Dogs, just like us humans, also have dreams; just one of many ways our furry friends relate to us. These dreams, again like ours, can also manifest into nightmares, a horrible experience for us that we obviously would want to reduce the likelihood of our dogs going through this too. This therefore is why this post will contain information on recognising when your dog has had a nightmare, and how to make efforts to decrease the chances of these.
Cause of the Behaviour:
Not enough research has been done to tell us whether all dogs dream or not, but you can usually tell when they are. Now you may have seen your dog as they are sleeping twitch or growl, usually best observed up to twenty minutes into their sleep. This indicates that your dog is dreaming. Just like us humans, the events of their dreams usually resemble a life experience, and this can actually cause problems, especially for those dogs who have experienced trauma or abusive experiences in the past because these experiences make them more susceptible to nightmares. Other experiences that can cause this behaviour include if your dog is sick, loud and high tempo music, anxiety issues or joint pain.
More aggressive behaviours, like shaking or loud barking, can suggest this dream has manifested into a nightmare.
If your dog is displaying behaviours like urinating themselves, excreting, having their eyes open or they seem to be rigid, then this may mean that instead of experiencing nightmares, which you would most likely assume them to be, they may actually be experiencing seizures. If this is the case, you should consult your vet. If these nightmares seem to persist also, it would then be another time where you should call your vet.
Methods to Prevent This Behaviour:
In terms of when these nightmares are occurring, the only way you can help is just to wake them up. However, I will be detailing here ways to prevent these nightmares from occurring at all.
Create an environment that is comfortable and quiet for your dog e.g. with a comfortable bed, wrap your dog in a blanket to allow them a sense of security and to relieve anxiety
Talk to your vet
Learn how to interact with your dog to make them feel more secure e.g. with courses
Allow your dog to have its own space to sleep in- where it is quiet and away from the business of your household
Consulting a professional trainer
Do not play loud, high tempo music
Make notes of when they had nightmares and what you did the days when they did have these to see if there are any causal factors, particularly ones that seem to re-occur
Overall, the most important thing is that you maintain a healthy and loving relationship with your dog, with lots of affection and allowing them to be in a safe environment. You do not need to worry if your dog is experiencing occasional nightmares, even though I know it can be upsetting at times.