Puppies dream and probably have nightmares, like most babies. Exactly what a puppy experiences during nightmares is anyone's guess. Perhaps he remembers an incident of animal abuse. Maybe he recalls the large Labradoodle who scared him. Either way, your puppy will show signs of nightmares through movements and distressed sounds.
A puppy first falls into a light sleep by breathing regularly. During this time, your pooch can easily be awakened. According to Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of the book "The Intelligence of Dogs," it's about 20 minutes later when the most vivid pictures occur. These dreams or nightmares tend to happen quickly and frequently. The theory is that the sensory stimulation helps form new neural connections. It's believed that big dogs, however, actually stay in the dream or nightmare stage longer than puppies.
Signs of a Nightmare
Once a puppy enters a deep sleep, he's more difficult to awaken and his brain activity greatly increases. At this time, you'll know your dog is dreaming by the rapid eye movements you can see through his eyelids. Twitching, moaning, rapid chest breathing and lip licking are all signs of a dog dreaming. Signals that your puppy is having a nightmare might also include yelping, extreme tail-wagging, howling and thrashing.
Seizures vs. Nightmares
If you suspect your dog is having a seizure instead of a nightmare, call out his name several times. It's important not to try to wake your dog by physically touching him because, if it is a nightmare, he might be so distressed that he'll try to bite or snap at you. If he doesn't wake, he may be having a seizure, and you'll need to call your veterinarian for instructions.
What You Can Do
Puppies need uninterrupted sleep for healthy mental activity, so it truly is best not to wake a dog from a nightmare. If you feel the nightmares are excessive or his sleeping behavior seems unusual, take video of the occurrences and show your vet. You can also keep a diary of when these nightmares happen, and write down what your pup ate before bed, how long it's been since meal time, what noises were in the house at the time and if anything distressing happened during the day. You can also put his favorite blanket or stuffed toy next to him when he sleeps. It works to comfort humans, so it's worth a try.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in Los Angeles, Lisa Finn has been writing professionally for 20 years. Her print and online articles appear in magazines and websites such as "Spa Magazine," "L.A. Parent," "Business," the Famous Footwear blog and many others. She also ghostwrites for mompreneurs and business owners who appear regularly on shows such as Ricki Lake, HGTV, Carson Daly and The Today Show.