Should I wake my dog up when it appears she's having a bad dream?
July 29, 2010 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Should I wake my dog up when it appears she's having a bad dream?

I saw this question, but my dog's dreams seem rather unpleasant in comparison.

My 13.5 year old dog thrashes around when she's having what I believe are dreams. Sometimes she seems happy, just moving her back legs a bit. Other times, she thrashes about. She'll kick her back legs around very quickly and sometimes whimper. I've also seen her lift her head off the floor and put it down again during what seems to be a particularly intense dream., and I worry she's going to hurt herself on the hard floor (I doubt it would case serious injury, but possibly a headache). Her eyes are also partially open, so it gives the appearance of her being upset (although, I know this doesn't mean she's necessarily upset).

Basically, she seems unhappy at times while dreaming. I can't tell if my perception is off and she's having a wonderful dream though. Last night, she thrashed around quite a lot and I worried she was having a bad dream, so I woke her up. She seemed to be very deeply asleep because light petting and lifting her front leg didn't wake her. She did eventually wake up and seemed a bit dazed (which reminded me of how I feel when woken up from a bad dream).

I've had her since she was a puppy, so she's never been abused. She tends to be rather anxious though - she hates the sound of thunder for instance.

What does the hive mind think? Do you think she's having bad dreams or good ones? I feel bad waking her up if she's having a happy dream. I know there's not a definitive answer here, but what's your opinion?
posted by parakeetdog to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's a great way to get bitten. Your dog will then feel even more unhappy about bitings its master.

There's a reason for the saying "let sleeping dogs lie". This is it.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

This really has nothing to do with the dream, but dogs react to the way their OWNERS react to something. So, if your dog hears thunder and is surprised by it and you react in an "awwww I'm sowwies puppy", your dog will interpret your reaction as reinforcement of her fear of thunder. Crazy, right?

Your dog is probably not having a bad dream. What's more likely is that your dog is dreaming about running and barking. I've had three dogs, and they all exhibit similar sleep behaviors.

Stop coddling your dog! :D
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:06 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't. But then I wouldn't wake a person up from the middle of a dream, either.

Also when my dog dreams he makes these awesome Three Stooges woop-woop-woop noises which are far too hilarious to interrupt.
posted by ook at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

What purpose would waking her serve? Let her sleep.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 11:12 AM on July 29, 2010

I always assume my dogs are dreaming about running when they do that.

Unlike everyone else, I do wake my dogs up when they do that. But they're pugs and not unused to being woken up (bad dreams, taking over the pillow, sleeping where I want to sit...) so take that for what its worth.
posted by cestmoi15 at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2010

Agreeing with most everyone above. For all you know, your dog could be dreaming about trying to climb a steak tree.
posted by Gilbert at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

If it were me, I would wake your dog up if you think she'll get to this point (YT) and hurt herself, but probably not before that.
posted by supercres at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

How would you like it if someone were interrupting *your* REM sleep?
posted by availablelight at 11:25 AM on July 29, 2010

The scars on my hands and feet suggest that you do not wake your dog up.

(puppy, slept in the same bed as me, I may have put my hands and feet in his mouth when we were both asleep.)
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:27 AM on July 29, 2010

Yeah, I always figured when my dog did this that the running and the sleep-barking was because she was chasing rabbits or something in her dream. Let sleeping dogs lie.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:34 AM on July 29, 2010

Absolutely do not wake up your dog in this manner. It can trigger a primal defense mechanism in the animal and you can be seriously injured. When one of my friends was a teenager, he did this to his (friendly, docile) family pet, and the dog woke and immediately bit him in the face. He had to get a large number of stitches and has a giant scar on his jaw. "Let sleeping dogs lie" isn't just a charming bit of folk wisdom, it is a very real warning. Please heed it.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have woken up my cat when he appeared to be having a bad dream. He usually goes right back to sleep, often much more peacefully.

However, I would not do this to a dog. Dogs are likely to bite in this situation.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2010

Yeah dogs don't particularly care for being startled, especially older dogs whose senses aren't as strong as they once were. If you really feel it's in her best interest to wake her, try whistling or squeaking a loud toy from several feet away (assuming her hearing is somewhat functional - if not maybe gently toss a plush toy onto her body or place a strong-smelling treat a short distance from her nose).
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2010

For all you know, your dog could be dreaming about trying to climb a steak tree.

Once, my boyfriend woke me up because I was crying in my sleep, but I was actually dreaming about a delicious cake I was about to eat. You never know.
posted by clearlydemon at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: My boyfriend has woken me up from bad dreams and I've thanked him. However, I told him I wanted him to do this. My dog can't tell me what she wants.

I think I'll let her sleep from now on. It is cute to watch.

I did consider that she might bite after being startled (definitely not her fault) and decided to take the risk.

I guess dreaming is good exercise for her. She's 65 pounds and 13.5, so she doesn't get around like she used to!
posted by parakeetdog at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2010

Eight years ago I adopted my dog, Max, from a shelter. He was about a year old and was abandoned and probably abused judging from his early behavior. Max has (bad) dreams almost daily. He doesn't make the running motions -- he just cries and whimpers. So I wake him. Once I do he visibly relaxes, thumps the tail once or twice and goes back to sleep. He's never bitten me and he was quite a nippy little dog early on.
posted by ladygypsy at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2010

I used to talk to my dog when she was dreaming, saying basic nice things like "good dog!" I figured if the dream she was having was stressful, it might change the tenor of it if she heard my voice. Sometimes she would stop wiggling as much. It doesn't hurt to try.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:04 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid I read a book about dogs that said you could get a dog to stop that thrashing if you simply made a small, distracting, repetitive noise like crumpling a piece of paper. I tried it and it worked. It has worked on quite a few dogs: they don't really wake up but they seem to get out of the wacky dream groove. Bonus: you don't have to be too close to the dog to make it work.
posted by jet_silver at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

oneirodynia and jet_silver might have it. My dog sleeps on the bed, and she gets to whimpering and thrashing sometimes and it wakes me up. I usually just mutter "be still" or say her name, and she always lets out a long, groaning sigh, rolls over, and sleeps peacefully. I don't really think she wakes up.
posted by SamanthaK at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2010

How do you all get bit when waking up a dog? Just stand across the room and say its name loudly. I thought not touching it would be obvious.

Anyway, yeah, I have a yelper/thrasher and I don't wake her up unless she's about to hurt herself or one of the other pets.
posted by desjardins at 2:14 PM on July 29, 2010

FWIW I do wake our dog up.

Our dog is virtually silent. She doesn't ever growl and has barked three times in her entire life. In fact, I didn't know she could bark until I stepped on her foot by accident a year after we got her. When she dreams, she runs but also sometimes vocalises, which is so tremendously out of character for her that I interpret it as a bad sign.

I murmer her name to wake her up, and rub her foot. She wags her tail and goes back to sleep. For all I know, I'm interrupting her wonderful "And in my dreams, I can BARK!" experience, but honestly, I don't think so.

Do I anthropomorphize my dog? Sure. But she depends on me for her well-being, so this is the judgement call I make.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:05 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most dogs I know are fairly light sleepers. Try saying their name to them when they sleep. It might not wake them up, but it could distract them.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:12 PM on July 29, 2010

When my dog does this I'll usually whisper "get the squirrel!" or "get the bunny!" a few times, followed by a whispered "good girl". She usually gets calmer after I do that.
posted by Brody's chum at 3:27 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a neighbor who has two of those.. (I'm not a dog person, so I can't remember the breed, sorry..) those little shaggy white dogs with the big heads that are in that one commercial (like a terrier sort of thing, maybe?). The dog is a little excitable (yippy bark), but not a biter, usually. Anyway, point being, one of the dogs was sleeping and appeared to be dreaming (same deal as your situation). Allegedly, the dog was so cute, that she wanted to wake it with a great big hug, and.. uh.. well, the dog nipped her on the face.. and that got infected and she had to go to the hospital for stitches. I can't see any reason to disturb a sleeping animal unless it looks like something's going wrong or if they'd be a danger to themselves or others.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:20 PM on July 29, 2010

Guys, there's a difference in speaking to the dog to wake it up and waking it by nuzzling it with your FACE. I think the OP gets it. If it makes you feel better to wake the dog if it seems distressed, then go right ahead, just do it at a distance.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:39 PM on July 30, 2010

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