Can Dogs Have Nightmares - Expert Opinion

Can Dogs Have Nightmares - Expert Opinion

Author WDF Staff


If you’re a dog owner, you probably saw your dog twitching and whining in their sleep. All dog owners what their dogs dream about, but there is one specific question we would like to know the answer to, “Can dogs have nightmares?” It would be interesting to know how developed their brains are and what they could dream about that might scare them. We decided to look a bit more closely at dogs and their nightmares. Here’s what you should know about them.

Can dogs have nightmares?

All of us experienced unpleasant dreams at least once in our lives. From speaking in public places to giant spiders and vampires; there are different things that can scare us in our sleep, and there is no reason to believe dogs can’t have nightmares. However, there are a few critical differences between our nightmares and our dogs’ nightmares.

dog sleeping in basket

Human vs dog nightmares

The biggest difference between our nightmares and dreams, and dogs’ nightmares is - imagination. Humans can imagine abstract things like what it would be like falling from a building. Dogs’ brains are not that developed. They have long-term memory, so they remember specific things in their lives. If dogs have nightmares, it can be anything that happened previously in their lives.

How do I know if my dog had a nightmare?

Unfortunately, we can never be absolutely sure whether our dog actually had a nightmare or what is it they dreamt of. However, there are some tell-tell signs your dog is experiencing unpleasant dreams. Before we go into those details, we need to know what a pleasant dream looks like and how to recognize it.


Dogs that are dreaming of something pleasant will move their legs. They can even slightly twitch and move like they are running. They might be dreaming of playing in the park or with their owners.

puppies sleeping


Soft, gentle whines can be a good sign. Dogs that enjoy something can let out a soft whine that will let everyone know they are enjoying themselves.

Wagging tail

The ultimate dog sign of good times is a wagging tail. If you see your dog wagging their tail while sleeping, they are most likely dreaming of something that makes them happy or excites them.

Signs your dog is having a nightmare

If you’re suspecting your dog’s having a nightmare, you will most likely see clear signs of it. Dogs that have unpleasant dreams will exhibit unrattled sleeping behavior. The dog will twitch excessively, produced scared whines, and even growl or bark. Your dog will exhibit signs of stress and fear, but you should resist the urge to wake them up.

sleeping dog

What should I do if my dog has a nightmare?

It can be very tempting to wake your dog up and make the nightmare stop. However, that is not something you or anyone in your family, do. Dogs that have nightmares can wake up scared, stressed, and disoriented. Imagine how you might react if you just woke up from a nightmare and see someone standing next to you, waking you up.

The same goes for dogs. If they’re having a nightmare, it would be best to do nothing. It will pass, just as our nightmares pass. You have to remind yourself that it is only a nightmare and nothing puts you in real danger. Dogs that abruptly wake from a nightmare might bite someone. They can get startled and bite the first thing they see. You want to make sure the first thing they see is not your hand, leg, or face.

Can I wake up a dog that’s having a nightmare?

If you see that their sleeping “agony” goes on for a while, you could wake them up. However, there is a safe way to do it. Don’t get too close to your dog, and make sure they have enough space when they wake up. Gently call out their name and wait for them to come to you. A scared dog should look for protection with their owners, so chances are your dog will go straight to you.

old grey dog sleeping

Can I prevent my dog’s nightmares?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any trusted nightmare prevention techniques. The main thing we can do is be there for our dog when they wake up. You can also try making your dog feel as comfortable as possible. Get them a cozy bed, DAP collar, or put on some white noise. Dogs don’t mind having background noises while they sleep. In fact, it can help them relax and be more comfortable in their sleep.

In conclusion

Like humans, dogs can dream. Most of their dreams are pleasant, and you can quickly notice that by their sleeping behavior. However, they can experience nightmares. They don’t have developed imagination, so chances are they dream of things that scare them, like going to the vet, a bath, or visiting a groomer. Never wake your dog up abruptly from a nightmare; do it only from a safe distance and by gently calling their name.

World Dog Finder team

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