Should You Wake a Sleeping Dog From a Dream or a Nightmare?

Should you wake a sleeping dog? You’re sitting on your sofa. It’s late at night and you and your dog have settled in for the evening. You’re reading a book and he’s asleep on the rug, snoring softly. It’s quiet in the house as the world settles down around you. 

Suddenly, you hear a faint sound, like a tiny whimper. You look up and are startled to see your dog behaving oddly. His nose is twitching wildly, his legs are kicking, his whole body trembling. He whimpers softly in his sleep and chuffs a few times. You realize he’s dreaming. 

It’s cute as heck, but when he starts whining and howling, you realize with concern that he’s having a nightmare. Something is bothering him in his sleep. You want to wake up, but you stop and wonder “should I wake my dog?” How do you handle this situation? Is it dangerous? What do you do?

  Your Dog’s Sleep Cycle

Dogs have a circadian rhythm and sleep cycle just like we do. In fact, it’s even more vital that dogs have good sleep than humans do. On average, a dog requires about 14-16 hours of sleep per day.

Like us, they too experience REM, or rapid eye movement during sleep, as well as SWS, or short wave sleep.

Dogs can reach REM in as little as twenty minutes, wherein they begin their most vivid dreaming. This is where the yips, chuffs, and running can come from.

  Is There Any Risk in Waking Sleeping Dogs?

Well, lets’ ask you a similar question. How would you feel if someone came into your room and woke you from a deep, restful sleep?

You’d probably be a little bit miffed with the person since many people struggle to get quality sleep. The same is true for dogs, who may take it a step further depending on the dog. 

If the dog is older, in particular, you risk startling them badly. They may even try to nip you on reflex to being taken by surprise.

Of course, once fully awake, they’d probably be delighted to see you, but within the first few seconds of awakening, they may be accidentally vindictive of your actions. So there is a mild risk, but nothing threatening.

  What’s the Best Way to Wake a Dog?

If you must wake them up, use a very gentle, coaxing voice. This eases them into awakening without surprising them. This is only if you have to, however. Don’t forget how much more sleep they need than we do.

  Are Nightmares Normal in Dogs?

Very. Just like we do, dogs clearly dream, and some dogs are even shown to dream about familiar things based on their reactions.

Dogs think too, and some of their thoughts may be deeper than we comprehend. Since dogs deal with this as we do, it stands to reason that their subconscious can also go into overdrive at night. 

They’re left to sleep on the thoughts and feelings swirling about in their heads and their dreams bring these feelings into reality in their dreams.

And just like human nightmares, their dreams won’t always be pleasant. It probably goes against your protective instincts, but when your dog is having a nightmare, just let it be. It’ll use that nightmare to sort through whatever feelings are bothering it.

  Dreams Vs. Seizures

Some may look at their dog twitching and moving in their sleep and wonder whether it’s a dream or potentially deadly seizure.

Seizures are more common while awake, but they do occasionally happen during sleep. Since twitching is entirely normal, there are certain signs you’ll have to look for if you’re suspicious. 

Firstly, look at the breathing pattern; is the breathing deep and even, or labored and struggling? If you have even the slightest inclination that your dog is having a sleeping seizure, call the vet immediately, particularly if your dog is predisposed to them.

If there’s ever a time you wonder should you wake a sleeping dog, this will be the time since their lives could very well depend on it.


  Can Dogs Get Night Terrors?

This is a whole other kettle of dream fish. Night terrors are on a different level from normal nightmares. Dogs who have experienced trauma in their early lives are prone to extremely vivid nightmares called night terrors, which can even give the illusion of physical sensation in some cases.

This can cause dogs to break through the nightly sleep paralysis designed to keep them stationary while dreaming and begin to act out their fear. 

Some dogs may begin running or hiding, or maybe even howling, and the whole time, they’ll still be completely asleep. As mentioned before, sleep paralysis serves an important function of keeping the sleeping body still so it doesn’t act out dreams.

Night terrors are powerful enough to completely void out this natural mechanic. If your dog is having a night terror, gently try to wake it up and comfort it. You may need to consider visiting a behaviorist to try to work through any underlying issues.

  Let them Lie

There’s an old saying that goes “let sleeping dogs lie.” It was coined by Chaucer in the 1300’s which suggested that when faced with a particular problem, that the person should just ignore it and leave well enough alone.

This was to avoid any further problems and trouble that might come with them. And there is some merit to that — after all, why invite trouble to your house when it’s sure to find its own way there eventually anyway? Hide while you can. But while the saying has merit, the practice has mixed emotions. 

Some people worry too much for their pets to take the chance that they might be suffering, which is admirable. Others are more lenient and accepting that nightmares just come with the territory of being alive and able to sleep.

Different perspective puts all kinds of spins on it. Should you wake a sleeping dog? We don’t know. How necessary do you think it is?


So should you wake you sleeping dog? Not unless you have to. Dogs need more sleep than we do and it’s best to let them get it where they can. Because soon enough, they’ll be bouncing happily around your house again, ready to start a brand new, exhausting day once more.

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