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Nightmares in dogs! How to help?

Do dogs have nightmares?

Do dogs have nightmares?

Dogs have been known to dream. The spend a good part of the day sleeping. However, have you ever wondered if your dogs have nightmares?

On an average, dogs need to sleep for around 12 to 14 hours every day. As puppies, dogs need at least 19 hours of sleep per day. According to research, it takes around 10 minutes for dogs to enter a dream filled deep sleep. Have you ever seen your dog look like he or she might be running in sleep? their paws twitch, they will huff and pant and make whining noises in sleep. Did you ever wonder what your dog’s dream about? Do dogs have nightmares? 

To answer your question, do dogs have nightmare, the simple answer would be YES. Dogs have nightmares just like humans. They feel scared, trapped and alone. To know how you can help your dog in such circumstances, keep on reading all the way to the end. 

Do dogs dream?

Research studies has been conducted on understanding and comparing the brain waves of dogs when they sleep to the human brain waves. It has been observed the dogs also experience slow wave sleep (SWS) as well as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep just like humans. The REM stage of sleep is the stage when the dreaming takes place. It has been observed the dogs spend at least 10% of the time in this dream phase when they are asleep.

There are two primary questions which are at the top of the guardians mind when it comes to sleeping dogs:

  • What does my dog dream of?
  • Do dogs have nightmares?
Do dogs have nightmares?

What does my dog dream?

In order to understand what do dogs dream of, researchers decided to temporarily disable the pons region of the brain which controls the sleep in case of dogs. Once the pons was disabled, the dogs could act out their dreams. The conclusion of the research was that dogs dream of dog stuff like chasing squirrels, having dinner, having lunch, meeting other dogs, going to the dog park etc. The dream pattern in dogs has been observed to be very similar to the human dream patterns as per the researchers. 

Do dogs have nightmares?

When humans dream, not all the dreams are amazing and excellent. We also dream about bad stuff which are referred to as nightmares. Nightmares are difficult for us as well as for our dogs to go through. If you notice that your dog is having a nightmare, you would want to comfort your dog just like you would comfort your own child. 

However, before you comfort your dog you need to know that there are a few risks associated with dog nightmares which you and your other family members must be aware of before waking up the dog from his or her nightmare.

If you have had a bad dream in the past, you would know that when you wake up, it takes awhile for your brain to adjust to your surroundings. It may take you up to a minute to remember where you are who you are and who you are with. 
Similarly, it takes a while for the dog also to get his or her bearings. Therefore, if the dog is suddenly woken up from his or her nightmare, he or she may aggressively react towards the person who woke them up. This can lead to a dangerous situation specially if there are kids involved. Therefore the best thing would you can do for your dog when your dog is having a bad dream is to let the dream past and allow you talk to wake up on your own. Once your dog wakes up, you can confront comfort him or her with love and affection.

Before you understand how to wake your dog when your dog has nightmares, you need to understand the signs and symptoms of the same.

What are the signs of dog nightmares?

If your dog has a nightmare, there are few signs which you can look for. If you notice these signs, it would indicate that your dog is going through a nightmare.

If your dog is having a good dream, you would notice that your dog twitches his or her paws, move the ear back and forth slightly and you will be able to notice the dogs eyes moving under the eyelids or the twitching of the eyelids. You will not see any sign of fear or stress in your dog and your dog will look like he or she is content and happy even in the dream state.

However, if your dog is having a nightmare, you will notice that your dog starts to growl in his or sleep along with other signs. The other signs of dog nightmares may be twitching of the paws, moving eyelids, howling or barking. The howling or barking would not be as loud as it normally is when your dog is awake. The above mentioned signs should tell you that your dog is seeing something bothersome or frightening in his or her dreams. It is also be noted that dogs may whimper or wine when they are having nightmares.

If you notice that your dog suddenly wakes up from a very deep sleep or he or she woke up looking like something just startled them, this is an indicator that that your dog was having a nightmare. The nightmare experiences of dogs is similar to the experience humans have when they suddenly wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare to find themselves flushed, hot and sweaty. Once your dog wakes up from a nightmare, you will notice that your dog may have sweaty and damp paws.
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Signs of dog nightmares:

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Whining
  • Sweaty paws
  • Panting
  • Tensed jaw


A few less common signs which are noticed in case of dog nightmares are:

  • Heavy breathing
  • Bubbling noises
  • Fast paced breathing
  • Eyelid stretching and eyes moving under the eyelids.


The history behind do dogs have nightmares

It has been very recently been confirmed that dogs do dream while they sleep. A study done in MIT in the year 2001 used rats. The rats were run in a maze during the daytime while their brain activity was monitored. Later at night, when the rats were allowed to sleep the brain activity in their sleep stages was recorded. It was found that the rats were indeed dreaming. The brain activity was observed to be very similar in the sleeping state as well as waking state in case of the rats. This indicated that the rats most likely dreamt about their experiences which took place during the daytime.

Once it was confirmed that rats dream, scientist started to look at the dream patterns of more complex animals like dogs etc. As per the research conducted on dogs, it has been observed that dogs too dream of whatever took place during the daytime. Dogs most often dream about their guardians, going to the dog park, chasing squirrels, going on walks, interacting with other dogs etc.

However not all of the dog dreams are positive dreams. Dogs have nightmares just like humans. Dogs have nightmares pertaining to things which they fear or dislike like being given a bath, visiting the veterinarian, fighting with other dogs, getting chased by other dogs, going to the groomers etc. 
One thing that is imperative to remember for the dog guardian here is that dogs have an amazing memory span. If you have a rescue who was abused earlier, he or she may have nightmares about the abuse or about the time when they were alone, hurt or abandoned.

For example, a dog guardian had once adopted a dog who had a very rough life before being rescued. Even after rescuing, the dog would wake up every night, in the middle of the night screaming and howling as if he or she was being punished or hurt. Every night she would wake up her guardian. The noises were so terrible and loud that the guardian often thought that the dog was either in pain or was being attacked by something or someone. However, the reality was actually that the dog was having a nightmare, most likely about the events in the past which led to her traumatization.

The science behind ‘do dogs have nightmares?’.

Now that you know that the dogs have nightmares and what the dog nightmares comprise of, you need to understand what happens during the dog nightmare. 

Since dogs have a brain which is structurally similar to humans, their dream process is similar to humans as well. Dogs go through different stages of sleep. The two main stages of a dog sleep are REM as well as SWS. In the SWS stage of sleep, the brain activity and mental processes of the dog has reduced. However, the muscles react as if they are still awake. Dogs enter the REM sleep from the stage of SWS sleep once their body completely relaxes and their mind shuts down further. Remember here, that the mind of the dog is still working very vividly and rapidly.

It is the REM stage of sleep where the dogs have nightmares. The nightmares feel very vivid and real to the dog which is why they start to twitch their paws, snarl, growl or even start to walk around in some cases. Studies which have been conducted on dog nightmares have found that dogs enter the REM stage and start to dream around 10-15 minutes after falling asleep.

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How to help your dog having regular nightmares?

There are a few things you can do to prevent or reduce the frequency of nightmares for your dog.

Do not forcibly wake your dog up

If you notice that your dog is having a nightmare, do not try to comfort your dog while the nightmare is going on. When you wake your dog up in the middle of the nightmare, your dog might still be in the dream phase and may not register the reality around them immediately. This can lead to your dog reacting to you in an aggressive manner. Your dog may not even recognize you the moment he or she wakes up due to the effects of the nightmare. Under such conditions, there is a chance that your dog might bite or lunge at you unintentionally or even hurt themselves trying to get away from you. This is why waking your dog up in the middle of a nightmare is not advisable. 

Further more, waking a dog up in the middle of sleep will disrupt the sleeping pattern of your dog and your dog will feel cranky and tired for the rest of the day. Therefore it is best to let your dog sleep and go through the course of the nightmare on his or her own.

Use essential oils

You can either get a DAP collar or you can use an essential oil diffuser and place it next to where your  dog sleeps. The essential oil diffuser will keep defusing essential oils like lavender oil etc. This will help calm your dog and put him or her in a more relaxed state of mind. 


Call your dog softly

If you notice that your dog is having a nightmare, you can call him or her softly and in a calm manner. This will help your dog navigate the nightmare and wake up. Remember to not to touch your dog and use a soothing voice to call your dog. It has been noticed that gently calling the dog’s name brings back their mental awareness and moves the dog from a dreamlike state to reality.

Put some music on

Another way of reducing your dogs nightmare is to either leave the TV on or put up some soothing music like calming classical music. This will help your dog stay calm and relax when he or she sleeps. It is preferable that you choose a music towards which your dog responds well. You can check which music makes your dog feel calm during the day time and use put up the same music during the night.

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Now that you know that dogs do dream and dogs have nightmares as well, what are your thoughts on the same? What does your dog do when he or she dreams? Does your dog have nightmares? How do you wake your dog up? Mention your experiences in the comment section below.
If you have any queries pertaining to this blog post or any other, mention it in the comment section. you can also reach out to me on any of my social media channels. I will be happy to help.
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Frequently asked questions

Is it bad to make up your dog when he or she is having a nightmare?
When your dog is having a nightmare, it is not a good idea to wake him or her up. If you disrupt your dogs sleep during REM phase which is the sleep cycle where dreams take place, this can lead to serious consequences. If you dog was having a bad dream, it may take him or her a few minutes to adjust to reality. During this time your dog may react aggressively, lash out, bite or lunge at you causing deadly consequences.
How can I help my dog if he or she is having a nightmare? 
You can use the following tips to help your dog during a nightmare
  • Do not wake you talk up forcibly
  • Put some essential oils around your dog sleeping area
  • Called you dogs name coming till they get out of sleep
  • Put some soothing music
How can I know if my dog is having a nightmare?
If your dog is having a nightmare, you may notice the following signs
  • Barking
  • Panting
  • Whimpering
  • whining
  • Tense jaw
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Sweaty paws

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