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What is Your Dog Dreaming About When it Cries?

Just like humans, dogs experience happiness, stress, illnesses, and their daily experiences are often reflected in their dreams. It is quite common to hear your furry friend crying, howling, and even growling in their sleep. But what does it mean? What do dogs dream about when they cry?

For pet parents, it can be difficult to see them cry while asleep, but once you understand what they’re likely dreaming about, you won’t worry so much. Here is what dog owners need to know about why your dog cries in its sleep. 

woman with sleepy beagle what do dogs dream about when they cry

Why Dogs Cry in Their Sleep 

Just like humans, there can be a few possible reasons why canine companions may cry while sleeping. These include:

1. They want Attention

Your dog may be asking for attention. It’s not uncommon for dogs to pretend to be sleeping and crying. In reality, they are just lying down with their eyes closed and whimpering or even sobbing — and what they want is for their pet parent to give them some attention. 

In some situations, for instance, if you are crate training your dog, they may be pretending to cry to get out, or they may want food or water. Ensure your pup is well-fed and has had enough water to drink before bedtime. That way, you can be certain that their cries during crate training are simply because they want their way.


2. They are in Pain 

Adrenaline can numb pain. Sometimes a dog might be hurt or sick, but they don’t realize this during waking hours. When a dog settles down to sleep, and its body is completely inactive, the mind registers this discomfort, and this can result in disturbed sleep or even crying during sleep

Sometimes the root cause can be hard to identify. For instance, mites or fleas can be bugging the dog, but the dog hasn’t noticed them, nor has the parent. Similarly, the dog may be experiencing internal pain due to an internal injury, a sore joint, or another similar issue. 


3. They are Sleep Deprived

Dogs, much like humans, need a certain amount of sleep to function optimally. A lack of adequate rest can lead to a variety of issues, including heightened stress levels, irritability, and a decrease in cognitive functioning. When a dog is sleep-deprived, its brain might struggle to reach the deeper, more restful phases of sleep, such as REM sleep, where most dreaming occurs. This disruption can lead to more frequent, possibly stressful, and less satisfying sleep cycles.

In their quest to catch up on missed sleep, a sleep-deprived dog might experience more intense dream activity. This can manifest as vocalizations, such as whimpering or crying, during sleep. It’s as if their brain is trying to process all the day’s unsorted stimuli in a condensed, rushed manner, leading to a kind of ‘overload’ that leaks out as cries or whimpers.

Additionally, the physical and mental discomfort associated with sleep deprivation can heighten a dog’s sensitivity to nightmares or negative dreams, further contributing to crying during sleep. It’s their body’s way of signaling that something is off balance.

puppy-sleeping-on-couch why do dogs bark in their sleep

4. They had a bad dream 

Dogs experience dreams just like humans, and that includes bad dreams. Yes, dogs can have nightmares too. These can be more intense and may result in more pronounced crying or even howling. It could be reliving a scary encounter with another animal or a distressing past event. It’s tough to see our furry friends in distress, but it’s a normal part of their sleep cycle.

Think of it as their version of a horror movie experience, minus the popcorn. This is slightly more challenging to address, but it can be handled by comforting them.


What Do Dogs Dream About When they Cry?

In most cases, dogs will dream about their recent past. This could be the day they have just experienced or even the past few days. However, dogs also have good long-term memory, so they can think about things from a couple of years ago as well. 

If your dog has had a rough day, this could lead to a disturbed night’s sleep and vivid dreams. However, if its routine is healthy and it hasn’t had any prominent bad experiences recently, this could be because of something else.

Some things in general can be stressful for a dog, such as fireworks or thunder or even revisiting a place where your pooch had a bad experience. If your pup cries in their sleep, they might be remembering those traumatic events in a scary dream.


If you’ve adopted a dog from a shelter and don’t know much about its past, there could be a traumatic experience that is still troubling the dog in its dreams. Past experiences of trauma take a bit of time to fix. The dog needs reassurance and training to overcome trust issues and develop a new or improved perception. It’s best to consult a professional dog trainer to help you earn your dog’s trust and learn to manage its issues.

Understand Doggy Sleep Behavior 

Understanding your pooch’s sleep behavior will improve their sleep cycle. Dogs have two phases of sleep known as the slow-wave cycle and the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle. Dreaming occurs in the REM cycle. The slow-wave cycle is when the dog slowly drifts off to sleep, and the conscious brain is still partially active. 

Once the dog is in the REM phase, you will notice the following:

  • The eyes moving behind the closed lids
  • Twitching whiskers
  • Irregular breathing
  • Muscles twitching
  • Limbs moving 

These are just a few of the things that indicate the dog is in a deep sleep. Each dog has its unique way of sleeping, which would help you understand yours.

Does Size Matter?

The tendency for a dog to cry in their sleep is not solely based on size. Various factors, including breed characteristics, individual temperament, and overall health, play significant roles. However, there are some observations and theories that suggest size might have an indirect influence. 

Small dogs, often referred to as ‘toy breeds’, are sometimes seen as more vocal than larger dogs. This perception could be due to their close living quarters with humans, leading to a more pronounced display of their emotions, including crying in their sleep. Breeds like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, or Yorkshire Terriers, known for their spirited personalities, might express themselves more audibly, even during sleep.

Another angle to consider is the ‘Napoleon complex’ or ‘small dog syndrome’, where smaller dogs exhibit more assertive, protective, and sometimes anxious behaviors. These traits could translate into more vocal expressions during sleep, possibly as a manifestation of their dreams or subconscious worries.

Conversely, larger dog breeds, often perceived as more stoic or laid-back, might not vocalize their emotions as much. Larger breeds like Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, or Bernese Mountain Dogs might have a calmer demeanor that translates into quieter sleep patterns. However, this is a generalization and certainly not a rule.

Does Age Matter?

The age of a dog is a significant factor when it comes to understanding why they might cry in their sleep. It’s a blend of developmental stages, health issues, and psychological changes that come with aging.

For puppies, crying in their sleep is often a reflection of their developmental stage. Much like human babies, puppies experience rapid brain development and a lot of learning in their early months. Their dreams might be processing new experiences, from the excitement of exploring the world to the anxiety of being away from their mother and littermates for the first time. These intense learning experiences can manifest as whimpering or crying in their sleep, akin to a child’s restlessness when overwhelmed with new stimuli.

As dogs mature into adulthood, their sleep crying might decrease, reflecting a more stable emotional and physical state. Adult dogs have usually acclimated to their environment and routine. However, they can still experience stress or anxiety, which can cause them to cry in their sleep.

Changes in their environment, routine disruptions, or separation anxiety are common triggers. It’s like how stress impacts our own sleep quality and content of dreams.

When it comes to senior dogs, the reasons for crying in their sleep can shift towards health-related issues. Aging dogs often face challenges like joint pain, decreased cognitive function, and sensory loss. These conditions can cause discomfort or confusion, leading to restlessness and vocalizations during sleep. It’s similar to how elderly humans might experience sleep disturbances due to health ailments.

Moreover, older dogs might experience a change in their sleep pattern, including more frequent, lighter sleep, making them more prone to vocalize during sleep. This change is akin to the lighter sleep patterns seen in older humans.


What Owners Can Do 

If you notice your pet crying while asleep, you may be tempted to touch it, cuddle it, or wake it up, hoping it will stop crying. On the contrary, this can worsen the situation as it will startle the dog. 

Abruptly waking a dog can cause them to become more scared, and it may even bite if they feel threatened. If it is having a nightmare, it is even more likely to feel threatened and act out if you wake it up, thinking you are its attacker.

Let your sleeping dog lie, as the dream will end eventually. If you want to soothe them,  gently call their name to wake them up or until their heart rate has settled. Once the dog is awake, comfort them with cuddles and a soft tone of voice to put them at ease.


In Conclusion

It is perfectly normal for your canine to cry during their sleep and this may be happening for various reasons; generally, it is not something to worry about. However, if your dog is experiencing any distress or you notice any unfamiliar behavior, consult a vet or specialist to ensure nothing is seriously wrong. We hope this article puts your mind at ease and helps you improve your pup’s slumber. 

two basset hounds asleep in wicker bed

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