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)
8. Sniffing
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.

Author Bio:

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.

Comments for Why Does My Dog Bark, Growl, & Whimper In Their Sleep?

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All the time
by: Anonymous

Yes! my dog does this all the time

gentle dog sleeping
by: Anonymous

My dog during the day is a gentle wonderful dog. He is a golden doddle and they are known for their even temperament. But at night, when he is sleeping he can often wake up snarling and growling which terrifies his sister. I often wonder if something happened to him before we got him. He was in a kennel for over 4 months and I wonder if that is the reason. Thanks for any insight.

Golden Retriever Dream Barks
by: Golden Mom

Ask any one of my close neighbours and they would say they have never heard my Golden Retriever bark ever. She's a lady and a good citizen in our community. She gets bullied by three itty bitty chihuahuas that bark at her regularly. Insecure little things! Chihuahuas always know they're small, so they act out loudly. My point is, since these dogs became part of her life she dreams with all kinds of vocalizations. Before the chihuahuas she whimpered in her sleep, now she whimpers; growls; barks; and sometimes howls. I think she argues back in her dreams, something she doesn't dare do in her real life.

Thanks for the info
by: Orin

I adopted my dog River about 4 year ago. She was a stray & had been for many years, living with homeless people before being in a shelter for about 9 months. She sleeps on my bed & for the first year or two after I got her, if I nudge her while she was sleeping she would wake up viscously snarling but never did anything else & would settle back down almost immediately, Thankfully that passed quickly. No she will bark &/or whimper in her sleep & last night for the first time she howled loudly, in her sleep. Scared the begeesus out of me. She didn't wake up but I sure did & I can/have slept through 6.5 earthquakes & much more. :) I don't know what happened in her previous life, but I sure appreciate this insight. I'll just keep reassuring her. I wonder if a snug blanket would help?

Mate of 10 years gone over the rainbow bridge
by: Lyndall

Carter, our female dog,10, recently lost her older pal, Ziggy, 6 years her senior. Carter often dreams, but since Ziggy’s passing, she has been having more stressful ‘violent’ dreams, running more vigorously, even sat up barking/howling, it’s quite sad to watch, we have been calling her name to wake her and reassuring her that all’s okay. Apart from giving her heaps of extra loving, we are at a loss?

Dreaming in Dogs
by: Anonymous

When my dog is having a nightmare I just tell her everything is ok your just having a dream & she just goes back to sleep.

First experience
by: Berry

Almost 5 months ago, my family adopted a dog for the first time. I had already seen him doing things like growling or moving his paws while sleeping, but last night was the first time he barked in his sleep so I got really scared and thought something was happening to him so I turned on the lights and then he woke up and just stared like me as if asking "What happened?? Why did you turn on the lights??". I'm glad to know that barking is just another normal thing dogs might do in their sleep. I've been told I talk in my sleep, so maybe he picked that from me! Hahaha. Thank you for this post!



dog with nightmare
by: Paul

We have a doberman, it was adopted as an adult. We have never heard a dog as vocal as this one when sleeping. Along with the fast running, tail wagging, and if I sense that he is too upset I do not touch him to wake him, but talk nice to him then the dream changes and he wakes up for a moment and goes back to sleep. Usually laying right next to me.

I have had other dogs in the past, but never one before that chases its tail when excited, or see the tail wag, then get so excited that it spins in circles.

Never had a Schnauzer, but I do know they are very smart. Also they are protective of their owner much like most of the dogs I have had. If they like you they will protect you, wish more people in the world understood this. As my Chow used to say to people that he did not want near me, get away he is mine. Did not have anything close to the motions and sounds of this new dog, but we do not fully know his background either.

My Jack Russel Terrior-Dachshund
by: Madi

I woke up and I heard my dog, named Lucky growling. It was about 5 am and I jumped up cause he wasn’t awake and I turned on the light and he woke up. I didn’t know what happened but he was just staring at me like he was trying to apologize or something. I stood at my door trying to get my heart rate to go down cause I thought something had happened to him and he just stared at me. I turned off the lights and I went back to bed. He fell asleep right by my head and had been by my side the whole day.

My little Shih Tzu
by: Janice

Oh my gosh, my little guy will whimper, shake and bark in his sleep. I say he is having a nightmare and wondering what he is dreaming about. I yell to him and tell him it's ok and that's when he usually stops. I feel bad for him not knowing if it's something trying to get him in his sleep.

The Shorkie Snoring
by: Anonymous

I just googled to find out why my Shorkie Chloe whimpers and growls in her sleep; she was very loud last night, so much that I woke up and watched her in another world. Very funny to watch and listen, as I do wonder what the commotion is all about. She awakes with surprise, and then shakes it off with a waging tail. Ok, dreams; I get it. Thanks!

by: Anonymous

Thanks! My Rott lab mix pruitt was whimpering tonight in her kennel asleep and it scared me really bad. I get super paranoid with her and usually the internet isn't a great place to look for the paranoid but this helped me out!

Horrible dreams
by: Suzanne

My little Maltipoo has always had occasionalbzd dreams. But now it's almost every night. She starts out moaning if I don't wake her up it escalates. Then if she does wake up she growling. I wake cause I don't want it to get out of control. Anything I can do?

Old English bulldog
by: Anonymous

Snookie past few months has done nothing but whining in her sleep. She also stops breathing periodically. What's wrong with my baby? I literally shake her to breath n holler Snooki Snooki breath. She gasp for air n looks round goes back 5o sleep same thing over again thank you for letting me ask

Great Post
by: AJ

I have a little 10 lb. Chihuahua mix, she sometimes makes this hilarious howling/baying sound when she's fast asleep. Now I will picture her dreaming that she is a big dog hunting prey. That's a great image, since she is of course one of those fearless little girls who doesn't know she is itty bitty :)

Snowden sleep
by: Jewel

Our dog Snowden is a 10 year old Husky/ wolf mix. Often, she will run, bark, wag her tail in her sleep. I watch her sometimes, her eyes are slightly open and rapidly darting back and forth. Her whole body jumps when she's barking in succession. She apparently has very vivid dreams. I can totally relate to this, as I have always had lucid dreams!! I like to imagine Snowden dreams of taking walks, chasing squirrels and of course eating!!

Waking when sleep
by: Kup*Kake

TY 4 this it really made me feel better..as I have 5different breeds I always wondered if they were ok as most all make noise of some sort when sleep..an it's good to know not to wake them by touch tho neither have bitten when woke.. thanks again🐺🐺

by: Anonymous

My 11+ year old Schnauzer makes quite a lot of little noises when sleeping or even resting on her bed. She sometimes does breathe quite noisily at times and this is not when she is sleeping. I do wonder why as otherwise she seems fit and healthy . Any comments please is this common ?

My Doberman Kane freaks out
by: Anonymous

My Doberman Kane was just sleeping in my lap and he started freaking out in his sleep. Like breathing heavily, moving legs, growling really loud... Was this a nightmare? By the way I woke him up

dream and reality
by: Anonymous

Can a dog tell the difference between a dream and reality?

I have never hit or abused my dog in any way, but say, he dreams of me beating or kicking him...after he wakes does he know it was just a bad dram, or does he think it is reality?

Please help
by: Anonymouspaula

I have a chocolate lab and rat terrier. When the lab sleeps she makes noises and the rat terrier barks who is awakened and runs to her immediately. What us he doing?

laborador going to sleep
by: Anonymous

my lab makes a weird mouth with his mouth only when he's going to sleep at night. it's a sound kind of like you're sucking in on the sides of your mouth while inhaling. any ideas? i've heard another lab do the same thing.

My pup Sadie has serious nightmares
by: Kim B

She sleeps for a while then the whimpering and whining, leg twitching, the whole ball of wax. Here's the worrisome part. Usually she calms when I call her name softly then touch her. Several times tho, she wakes up moaning, actually sounds like a human sobbing. She will be wide awake and crawls up in my lap and still making these heart wrenching sounds that continue for several minutes. Then I start crying. I have had her nearly all her life. She was 4 months old when I got her and I have had her ever since. (she is 8 years now) NO ONE has ever mistreated her while she has been mine. She is a very outgoing happy loving dog but these nightmares or nightterrors or whatever they are bother me AND her. What can be going on? Vet says she is healthy, she is up to date on shots. She dreams every night, always has. But these night terrors and the residual cryings really have me worried. This CAN'T be normal, can it?

Trauma enduced dreams
by: Niloo

my dog had her first nightmare the first time she saw fire. She's not afraid of it anymore but during holidays when the fireworks come out left & right she gets scared & tries to run when she's sleeping. No one dares wake her up because she bites very agressively when she wakes up from a nightmare. What really helps is when one if us starts singing in a hushed tone, she somehow recognizes the voice & calms down in her sleep in a few seconds.

Thank you
by: Ramona

Thank you for writing this! My dog Ruby started growling and barking while she was sleeping and I didn't know what was going on. At first I thought something was wrong, like she was sick, but she was dreaming. Thanks!

by: David

Thank you for your observations as I write this piece my Labrador is whining and growling in her sleep at times puffing her cheeks out.

At times it seems quite sad that she has what appears to be so many nightmares but we feel that she is just processing the thoughts and events of the day as she is such a happy and devoted animal when awake.

My theory as well
by: Meg

It's percisely what I thought. I just needed another opinion, my female dog growls in her sleep. However, if her litter mate brother, misses the opportunity to make it in the bed on time she'll growl and not let him in. That is in my opinion, a dominance issue. Both are always vying for my attention.

Thanks for the info!!
by: Ed Parker

I had been wondering about things like this, because Little Bit - my 5 year old female - DEFINITELY snores! I figured/hoped it was normal, since she seems to be sleeping well. She also seems to have the mini-schnauzer version of RLS (restless leg syndrome) on some nights. I've never awakened her during any of these episodes. Thanks for letting me (us) know I was doing the right thing. :-)

moving paws
by: cindy

My schnauzer dreams quite a bit when she sleeps. she moves her paws like they show in those dog food commercials. it is so cute.

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