Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Should You Wake Your Dog from a Dream?

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


  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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;-)

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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 :(

  13. 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.

  14. 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.


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