pugzu sometimes starts to aggressively barking while sleeping and start to attack our other 2 dogs which is very concerning I try to be calm with her but worry about the he safey of the other 2. This had stopped over the winter but has begun again over the last 2 nights. Luckily the other 2 have so far been extremely patient but I do worry a lot someone will get hurt or they will turn on her back

  16. Ryan B says:

    If you’re concerned just get close enough that your dog has the opportunity to smell you before it wakes up. **This can take a few minutes, but is the least intrusive to your dog.** If you know your dog well you should be able to “sneak” up near and lie down near it without it hearing you in its sleep. The idea is to get it to smell you before it wakes up, just like you might have heard a noise or someone talking to you in sleep and then woke up and realized someone or some noise was actually happening. Just don’t scare or startle the dog awake, take it slow as long as it’s sleeping.

    I have a 14 year old Corgi. He sleeps all the time in his old age, and dreams quite often. I just caught him making some kind of distressed noise in his sleep. I just laid down near him as quietly as I could and started talking softly too him like I normally do, mainly so he could smell me in his dream state and either wake up or know I was nearby. It wasn’t long before he woke up and stretched himself. That’s when I got to reach over and pet him, at which point, he briefly licked me and went back to sleep. He’s now snoring peacefully. Again, just don’t scare your dog awake.

  17. roman sorrels says:

    I have 6 month old beagle who was neglected a quite literally starving amongst his other siblings under the care of his previous owner, so i think im prone to be slightly more worried about when he sleeping and starts shaking and kicking, should i be worried or is it just normal, once again i don’t really know how his experiences could still be effecting him

  18. Sue Dwyer says:

    I have a Red Nosed Pit and when she goes to sleep she can sleep up to eight hours straight and if you pet her or call her name she does not budge. She sleeps like a teenager and I have never had a dog do that before. They usually wake up as soon as you touch them but not her and when she is ready to go to sleep she will get in my bed or my roommates bed whether we have gone to bed or not. As I said, you would think she was a teenager that had been out partying all night. LOL. So do not be alarmed. There are some dogs that just go into that deep of a sleep and have dreams that you think bother them but I think they are just chasing squirrels or cats or postmen…again LOL. So just let them sleep.

  19. Jessica Gill says:

    My Golden whimpers every night while sleeping. It usually only occurs during the first hour and can be quite disturbing. He doesn’t do it at all during the day while napping, just find it curious that it only happens at night. But he actually lets me know when I have to go to bed because he is tired and won’t go to my room without me, and then he gets comfortable and knocks out and then he does the whimpering.

  20. Tatziana says:

    okay thanks i will but my dog ,JODA is always in a deep sleep and i try wake him up because makes a lot of nouce and i am trieing to sleepbut then he growls at me and i trie even harder to wake him up.

  21. Allan says:

    It is 3 in the morning. My 9 year old healthy cavalier king charles spaniel suddenly out of now where just started howling, barking and twitching then lost control of his bladder. He was asleep and had to be aroused to stop all of this commotion. Upon awakening he looked around, walked around and was his total self. No problem. It was disconcerting. Dream or seizure? He’s now awake and minding his own business.

  22. Chris says:

    Kipper is a 6 year old pointer (unsure the exact breed), but we’ve had him for 5 years. He often has seems that seem ‘active’, but every once in a while he has what I know are nightmares because even if I don’t wake him he will wake himself up crying and continue crying louder once he understood that he was dreaming. The crying isn’t normal crying either, it sounds a little like a human because it’s a long almost wail. The only thing that seems to help is (if he is asleep) nicely calling his name, then comforting him with hugs and telling him “its okay”; which is something he hears enough to get the gist of the meaning. He sleeps at the foot of my bed, so I don’t think he’s crying for me or someon else. The dreams are pretty rare now but I wish I could stop them. Could it be food he eats that day or something else that could trigger them?

  23. rebekah says:

    My dog shakespeare has ptsd, i worry that he is having nightmares from trauma so i wake him up, (he does the same when i have nightmares) how do you even tell if hes having a nightmare or a dream? Should i keep waking him up or should i leave him be?

  24. Lee Ann Stinson says:

    We just recently rescued a puppy from horrible living conditions .Both my husband and I have commented on how much he dreams. I have never seen a dog that dreams as much as this puppy does. I worry that he is having bad dreams but resist the urge to wake him up . After he wakes up on his own we give our little Gunner much love and comfort. We have had him a little over a week now and his dreams seemed to be calming down and not be so alarming so hopefully he und we stands he is loved and is very sage in his new home
    And thank you to all for the stories the really helped $

  25. lucy says:

    My poor pup. I just got her and had no idea what to do. As soon as she woke up she started licking me and cuddling with me. Poor baby.

  26. PackLeader says:

    My sweet sweet Scarlett makes the most terrified sounds in her sleep. We started out fostering her, then just fell madly in love and adopted her. She was spayed and had puppies aborted the day before we met her. Now, keep in mind, Scarlett was only 10 months when we got her. She can from LA where she got pregnant and had a leg amputated. When she was transferred to the Humane Society of Utah, none of her background information came with her. She doesn’t seem scared by people or sounds, but I wonder if, when she dreams, Is it possible she’s remembering getting hit by a car, or attacked by a predator? We think she’s a poodle chihuahua mix, so she’s pretty small. It just breaks my heart to have no idea what happened to her leg, and if it’s related to nightmares. She runs, whines, barks, growls, breathes heavily and unevenly, twitches and has a scared look on her face. When she is having a bad dream, I gently stroke her back and head whispering her name and telling her it’s ok. When she wakes up, I pick her up and hold her tightly so she knows she’s safe.

  27. Alex says:

    I woke my dog up with a peice of bacon. I just held it infront of her nose and she bolted up immediately. I love spoiling my dog.

  28. Tmoney says:

    my dog ziggy (13 year old German Shepard) let out the most mournful crys in his sleep almost like when people cry. his stomach was going in and out heavily. And I’ve never seen something so sad, but I slowly rubbed him and when he woke up I have him turkey

  29. Like some of the others have said, I usually think our Jake is having happy dreams. And I always think it is best to “let sleeping dogs lie,” whether we’re talking about sleeping dogs or that leaky faucet that inexplicably stops leaking.

  30. You know, I sometimes wonder the same thing when my cat is obviously dreaming. He’s a light sleeper, though, so he usually wakes up pretty quickly on his own.

  31. Everyone laughs at me but I seriously think that my guinea pig has bad dreams! He sometimes makes scared squeaking sounds during the night when he’s sleeping, it’s so sad 🙁

    1. rebekah says:

      All animals dream and can have nightmares, its nothing for people to laugh about, if youre worried about him having nightmares and you want to wake him up you should follow the same guidelines for waking up a dog. Im sorry your guinea is dreaming like that

  32. Jen says:

    My Elka sometimes barks like a puppy when she’s sleeping. If she gets super twitchy AND super barky, I’ll say her name, and frequently that’s enough. She respond enough to stop the twitch fest, but falls immediately back into sleep. Occasionally she growls in her sleep, but not frequently.

  33. Our cats do that sometimes. We just watch them carefully, but don’t try waking them.

  34. TourBuggie says:

    My guy, Rigley, a 6 1/2 year old Golden dreams a lot. Little barks and noises and even sort of boucing up a bit. Never accured to me to wake him up. I think it’s cute to just listen and watch.. guess I always believe they are happy dreams about the squirrel he just chased up the tree or the rabbit he can’t catch.

  35. Our one dog Silver used make noises like she was sobbing in sleep. It was absolutely heartbreaking. And I would gently pet her or softly call her name. She still dreams, though as vividly as she did when she was younger. She is the only one out of the bunch who is this active of a dreamer.

  36. zdulski says:

    I grew up with people who sleep talked and walked so I knew not to wake anyone during vivid dreams. I transferred that knowledge to animals as well. As all of my husband’s and my dogs were rescued from bad situations (since 1977) I was always afraid those mournful dreams were bad memories and wanted to offer comfort but knew that waking them would be disconcerting for them and often cause more vivid dreaming as it did in my family members. In my family we would gently and softly talk to the individual who was dreaming and redirect them back to bed. Most often they would easily comply and never wake up, going back to bed and sleeping soundly. So when our first dog Jamie (a border collie-shepherd mix) would cry and run in her dreams I would gently and quietly call “come home home Jamie, come home” just as I would if she were playing outside. It worked every time, her running would slow down and she would quiet in her sleep, never waking up. It still woks today with my two rescued chows, although with those guys I worry if I do not hear snoring;-)

    1. Juliet says:

      zdulski, your story was so sweet it made me tear up! : )

  37. Anonymous says:

    Agreed that it’s tough to hear our furry family whimpering while they sleep, especially since my “Murphy” has the life of Reily and I wonder what the heck he could have bad dreams about. Guilty I am, of wakening him if I’m around but I do it with calling his name softly so not to alarm him…and a comforting pat. I think those bad dreams are of dogs that have been to aggressive towards him, the vet…even though he’s a nice guy he’s cut and poked him, getting a bath, or a late meal. I do enjoy watching him when it’s a ‘good dream’ and he’s smiling and thumping his tail…that’s just to cute.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Instead of waking my dog, I blow softly across his nose. He then smells that mom is nearby and seems to be comforted and tends to relax more.

  39. I have had my vats do that. Not to the extent of a dogs movements but for a cat, pretty lively.

  40. Poor Phantom cries in his sleep a lot, hard to know if he is dreaming or hurting. But Mom knows to let sleeping dogs lie. He doesn’t hear very well so he wouldn’t even hear a gentle voice speaking to him. But when he does wake up, Mom gives him lots of loving.

    Woos – Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  41. From the mom – thank you for this article. Yes, I’m afraid I am guilty of awakening Shiloh when he is dreaming. I worry alot about seizures – he didd have one a couple years ago altho he was awake and outside at the time and I have a pretty good idea what the culprit was that caused the seizure however that does not stop me from worrying since he is pure Beagle and seizures are somewhat common in Beagles. His snoring can be quite pronounced at times – his dream-state consists mostly of whimpering with the occasional bark or whine. His legs also move a little. I figure he is dreaming about that elusive rabbit – he has never been used for hunting but his hunting instinct is quite strong and we do get the occasional bunny hopping through the yard and maybe even a nest right outside our fence – as if a tease. I love watching a Beagle do what comes naturally and like I said, his instinct to hunt is very strong and has even led to getting out of the fenced backyard more times than I care to know about with the resulting neighborhood hunt – for both of us.

    I guess in the future I will refrain or at least try -he never has growled or snapped when I wake him – however he has given me a few disgusted looks.

  42. Finn says:

    I do generally let her sleep, but you’re right, the sounds tug at my heart. She does the yelping, the running, the snoring. At least she’s normal when she sleeps!