Why Does My Dog Move So Much When He's Sleeping?

Let sleeping dogs dream.

Let sleeping dogs dream.

Your dog is on his side at your feet, fast asleep, when suddenly his legs start moving as if he's running, but he hasn't woken up. What's going on here? Most likely, your dog is dreaming. Maybe he's chasing a cat or the mailman, going after a ball or doing any of his favorite activities -- in his sleep.

Dog Dream Movements

When your dog is dreaming, her legs may move in imitation of running, or she may bark, growl or whimper. She might hold her breath, or start breathing quickly or panting. Resist the temptation to wake her up. As the old saying goes, "Let sleeping dogs lie." That cliche means a peacefully sleeping dog startled awake might bite. In reality, dogs need deep sleep just as we do, for health purposes.

Dog Size

How much your dog dreams depends upon his size, believe it or not. According to psychologist and author Stanley Coren, large dogs such as Great Danes might dream every 45 minutes for about five minutes during deep sleep, while little dogs dream every 10 minutes for about one minute. Because of this, you're more likely to notice dog movements while dreaming in the larger animal because of the longer duration. Puppies of any size tend to dream more than grown dogs.

REM Sleep

A dog experiences rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep, just as his owner does. If you watch your dog closely at this stage, you can see his eyes moving beneath the closed lids. This is the stage of vivid dreaming, starting about 20 minutes after the dog falls asleep. In fact, the canine sleep stages are the same as humans', though dogs experience them more quickly, according to Coren. He notes that dog and human brains are similar at the structural level, and that when people are woken up during REM sleep, almost all report being in the midst of a dream.


No one really knows what dogs dream about, but it's probably about daily activities. However, the fact that dogs dream indicates consciousness. Dreams are conscious images while the dreamer is in an unconscious state. When you say goodnight to your dog, whether or not he sleeps on your bed or in the bedroom, be sure to wish him pleasant dreams. You know he'd wish the same for you.

About the Author

Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.

Photo Credits

  • sleeping dog image by Lucid_Exposure from Fotolia.com