You have put your dog to sleep for the night. You are all wrapped up in your cozy blanket, getting ready to relax with a good night’s sleep. And suddenly, you hear your dog howling.
This can be a startling experience. You check on the dog, and it is asleep in its bed. You may be confused, not knowing how to help your dog. But know that howling while sleeping is pretty common in the canine world.
One of the most common reasons for your dog’s howling, barking, or whining while sleeping is because they are dreaming.
It could be a fun dream where they are enjoying a game of fetch, or it could be a nightmare where they are being chased. Their howling and whining could be a reaction to the dream they are experiencing.
Other reasons may include anxiousness, pain, and environmental stressors.
The article will explore the possible answers to the question why does my dog howl in his sleep, if the behavior is natural, and what you can do to help your dog sleep better.
Why Do Dogs Howl?
Howling is an expected behavior you will find in canines. You will mostly find them howling at night, but they can also howl anytime during the day. It is a mode of communication they use to vocalize their feelings.
Canines have inherited the behavior from their wolf ancestors. Pack animals would use howls to communicate in the wild.
Today, your dog’s howl could mean several things. Your dog could be excited, and howling could be its way of celebrating. If your dog tends to howl when you are about to leave, it could be a sign of distress or separation anxiety.
Howling can also be an attention-seeking behavior. If you give the dog attention, pet, or play with it to get it to stop, the dog will develop a habit of howling to get what it wants. So it would help if you were careful of the behaviors you encourage.
Why Does My Dog Howl in His Sleep? – Its Dreams Could be the Answer
As mentioned above, the most common reason your dog howls in its sleep is that the dog is dreaming. Sleep is essential for both humans and animals. It helps the body relax, recharge and grow.
Sleep is also when the brain processes the information it has gathered throughout the day. And this is when dreams occur. So let us understand in more detail if dogs actually dream and what their dreams are made up of.
1. Do Dogs Actually Dream?
We, humans, are capable of dreaming. When we dream, our brain exhibits different wave patterns. Researchers have tried to study dog brains to understand if they display similar electrical activity.
Sleep has two primary cycles – slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM).
During the SWS cycle, the mental processes will start quieting down, whereas the muscle tone will still be active. The pet may seem deep in sleep, but triggers like car honks or doorbells can quickly awaken it. The brain wave patterns in this cycle are slow and flowy.
During the REM cycle, the muscle tones are relaxed, but the mind becomes more active. As a result, the brain wave patterns are faster and more irregular in this stage.
Researchers have found that dogs’ brains display similar brain wave activity to humans’ when they dream. So it is safe to say that yes, dogs dream.
2. Canine Dreams: What Do We Know About Them?
Now that we know that dogs, like humans, have dreams, let us understand what a typical canine sleeping cycle looks like.
When your pet settles down to sleep, it may be aware of its surroundings for the first 10 to 15 minutes. Then it may enter into a stage of light sleep. After that, its body starts relaxing; its breathing becomes more regular.
In the next 20 minutes, the dog may enter the REM cycle, the one in which it starts dreaming. The dog’s muscles may twitch, or it may use vocalizations like howling, whining, or barking.
The dog may dream about the events of the day. For example, it could be recreating the scene when it was playfully tugging on a rope. At this time, the dog’s eyes may dart around behind its closed eyelids.
It is also possible that the dog could be having a nightmare. For example, if a bigger dog chased your puppy, the puppy could be reliving the experience in its dreams and hence the distressed howling. The dog will not get up and start running around the house, but mentally, the experience can be as real as possible.
3. Do All Dogs Dream?
The answer may vary from one dog to another. Factors like the dog’s age, breed, size, sleep cycle, and routine may come into play.
For example, puppies tend to have more frequent dreams than adult or senior dogs. As the dog’s brain processes information it has gathered during the day and at night, puppies dream more often.
According to PetMD, large-breed dogs follow sleeping cycles similar to that of humans. For example, a large dog like a Golden Retriever will go into the REM cycle of sleep about every 90 minutes or so.
On the other hand, a smaller dog, like a Pomeranian, will go into the REM cycle of sleep about every 10 minutes. So, smaller breed dogs will dream more often than larger breeds. So, it is natural for smaller dogs to howl or bark in their sleep more than their larger counterparts.
Another unique distinction between the dreams of smaller and larger dogs is their dream length. For example, smaller dogs may dream more often, but their dreams may be short lasting for about a minute. However, in the case of big dog breeds, their dreams may last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
Other Reasons Dogs Howl in Their Sleep
Now that we have explored the major reason for your dog’s howling, let us look at some other possible causes.
1. Your Dog Could be Responding to Environmental Stressors
Uninterrupted sleep is essential for your dog’s physical and mental health. Therefore, it should have a comfortable and quiet place to sleep in.
You should avoid placing dog beds near windows or doors where the dog could be easily disturbed. For example, if the dog sleeps by the window, passing cars, horns, and people talking loudly could interrupt the dog’s sleep.
As explained above, when the dog settles down to sleep, the first cycle is SWS. The dog is not yet in a state of deep sleep, and unexpected noises are not ideal. Your dog’s howling could be a response to that noise.
Moreover, a dog’s hearing is far superior to that of humans. According to AKC, dogs can hear sounds that are not even loud enough for human ears.
You may not be able to hear the sound of squirrels or owls on the tree outside the window, but your dog can. And the continuous sound of animals and birds outside could result in your dog howling.
Another environmental stressor could be the cold weather. For example, if the dog sleeps on a cold floor at night, it may get uncomfortable and howl in its sleep.
3. Your Dog Could be Anxious
Another uncommon reason for your dog’s howling could be anxiety. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety do not do well on their own. When left alone, they may excessively bark, whine, howl, chew, or develop destructive behaviors.
Your dog may cling to you at any opportunity it gets. And when it is time for you to leave for work, it may start barking, not wanting to be alone at home.
Such dogs do not do well when forced to sleep alone at night. If the dog sleeps in a different room than yours, it may take time to wind down. It might be difficult for them to get into the REM cycle stage and sleep peacefully.
Howling could be how the dog is vocalizing its distress. And if the dog dreams about being left home alone during the day, the whining and whimpering may increase.
In the case of an anxious dog, you may let it sleep on your bed. But, if that is not an option, consider placing its bed in your room or right the bedroom door. So, the dog may see you, or you can reach out to it quickly when it gets uncomfortable.
4. Your Dog Could be in Pain
If you are a parent to a senior dog, howling at night could be a sign of pain. Dogs that suffer from joint issues or arthritis may experience pain when going to sleep. It may take time to decide on a comfortable position that does not hurt its limbs.
Joint issues are typically progressive. So, the howling may continue as the dog’s condition worsens.
There could be other health issues with the dog’s lungs and heart that may cause it to howl at night. For example, certain heart and lung conditions do not let the dog breathe properly when it is in a sleeping position. This is bound to cause the dog distress and hence the howling at night.
If your adult or senior dog suddenly starts howling and keeps at the behavior at night, then it would be best to discuss the pet’s symptoms with the vet.
Should I Be Worried?
If your dog howls at night while sleeping, it is not something to be worried about. It is natural for dogs to howl, and it is natural for dogs to dream.
If your dog howls once in a while, it could be a reaction to the kind of dream it is having.
If the dog has suddenly started howling at night and persistently keeps behaving so, monitor it for other symptoms during the day. For example, if the pain is why your dog howls at night, it may show signs like limping, change in gait, reluctance to take stairs, or tiredness.
In such cases, it would be best to contact the vet. The vet may prescribe medicines to treat the condition or manage the pain symptoms.
What Can I Do About My Dog’s Howling?
As mentioned above, it is normal for the dog to howl, bark, whine, and whimper at night. It is most likely a result of the dog’s dreams. And such behavior is typical among canines.
It may seem like the pet is looking for something or barking frequently, especially in the case of smaller dogs, but it is most likely fine.
As new pet parents, your first instinct would be to help the dog by waking it up. But it would be best if you refrained from doing so. This can be dangerous.
If you suddenly rouse a dog right in the middle of its dreams, it may wake up disoriented. The dog may get aggressive and unintentionally end up biting you.
If you need to wake the dog, use your voice to do so. Speak gently; shouting its name aloud can again startle the dog. Call out its name, use reassuring phrases, and, if needed, use treats to help wake the dog.
The dog’s howling or barking should stop once it is up. Then, it should behave normally throughout the day. But, if you notice the dog continues to howl or whimper even after waking up or shows other physical symptoms, then please contact the vet.
Why does my dog howl in his sleep? This can understandably be a surprising experience for you. But howling while asleep is a pretty common and natural behavior among canines.
The most common reason for your dog’s howling is that it is dreaming. For example, your dog’s brain could be recreating the experience of playing fetch, tug of war, or running around in the backyard and howling in excitement.
You need not be worried. Your dog will go back to normal once it wakes up. It would be best not to try to wake the dog when it is dreaming, or you risk getting scratched or bitten.
Other possible reasons for your dog’s howling could be external stressors, anxiety, and pain. However, if the dog continues to display physical signs or behavioral changes during the day, please contact the vet.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.