Why Does My Dog Bark, Growl, & Whimper In Their Sleep?
by Christopher Rollox
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
As we watch our canine friends sleep, we all too often see that they are being vocal, and perhaps even moving. Sometimes we wonder if perhaps they have awoken, but if we were to inspect further, we would see they are still fast asleep. It can be confusing, and even worrisome at times, to see our dogs bark, growl, whimper, and even twitch while they sleep. Of course, this isn't some awesome phenomena. All dogs do this, and it won't be nearly as confusing or worrisome to you, as an owner, once you know why it actually occurs.
Why Are Dogs Vocal During Their Sleep?
Scientists have found that, just like people, dogs actually dream while they sleep. Not all animals dream, but dogs are definitely one of those which do. Scientists discovered that when asleep, dogs have nearly the exact same brain waves as sleeping people do, with the same areas of the brain lighting up. This explains why dogs are vocal while they sleep. Like humans, they are simply expressing some small outward reaction to the dream their mind has thought up for them.
Why Do Dogs Dream?
So why do dogs dream? No one is entirely sure, but there are a lot of theories. Perhaps dreams allow dogs to commit new things to memory, process old memories, or help them deal with intense emotions. Nightmares could quite possibly be the reincarnation of fearful moments, or intense fears which have – for some reason- ingrained themselves into the dog's psyche. These are the very same reasons why scientists theorize humans dream, but in reality, no one really has a solid answer.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Since dogs can't talk, no one really knows for sure what they dream about. It is assumed that they have a wide range of dreams just like people, from happy to frightening, normal to just plain crazy. Perhaps they are dreaming about food, learning a new trick, running through the yard, or chasing a squirrel. On the other hand, they be dreaming that they are flying, falling, fighting aliens, or other weird things- just like people do!
Although it is thought that dogs dream in much the same way humans do, the way the dream is presented to dogs is considered to be different. Sight is one of a human's strongest sense, so our dreams are primarily visual. Dogs, however, rely on their sense of smell and hearing much more than sight. For this reason, it is assumed a dog's dreams also rely heavily on these senses, so instead of visions they may hear sounds or smell something in their dreams. This doesn't mean that dogs do not see things in their dreams, but it may be less often than smelling and hearing them.
What Is Considered Normal?
Most sounds and actions are entirely normal while a dog sleeps. A few examples of the types of sounds a dog may make while sleeping, along with the reasons they might occur, are listed below.
1. whimpers, which may indicate a nightmare
2. barks, which could be related to either a nightmare or happy dream, depending on the dog
3. snorts and grunts, which may mean they are dreaming of smelling something
4. growls, which may indicate a nightmare
5. licking or chewing noises, which may indicate they are dreaming of food
6. howling, which might mean they are having a nightmare or are dreaming about hunting/tracking
Vocalizations are not the only things which are considered to be normal while a dog is dreaming, either. The following physical manifestations are also completely normal when a dog dreams, and are no cause for alarm.
1. Twitching their legs
2. Moving their legs as though they are running
3. Flickering their eyes
4. Wags their tail
5. Turns in any direction
6. Ear twitching or movement
7. Slightly increase breathing (thought not severely increased)
9. Head movement of any kind
When Should I Worry?
Under most circumstances, there is no reason to worry when your dog makes noises in their sleep. If your dog seems to be under a great amount of distress, or is acting extremely out of the ordinary, you may want to wake them up so you can ensure they are safe.
If a dog seems to be under physical distress while they appear to be sleeping, it may not be normal. Signs of physical distress would be extremely rapid breathing, uncontrolled convulsions, sounds displaying high levels of pain, or anything else which would normally be considered bad health while the dog was awake. If your dog shows any of these signs, you will definitely want to wake them up. If the dog does not wake up, you will want to call an emergency vet for assistance.
You should note, however, that your dog is most likely having a nightmare if they seem to be under emotional stress. If you wish to wake them up, you must be incredibly careful. Like people, dogs may not fully wake up right away. As such, there is a possibility that the dog could bite you without actually meaning you any harm. Remember that they were just under great emotional stress in their dreams, and the feeling of being frightened, or in harm's way, may still be present upon first waking. To minimize the risk of being bitten, try to wake your dog up with your voice instead of your hand.
When your dog barks, growls, or whimpers in their sleep, it is simply because they are dreaming. As long as the dog does not exhibit signs of illness or severe physical distress, there is no need to worry. You might even find it fun to imagine what your canine friend is dreaming about.
Christopher Rollox Works at Gemini K9 Obedience Inc. He loves to write and share his knowledge on Dog Training. Whenever he has the time he reads books, travels in the city and dining out with his wife.