Why Do Dogs Have Bad Dreams? How to Help Your Furry Friend Sleep Better

dog nightmares

A dog sleeping on a couch

Have you ever noticed your dog twitching, whimpering, or barking in their sleep? If so, you might wonder if they are having a nightmare. Do dogs have bad dreams, and if so, why? In this blog post, we will explore the science behind dog dreams, the possible causes of dog nightmares, and what you can do to help your furry friend sleep better.

Do Dogs Dream?

According to Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Columbia, dogs do dream and can even have nightmares (bad dreams), just like humans. One can only guess what a dog experiences during nightmares, but as Coren says, dogs generally dream doggy things.

Dogs go through different stages of sleep, just like humans. The most vivid dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, when the brain is most active. You can tell when your dog is in REM sleep by observing their eye movements, breathing patterns, and body movements. Puppies and older dogs tend to have more REM sleep and more dreams than adult dogs.

dog nightmares

What Causes Dog Nightmares?

Like humans, dog nightmares usually revolve around things that they fear. Unlike humans, however, dogs are not so good at imagination of the possible scenarios. In that regards, dog nightmares are more likely to be tied to their actual past experiences – memories – than a visualization of possibilities. It could be a recent frightening experience at the vet, a fight with another dog, toenail clipping session, name it. Whatever the event occurring in the nightmare, your dog will show it through body movements and sounds associated with distress ranging from growling to howling, whining, screaming, and barking.

Some dogs may also have nightmares due to long-term memories of trauma or abuse. For example, dogs that have been rescued from puppy mills, shelters, or abusive owners may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can trigger nightmares and other behavioral problems. Dogs with PTSD may also show signs of anxiety, aggression, or depression in their waking hours.

How to Help Your Dog Sleep Better

If you suspect that your dog is having nightmares, you may feel tempted to wake them up or comfort them. However, this may not be the best idea, as you could startle them or make them more stressed. Instead, here are some tips to help your dog sleep better and reduce the chances of having bad dreams:

  • Provide a safe and comfortable sleeping environment for your dog. Make sure they have a cozy bed, a blanket, and some toys to cuddle with. Avoid loud noises, bright lights, and temperature extremes that could disturb their sleep.
  • Stick to a regular routine for your dog. Feed them, walk them, and play with them at the same time every day. This will help them feel more secure and relaxed, and also regulate their circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
  • Exercise your dog regularly. Physical activity can help your dog burn off excess energy, reduce stress, and improve their mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, depending on your dog’s age, breed, and health.
  • Socialize your dog with other dogs and people. Positive interactions can help your dog overcome their fears and build their confidence. Expose your dog to different situations and stimuli, but always respect their limits and preferences.
  • Train your dog with positive reinforcement. Teaching your dog basic commands and tricks can help them learn new skills, stimulate their brain, and strengthen your bond. Use treats, praise, and toys to reward your dog for good behavior, and avoid punishment or harsh methods that could cause fear or resentment.
  • Consult your vet if your dog’s nightmares persist or worsen. Your vet can rule out any medical conditions that could affect your dog’s sleep quality, such as pain, allergies, or infections. Your vet can also prescribe medication or recommend a behaviorist if your dog has severe anxiety or PTSD.
dog nightmares


Dogs can have bad dreams, just like humans, and they may express their distress through sounds and movements. Dog nightmares are usually caused by fear or trauma, and they can affect your dog’s well-being and happiness. Fortunately, you can help your dog sleep better by providing a safe and comfortable sleeping environment, sticking to a regular routine, exercising your dog regularly, socializing your dog with other dogs and people, training your dog with positive reinforcement, and consulting your vet if needed. By following these tips, you can help your dog have sweet dreams and enjoy a peaceful slumber.

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