As we learn more and more about our canine life partners, the more fascinated we become as we wonder just what we did, to deserve these amazing creatures.
And while we care for and love our dogs very much, we can’t help but wonder, why do dogs bark in their sleep?
However, as it turns out, the answer is pretty simple and fascinating!
What Causes Dog Barking?
Dogs bark while sleeping because they experience vivid dreams during nonREM sleep phases, just like people.
Dog’s sleeping cycles alternate between REM sleep and nonREM sleep, and the latter allows them to react to these dreams.
Dogs use all their senses and locomotive abilities while dreaming which causes them to bark, whimper, whine, twitch, and even paddle while sleeping.
Dog Sleep Patterns and Dream Cycles
Research presented through ScienceDirect looks into dog sleep patterns and offers fascinating insights into how dogs experience sleep and rest.
When your dog first lies down, they pass through a phase of sleepy wakefulness for about 5-10 minutes in which they are still somewhat conscious.
After this, the dog then passes into a light state of sleep during which the body is gradually “shutting down” and slowing metabolic processes, reducing core temperature, and calming the brain. The heart rate and breathing also tends to slow down as they enter into the next phase.
At a certain point, your dog’s body is ready to enter into a physiological state known as non-REM sleep. This is a state of deep sleep with slow breathing and almost no muscle movement.
At this stage, the body is repairing and rebuilding itself. This state is essential for the healing and replenishment of muscle, bone, and body organs.
However, non-REM sleep is not continuous. It is interrupted by cycles of REM sleep, which is short for Rapid Eye Movement. REM sleep cycles are characterized by wildly moving eyes, rapid breathing, and – you guessed it – vivid dreaming.
Your dog only dreams during this state of sleep, which is why the movement and barking you witness is not continuous. REM/nonREM sleep cycles vary between dog breeds, ages, and sizes.
Generally, smaller and younger dog breeds tend to dream more because they cycle faster between these sleep phases, usually about every 10 minutes.
Larger and older dogs cycle between these sleep phases every 90 minutes or so, which means they tend to dream less.
Other factors such as exercise, feeding schedule, and general health condition also influence the sleep cycles and thus dream patterns.
What Do Dogs Dream About
We can hardly ask dogs what they dream about, but researchers think that they dream pretty much the same way we do.
They have good dreams and nightmares, which you can tell by their reactions. For example, if they are wagging their tails and pawing, they are probably having a pleasant dream about chasing birds or eating dinner.
On the other hand, if they are growling, whining, or whimpering, they may be having a nightmare. Nightmare ideas for dogs might include fights with other dogs in the neighborhood or reliving past traumatic situations.
Usually, dogs remember their day’s experiences in their sleep. They might also be thinking up solutions to particularly tough dog problems, such as why the dog next door won’t play with them.
If you notice your dog barks a lot at cats and does the same while sleeping, they could be dreaming about cats and so on.
Is it OK for Dogs to Bark During Sleep?
You shouldn’t worry about why do dogs bark in their sleep. They’re probably enjoying themselves as they reminisce about their experiences during the day.
Sometimes, they also have nightmares and experience physical distress, but that is not cause to worry.
Just like us, the worst that can happen is that your dog will wake up startled or frightened, but then calm down and settle down again to sleep immediately.
Dogs barking in their sleep is completely normal and is no cause for concern. Even when they are acting up and pawing, whining, and twitching, it’s all a dream.
Remember that even if your dog appears distressed or in pain while dreaming, it is not advisable to wake them up. Even the most loving and gentle dogs might lash out and injure you if they were having a violent nightmare.
In addition, interrupting this deep sleep state also interrupts the body’s natural healing processes. It’s best to let them be – they will be completely fine when they wake up!
Some people worry that their dog might be having a seizure. Although the symptoms are similar, a dog experiencing a seizure also has a foaming mouth, a violent predisposition, and rigid limbs. Dog seizures also last much longer.
What to Do if Your Dog’s Barking in their Sleep
On the other hand, you might not be doing so well if your dog dreams frequently in their sleep.
The noises they make might be worrying, or they could interrupt your own sleep patterns and cause sleep deprivation.
Young dogs, especially small-sized breeds, can be especially more of a nuisance as they are super active at night. REM/nonREM sleep cycles in dogs last about 2 hours, during which their restlessness and barking can be a pain for others in the household.
There are a few ways you can control the problem if it becomes too much for the family.
- Make sure the dog is actually sleeping
Sometimes, your dog is simply making noises to try and get your attention. This happens a lot with new pups who still aren’t comfortable being left alone at night, or are still anxious about their new surroundings.
Pups often tend to sleep less than adult dogs and can wake up earlier at night. If you think that your dog is not asleep, you should not respond to their whining.
That’s because if you teach your dog that barking or whining at night gets your attention, they will never stop. However, if you ignore it for a time, they will eventually let it go.
- Monitor for signs of distress or pain
Sometimes dogs bark while sleeping because they are experiencing genuine distress or pain. Like other animals, dogs are very proud and try not to show their pain even when they are hurting.
If you notice sensitivity on some body parts, favoring one limb, or whining while awake as well as asleep, they might be injured or in pain.
Take time to watch your dog while they sleep to make sure that they are alright. If they are panting, have trouble breathing, or having uncontrollable spasms, definitely wake them up and talk to a vet about the problem.
- Get a more comfortable bed for your dog
General discomfort can also cause your dog to get restless while sleeping and start barking or making other noises.
In this case, getting them a comfortable cushioned dog bed might help them to sleep better. Pups particularly love soft, warm beds.
For older dogs, it might also be that their age is starting to catch up and causing pain in various places. You can get them an orthotic bed to help with that, or consult with your vet for pain killers or sleeping pills to help them sleep better.
- Vary feeding times to see which works best for you
Anecdotal evidence suggests that feeding your dog more frequently might cause them to sleep more during the day, and consequently less at night.
Sticking to two meals a day might help adopt a more constant routine with shorter daytime naps and quality nighttime sleep.
In any case, you can experiment with different feeding patterns and see what works best for your dog.
- Move their bed to an unoccupied room in the house
For dogs whose barking simply won’t stop, moving their sleeping quarters to another room in the house might help a lot. For example, you can have them sleep downstairs in the living room instead of the bedroom with you.
- Talk to your vet
Sometimes barking and movement during sleep seems to escalate with time rather than decrease. You might also notice that your dog becomes disoriented after an episode or is snoring loudly. Talk to the vet about these issues.
Even if the pup is just too lively for your temperament, your vet will be able to offer useful tips to help both your and your pup sleep better every night.
Hopefully, now you know why do dogs bark in their sleep. It is completely normal and healthy.
However, if it is a problem for you or others in the house, there are simple steps you can take to make life easier for everybody else.
Remember, dogs are very much like us in many ways; perhaps that’s why we’re so attached to them.