Paws paddle, lips wiggle, and even the muffled “woof” that is so very mysterious often foretell of puppy dreams. But what happens when our four-legged friends have nightmares? Yelping, shaking, and whining can worry an owner, so we wake them up. But, have we really done our pup a service? They can’t really tell us that they were dreaming of grassy fields and bunny rabbits, not Darth Vader and a mountain lion. But is it possible to tell the difference in puppy dreams? How and when should you wake your pup up if you suspect some bad dreams?
Soothe their spirit
Doggy dreams can range from exciting to scary, both of which can put a pup in a sensitive state. The barrier between dream and reality is very thin, and sometimes their behavior will cross that barrier, which is why it’s important to do what you can to counter their excitement. Don’t startle your dog by shaking them awake, yelling, or any other action that might pull them out of their dreams or nightmares too fast. This may result in snapping, biting, or clawing that might just be part of their dream drawn into reality. Because nightmares can be very intense and frightening, they may still be trying to fight off something when you startle them awake. Instead, be soothing, walk quietly and approach them while speaking softly, possibly their name. Stroke them gently and let them hear your voice to help reorient them when they come out of the dream state. These actions will slowly wake them back into their safe and secure home.
A difference between dreams and nightmares
But that doesn’t actually help you understand the difference between puppy dreams and nightmares. Not all dreams are bad. Not all reactions to a dream are bad. Whining, shaking, and yelping are common, and often resemble reactions to fear that we might feel. For a dog, these reactions are normally excitement. Next time your neighbor’s cat takes off through the yard, watch how your dog first reacts. They whine and yelp, especially if they can’t get outside.
So, how do you tell when your dog is dreaming a bad dream? In truth, the difference is so miniscule that owners are commonly the only ones that can tell. There are a few signs that you can look for in a nightmare, though. Next time your pup is dreaming, take a look at what is really going on in their world of slumber and see if you can figure out what’s going on in there.
Amongst the signs of dreaming, you will notice:
- Eyes moving under their lids that will let you know they are looking around to examine their world, possibly looking for a friend
- Nose twitching to let you know they are sniffing a new place that they’re unfamiliar with, possibly even a place they haven’t been to in a long time, such as your friend’s farm
- Their ears may even twitch around or perk up, but don’t always offer a solid hint to what’s going on since they could be listening or twitching in reaction to a tickle
- Panting or awkward breathing often combined with paws paddling or simply twitching to let you know they are running (just because they are breathing awkwardly doesn’t mean they’re having trouble breathing, it’s commonly just part of the running experience in a dream)
- And barks of all measures such as whining, the muffled “woof,” or the more intense “Ruff” to let you know they are talking.
But, for nightmares, which can be far more intense, you’ll notice particular combinations that show signs of distress. Particularly, because a dog will focus in on an object they are chasing, meaning their eyes move very little, you’ll note that if they are running, panting very rapidly along with rapid eye movement that is possibly combined with whining, it’s very likely that they’re having a bad dream. Whimpering, barking, and running are usually signs of a happy dream about fluffy rabbits, a friend, and a green open field. If you suspect they’re having a nightmare, it would be good of you to wake them up, especially since they often do the same for us.
Just because your pup is dreaming, doesn’t mean they’re scared. Most puppy dreams are good, and help to experience some of their favorite inner desires. But every now and then, there are times when a pup can dream an unsettling experience. Just watch for signs of what’s going on in their make-believe world, and let them dream if they’re just having fun chasing their friends through grassy fields.