Have you heard your dog bark in his sleep or seen him twitch his paws after an imaginary squirrel? It's certainly cute to watch, but what if your furry friend is having a nightmare?
Research has shown that dogs dream during REM sleep. Researchers believe that unlike humans, they dream about past experiences not current or future anxieties. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, has found a correlation between dog breed size and their dreams. He found that smaller dogs have frequent, short dreams while large dogs have a couple long dreams. Regardless of size, your dog can have nightmares.
Usually these nightmares occur over things that give your dog anxiety like a nail trim or a trip to the vet. Nightmares can also occur when your dog is feeling stressed out, anxious, or angry. Rescue pups might dream about their pre-rescue life.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Having a Nightmare
Observe your dog while dreaming. If his paws and eyelids twitch and his ears flick he is likely having a pleasant dream. However, if your dog growls, whines, whimpers, has heavy fast breathing, or gives an alarm bark he is probably having a nightmare.
It is important not to wake your dog while in the midst of a nightmare by touching him. This could trigger him to wake up biting. Instead if the nightmare is continuing a long time gently call his name and gradually say it louder until he wakes up.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
Helping your dog get over situations that cause him anxiety will help in his waking as well as sleeping hours. One method of doing this is desensitization. This involves exposing your dog to the anxiety inducing situation more often with lots of reassurance. He should gradually learn there is nothing to fear and his anxiety will ease.
Desensitization can be paired with counter conditioning also. Counter conditioning involves pairing the anxiety inducing situation with your dog’s favorite treat, toy, or petting. He will come to equate the anxious situation with a reward and that should help him feel better.
If you need assistance with this training, talk to your vet or a positive reinforcement trainer for dogs. With their help you can ease the nightmare your pooch may be having.
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