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Why Do Dogs Bark in Their Sleep? 4 Vet-Approved Possible Reasons

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

old yorkshire terrier dog sleeping on the side in the sofa

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Dr. Ashley Darby Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Ashley Darby

Veterinarian, BVSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve lived with dogs for a while, you’re probably used to seeing them twitch, whine, or bark when they’re in deep sleep. Barking while asleep is a fairly common behavior in dogs, and they most likely engage in this behavior when they’re dreaming. However, there are some medical causes of sleep barking that you should be aware of.

While our dogs can’t verbally confirm with us that they’re dreaming (although Bunny the talking dog may have done just this), there’s sufficient evidence that supports their ability to dream. Research has found that both dogs and humans experience similar sleep cycles. Of course, you and your dog probably dream about very different things. We can’t know what dogs are dreaming about but it’s fun to speculate. Here are some possible dreams your dog may be having that could cause them to bark in their sleep.

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The 4 Possible Reasons That Dogs Bark in Their Sleep

1. Chasing an Animal

Many dogs enjoy chasing small animals like squirrels and rabbits, so it’s no surprise that they might dream about the chase while they sleep. Dogs that have a strong prey drive or enjoy hunting may dream about chasing animals more than laid back dogs. If your dog’s dreams involve chasing, your dog may also whine or growl, and their legs may twitch as well.

great pyrenees dog sleeping
Image Credit: OUESTUSA, Shutterstock

2. Treats

Just like humans, dogs may dream about things that they like or enjoy doing. So, if your dog likes to eat and loves their treats, they may have dreams about eating. Your dog may bark if they tend to get excited easily over treats, but most dogs may give a happy whine or smack their lips when they dream about food. They may also wag their tails slightly as a sign of happiness.

3. Protecting Their Family

Dogs that have a strong protective or guarding instinct may have dreams of protecting their families from strangers or threats. You’ll probably notice your dog growling more if they’re dreaming about protecting someone or something. Fortunately, your dog won’t be able to attack in their sleep. So, it’s alright to leave them alone and let them dream.

4. Nightmare

Some dogs may have nightmares when they sleep. We know all too well that not all dreams are pleasant. Humans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently have nightmares. While PTSD is not something we usually talk about when it comes to our dogs, they can certainly experience behavioral changes after negative experiences.

mix breed dog sleeping in dog bed
Image Credit: Christin Lola, Shutterstock

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What Are The Medical Causes of Barking While Sleeping?

When a dog is sleeping, under normal conditions, the muscles for the most part are paralyzed and the dog is unconscious to what is happening around them. The muscle movements they make are small. Some dogs have a condition called REM sleep behavior disorder which causes movements including barking, howling and biting, which are excessive and disruptive. Because the dog is sleeping, they have no control as such over what they are doing.

For dogs that have seizure disorders, including epilepsy, unusual barking can be a sign of seizures. A seizure is caused by uncontrolled firing of neurons in the brain and can have many underlying causes. Certain kinds of seizures can present with barking and may occur during sleep.

A video Electroencephalogram can be used for diagnosis of sleep or seizure disorders.

Why Do Dogs Dream?

More research needs to be conducted for conclusive answers behind dogs’ dreams. However, it’s likely that, like humans, dogs will dream about things they’ve experienced during their waking hours. Sleeping helps dogs process the information they’ve received while awake, improving learning and memory.

Should I Wake Up My Dog if They’re Barking?

Dogs naturally sleep more than humans and spend about 11 hours a day sleeping on average. Uninterrupted, peaceful sleep is essential to a dog’s health. So, even though it can get a bit noisy when your dog is barking in their sleep, it’s best to leave them alone, and the barking will typically end within a few minutes.

Waking up your dog while they’re dreaming can be shocking or startling to them, and they can wake up feeling very disoriented and confused. Some dogs may instinctively bite as a means of protecting themselves if they’re woken up suddenly from their sleep.

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Overall, dogs probably bark in their sleep when they’re dreaming. They can also growl and whine, and some dogs may twitch or move around slightly. It’s best to let your dog dream and sleep without any interruption, even if they’re barking. Disrupting their sleep can be an unpleasant experience for them and leave them feeling very disoriented. Just know that a little barking while sleeping is quite normal for dogs, and there’s no need to intervene, as it’ll eventually stop on its own. However, if  you think your dog may have a sleep or seizure disorder, you should consult with your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Featured Image Credit: Galina Photo, Shutterstock

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