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Dog Nightmares: What Can You Do About Them?

January 13, 2022

Our dogs provide us so much joy and comfort, it is only natural that we seek to give them those same positive feelings. That makes it all the more devastating when we see our beloved furry friends experiencing anything unpleasant.

Oftentimes, when we see our dogs sleep, it is an adorable experience possibly complete with some light (or not so light) snoring. However, there are times what should be a restful experience for our pets turns into something less than pleasant.

In these instances, many of us will want to take some kind of action and help our dogs in some way. However, we may be at a loss for what to do, resulting in us doing nothing. Even if our dogs will only take a few moments after waking up to recover and reacquaint themselves with their waking surroundings, it is never fun to see them in distress. Sometimes, it can even cause more lasting discomfort for us humans than the dogs themselves.

In any case, not doing something to help our pets sleep more peacefully leaves us, their pet parents, feeling like we are not doing enough. Luckily, there are some steps that we can take to make both us and our dogs be as comfortable as possible.

Do Dogs Dream?

For humans, dreaming can take on a variety of forms. Whether we are dreaming about flying, food, or simply the events of the previous day, dreaming is an expected part of a restful sleep cycle. This is actually much the case for dogs as well.

For humans, dreaming occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) part of our sleep cycle, and it works the same way for our furry friends. People typically enter REM sleep within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep, but for dogs, everything is a significantly faster process. Instead of our 90 minutes, dogs will enter REM sleep in between 15 to 20 minutes of falling asleep.

This all means that while we humans are unlikely to start dreaming quickly, this same principle does not apply to our dogs. Pet parents can sometimes be slightly alarmed at the sight of their dog jerking and thrashing soon after falling asleep, but in all likelihood, this is just happening because they are having a particularly riveting dream. Considering what that dream could be about, however, is a different matter entirely.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

People have the capacity to dream about a wide variety of topics and subjects. We can dream about something that happened that very day, something that occurred many years ago, something that could happen in the future, or something that could never happen. Dreaming about being at a different job or having superpowers would both be well within the realm of possibility for people, but the same is not so for dogs.

In essence, humans can dream in theoretical or unreal situations, but typically dogs only dream about what has actually happened to them. Much of this can be seen in the specific movements your dog makes while they sleep. Some of the twitching or other moves may appear quite similar to some of their patterns while awake. Observe how their legs, ears, and the remainder of their body moves.

It has also been found that dog breeds have somewhat different dreams for different lengths of time depending on their size as well as other factors. For instance, smaller dogs are thought to have shorter dreams than their large dog counterparts, but they dream more often. On the other hand, large dogs will have fewer dreams throughout their rest, but those dreams will last for significantly longer.

The size of the dog will likely at least slightly inform how they typically spend a day. A larger breed may spend more time investigating and protecting the homestead, while smaller breeds may do a bit more lounging. In these situations, the dogs will dream about the activities that they take part in more often.

Can Dogs Have Nightmares?

There is the pleasant side of dreams like being able to experience situations in a new or more whimsical way, but then there is also a much more negative side. Nightmares are never a fun affair. We often wake up with our heart racing, perhaps in a cold sweat, and likely with images of that scary dream still playing on the back of our eyelids.

When it comes to dog nightmares, there are some key similarities and differences to how humans experience our own unpleasant dreams. For one thing, yes, dogs can in fact have nightmares. Nightmares, unfortunately, seem to be a largely unavoidable part of the dreaming experience, and that transcends species.

However, since humans have much more of a capacity to dream about situations we have not experienced, our scary dreams can be much more abstract, and feature topics or characters that we do not know personally.

Dogs, though, are much more likely to dream about unpleasant memories that have happened to them in their daily lives. An intimidating trip to the groomer’s or the vet, or any experience that inspired some level of discomfort or fear are all possible sources of negative dreams.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Having Nightmares

In many ways, a dog having a dream or a nightmare will look very much the same. They are both likely to cause movement in their paws, ears, and eyes. As a result, differentiating between the two can become a bit more of a complicated matter. The most obvious sign is often the vocalizations your dog is making.

Is your dog moving its ears about, but simultaneously whimpering? Or perhaps their paws are twitching, but they are also letting out the occasional distressed-sounding bark? In cases like these, it is often the case that your dog is experiencing a nightmare.

If your dog is not one for vocalization in their sleep, but you still suspect that they might be having regular nightmares, then your best bet is to pay attention to them and how they usually rest.

Are their movements different now than when they typically sleep? If you are noticing differences, what are they? How long do they last? All of these pieces of information can be immensely helpful in identifying whether or not your dog is experiencing a nightmare in the present, as well as in the future.

Why Is Your Dog Having Nightmares?

Dogs can experience nightmares for all sorts of reasons, but some pets are more prone to them than others. Rescue dogs tend to have more nightmares than those animals who have always been in their forever home. It will also just depend on your specific dog and their disposition.

If they are especially nervous by nature, they may experience more anxiety in their sleeping hours. Meanwhile, if little to nothing seems to phase them, they may sleep like a log more often than not.

Now that we know the basics about dog nightmares, it is time to explore how we can help our furry friends get the best night’s sleep they can.

Supply Them With the Safest Space Possible

Nighttime discomfort and anxiety can manifest in animals because they are insecure about their space. If there is any doubt about their safety, they will likely experience difficulty going to sleep, as well as in getting a peaceful sleep. As pet parents, there is a multitude of ways we can remedy this. We can give them assurance and pet them whenever they would like, but at the end of the day, there is no substitute for giving them their own special space.

Giving your dog a place to call totally theirs within your home just serves to reassure them that not only are they welcome here, but they should make themselves fully comfortable. They will always have a secure place to go back to in times of stress, and any sleep that they get there will be all the more likely to be nightmare-free and relaxed.

One of the best ways to provide this safe place for your pet in a way that is also spatially efficient and will look lovely in your home is with a stylish crate. Diggs offers crates of all different colors and sizes to make sure that both you and your dog have exactly the right crate to fit each of your lifestyles.

In order to make their safe space even cozier, consider adding a soft pad, fuzzy blankets, and some of their favorite toys. With this winning combination, your dog will automatically know that they are both safe and cared for, creating the ideal circumstance for uninterrupted, peaceful sleep.

Do Not Touch Them During a Nightmare

When a child, partner, or friend is clearly experiencing a nightmare, it can be tempting to wake them to ease their discomfort. In the cases that we do, it often takes the former-sleeper a moment or two to fully come back to reality, and realize what is going on. During these seconds, they can be afraid, disoriented, and confused. The exact same process happens to dogs after they have a nightmare.

People, depending on the nightmare, will possibly be afraid but are unlikely to lash out. Dogs, however, may feel more threatened and less aware, causing them to snarl, growl, or possibly even bite if they misattribute the source of their fear to you. Even though we would go into waking up our scared dogs with nothing but the very best of intentions, in reality, this action could actually do more harm than good.

Also, after dogs have woken up from their nightmare and come back to themselves, they generally exhibit absolutely no signs of distress left over from that poor experience. In fact, it seems like they forget the bad dream entirely almost immediately after it happens.

So while nightmares are certainly unpleasant for dogs in the moment and deeply unpleasant for their pet parents to see, they do not do any long-term damage. Due to this, it is best to let them simply ride it out. When they do wake up, be ready with some soft coos and pets should they approach you and want them.

Fill Their Waking Moments With Wonderful Experiences

The last way that you can help your dog avoid nightmares is by giving them the most loving, fun life possible. The more joyful they are, the less fodder for unpleasant dreams they’ll have in the first place.

Never miss an opportunity to show them that they are loved, and savor each moment together. This will not only lower their odds of having a nightmare, but it will also do wonders to increase your bond together.

Nightmares Are Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Though nightmares are distressing for our dogs as they happen, there are ways that we can help to comfort them. By knowing our pets, catering to their needs, and showing them they’re loved as much as we can, we make each day (and night) special.


Can Dogs Have Nightmares? | The Spruce Pets

What Do Dogs Dream About? | American Kennel Club

How To Manage Nightmares in Dogs | PetHelpful

The Diggs Team

Dog-Loving Pet Parents

We believe our dogs deserve safer, better designed pet products.

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