Should I wake up my dog from a nightmare?

should I wake up my dog from a nightmare
Should I wake up my dog from a nightmare? How do I do it?

The first time you see your puppy having a nightmare – you will feel sick. It is heart wrenching and scary to see your puppy whimpering or crying.

Dogs can definitely have nightmares – and it is up to us to know when to intervene.

It’s scary at first

Maybe you’re a new dog owner; you’ve just gotten everything you need for your new dog. A few nights in, you hear your sleeping dog kicking, whining, crying, and maybe even barking.

Perhaps you’ve had lots of dogs in the past. This may be the first time you have noticed this heart-stopping behavior.

It can range from kicking, squirming, and pawing at the air to whining or even barking or yipping. Fear not, your canine friend is simply going through something you likely have many times in the past: a nightmare.

Can I wake them up safely, and should I wake my dog from a nightmare?

To anyone in a panic searching for this article, YES, it is safe and okay to wake your dog from a nightmare.

You can go do it right now. Gently wake the dog as if you would a person have a nightmare. Gently shake or even pet your dog to wake it up. 

Do not worry; the worst your dog will be is a little startled or frightened, as anyone would be being jolted awake from a nightmare. You can take your time and do your best to comfort your dog. In no time, they will have calmed down. If left to their own devices, your pup will likely return to sleep on their own.

how to wake a dog from a nightmare
How and when to wake a dog from a nightmare or bad dream.

I’m shaking them, and they’re not waking up. Is this bad?

If your dog appears to be asleep and is barking, yipping, whining, or shaking/spasming, start to pay attention. If your attempts to wake them up to go unrecognized entirely, your dog may be having a seizure. You may need to take them to the Vet ER.

Seizures are typically caused by certain medications or illnesses, and once diagnosed, are very treatable. Attacks will not often happen without one of these prerequisites, so we can stress a little less if our dog is entirely healthy.

So it isn’t THAT bad. I know that I can, but SHOULD I wake my dog up?

If you’re one to imagine what they’re going through or what waking them up might do, do not fret! This article is much more than a yes or no answer to a simple question. 

Dogs LOVE to sleep. But also LOVE to be awake and hang with you!

You may have noticed that your dog is more than happy to join you on your TV watching binge, no matter the time of day. They will be your companion on midnight snack-gathering journeys, regardless of the time.

You might have also noticed your dog napping during the day, even if they have no right to be tuckered out. This is because dogs, in a similar fashion to bears and other woodland animals, are very light sleepers.

They sleep when they can, dogs can wake up quickly and are rarely groggy when they do.

Waking up your dog, nightmare or not, is never an inconvenience to them. However, if there aren’t any pressing matters, it may be a good idea to let them get their beauty sleep.

bernedoodle review breed guide
Cuddly, soft and GIANT – the Bernedoodle is an amazing Poodle Mix breed.

They’re just pawing the air and barking… Is it REALLY a nightmare?

No! Just because your furry friend is stirring in their sleep doesn’t mean they have a terrible dream. 

Dreams in any animal, including humans, are themselves not very well understood. Even by sleep scientists whose job it is to study them! 

The meanings of human them can be understood in many different ways. Some are embarrassing, sad, and, yes, even scary.

Though we haven’t pinned down a definitive reason why dreams are caused, physical symptoms can be analyzed to determine if it’s a good one or a bad one.

white maltioo adult smiling
What a beauty! White Maltipoo adult. Photo by Brian Johnson & Dane Kanter /CC BY

These symptoms are easily readable and can prove pretty entertaining if the atmosphere of the dream is pleasant. 

Believe it or not, dogs dream about doing doggy things

Running through a field, playing with another dog, digging something up, burying things, or even confronting some kind of danger are all themes dogs many dream about.

Typically your dog will noticeably act similarly to what he’s doing in his dream. If he’s running, all four of his legs will move in a slow running pattern. This pattern, as well as for any kind of movement, maybe appear a bit ‘jerky’. 

This is entirely normal and does not mean your dog is having a seizure or even a nightmare. Suppose your dog is digging something up or perhaps imagining burying a bone in your backyard. In that case, maybe you’ll see only the front paws moving in a ‘digging’ fashion.

Dogs will occasionally vocalize during dreams and nightmares alike. Telltale signs of a nightmare are excessive whining or growling. Whether a good dream or bad, these vocalizations will rarely wake up a dog, so it’s up to you to interpret if your dog is in fear or is just having a lovely time. Rarely, dogs might also put their paws over their muzzle. This is an expression of fear, in the dream world or not, and should be taken seriously as such.

Why is my dog having a nightmare?

Unfortunately, the same people who study dreams also study nightmares, and not much is known about why they are caused. There are many theories, some based on science, some in religion or superstition.

Most scientists think that dreams (and nightmares) are ways for the brain to process information gained on a day-to-day basis.

This is supported typically by only seeing things you’ve seen before in dreams, and typically only seeing something you are very familiar with. This would explain why dogs are likely reliving their dog experiences, digging, running, playing, and so on.

Dogs don’t process as much information as we do.

While they might not understand the complicated concepts of empathy and remorse, and therefore might not experience those difficult and overpowering emotions during a dream, they definitely can experience simple ones. Dogs experience happiness, anger, excitement, and fear.

Like your dreams, whatever your dog may be doing is typically accompanied by a singular raw emotion, whether it’s fitting or not.

Emotions such as fear, anxiety, or anger would provoke a nightmare, and a quick shake awake would be very much appreciated by a canine companion.

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Is a summer cut necessary for Aussiedoodles? Photo by FD Richards CC-by-SA no modifications

Another theory about dreams, in general, is that it is the brain’s way of dealing with problems or finding solutions to them. Have you ever woken up oddly inspired by a dream or nightmare, only to forget what it was you got so excited about?

Some scientists believe the brain dedicates the REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep phase to figuring out problems and processing information from your waking life’s experiences.

This is why nightmares happen and can be particularly troubling. Suppose you encountered a sour bit of information you need to process, such as a relative’s death, something scary in the news, or even something as mundane as an exciting twist in your favorite TV show. In that case, your brain might feel the need to process how you felt, what happened, and other factors of the event.

This, more often than not, isn’t very straightforward, and your brain will often rope completely unrelated things in with this information, skewering it almost wholly to the point of unrecognizable. It’s virtually impossible (at least for now) to tell what exactly or why a dog dreams.

Should I wake up my dog from a nightmare? 1
A super cute Apricot Maltipoo puppy. Check to the super cute puppy coat! Photo by Cindy Devin /CC BY

Could dogs be more complicated creatures than we had imagined, managing social and emotional situations intricately in the same way a human mind does subconsciously?

I’d like to think they have, having evolved so far from wild wolves thousands of years ago, had to have done them some kind of cognitive good, which means your dog might likely relate to you in a lot of similar fashions.

If they share the same concepts in their dreams, it might be safe to assume other more human-like signs can be interpreted as such. That’s just speculation, though.

You can fantasize or leave it up to the professionals to decide if your dog can “talk.”

My dog has been having a LOT of nightmares. Should I be concerned?

Yes, you should. Even if you’re confident that your dog isn’t having a seizure, you should still be concerned if your dog has frequent or regular nightmares.

This could be due to stress or anxiety or even a mental or physical condition.

If your dog is having their nightmares regularly or nightly, make sure to take them to the vet as soon as possible, just in case the condition might worsen.

Remember, regular dreams are not discouraged, and the occasional nightmare is nothing to be concerned about.

Just jostle your dog awake if you think they would be better off snuggled up next to you than living out whatever was going on inside of their head.