If you’ve got a dog, you’ll know that they love to be pet and cuddled when they’re awake. Some dogs may even snuggle up to you when they’re ready to take a nap and fall asleep against you for warmth and to show affection. However, petting your dog or someone else’s dog while they are sleeping isn’t always a good idea—for several reasons.
We’re going to discuss the importance of sleep for a dog, why petting them when they’re asleep may not be a good idea, whether dogs have dreams and nightmares, how you can help improve your dog’s sleep, and when dogs prefer to be petted.
Why Petting a Sleeping Dog Isn’t Always a Good Idea?
Although sleeping dogs are so adorable that everything in you wants to pet and cuddle them at that moment, it’d benefit them more if you didn’t and kept the petting for when they wake up instead. There are a few reasons why petting a sleeping dog isn’t always a good idea.
Firstly, never pet a sleeping dog that you haven’t built a strong and trusting relationship with over a period of time. If you’re at a friend’s house and have stumbled upon their sleeping dog, or you’ve recently brought a dog home from the shelter, the last thing you should do is pet them while they’re asleep and vulnerable. How would you feel if someone you recently met petted you awake? Frightened? Uncomfortable? Vulnerable?
Well, the same is true for dogs. They don’t enjoy being woken up from a nap, and because dogs are so alert, that’s exactly what will happen if you pet them, even if you do so gently. They’re also likely to jolt awake through fright and react defensively. You have just disturbed them during their most vulnerable time, after all. Defensive reactions may display themselves as aggression, barking, or even biting.
Of course, if you’ve had a dog since they were a puppy and you’ve built a strong, trusting relationship with them and have often touched them during their sleep, they’ve probably grown accustomed to it and are less likely to get a fright and react aggressively. They may even sleep with you on your bed and are extremely comfortable with you.
Whether you’ve had your dog for years or have recently met a dog, it’s not advised that you pet them while they sleep because you’ll be interrupting their rest. Just as interrupted sleep can mess up your day, you can leave your dog feeling tired and unmotivated for activity by interrupting theirs.
Why Sleep Is Important for Dogs
A dog’s sleeping patterns are very different from a human’s but just as important. Dogs sleep for around 50% of the day, and although we may think this is excessive, it’s necessary for their brain development, memory, learning abilities, and maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s also beneficial for recovery from activities.
A dog that hasn’t had enough sleep or who is constantly experiencing interrupted sleep is more likely to be in a bad mood and is at a higher risk of getting an infection.
Dogs are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep multiple times a day. They may sleep multiple times a day, but they don’t have as long of a sleep cycle as humans do, with their cycles only lasting around 45 minutes and humans lasting up to 110 minutes.
Do Dogs Dream?
For dogs, sleep begins in the slow-wave sleep stage, which is quite easy to awake from, and their bodies aren’t completely relaxed yet. The next stage is REM, which usually begins after 20 minutes from when they first fell asleep. The REM stage is when their brain activity starts to heighten. It’s during this phase that they are most likely to dream.
We don’t know exactly what dogs dream about, but it’s likely got to do with what they experience throughout the day, such as playing fetch with you, playing with other pets, barking at birds, and other doggy activities.
Dogs can also experience nightmares, which likely consist of activities that frightened them, such as bath time if they dread the task or defensive moments where they’ve reacted in aggression towards a person or another animal.
How Can I Help Improve My Dog’s Sleep?
A dog needs plenty of sleep to be happy and healthy, and although it may look like they sleep an excessive amount, they may not be getting the quality of sleep they need. There are numerous ways you can help better their sleep time.
Always take your dog outside to relieve themselves before bedtime. This will help them sleep more comfortably and peacefully as they won’t feel restless with a full bladder. Depending on the age and/or health conditions of your dog, you may need to take them outside additional times during the night too.
Your dog will sleep more deeply if they’ve received plenty of exercise during the day. Exercise burns pent-up energy, thus preventing them from laying around restlessly or getting up to bark out of boredom during the night.
Where your dog sleeps also plays a role in their sleep quality. If your dog sleeps outside, they’re less likely to sleep as deeply and for as long as dogs that sleep indoors. Dogs that are staying over at your friend’s house or boarding while you’re away won’t sleep as soundly as when they’re back home in their own environment.
When Do Dogs Prefer to Be Pet?
Dogs love to be petted because it means that your full attention is on them. It’s also a form of communication and a great way to show affection and bond. Although people pet dogs, dogs are often the initiators of this interaction and will deliberately place their heads under your hand or brush up against your body to get it started.
Dogs love a good rub under their bellies and chins, on their chests, on top of their heads and necks, and their sides. If you don’t know a dog well, avoid their tail, feet, face, and legs as they can be protective of those areas.
Although dogs love to be petted when they’re awake, petting them while they sleep can startle them awake, and they can react aggressively. Constantly interrupting their sleep can leave them in a bad mood and at a higher risk of illness. A dog’s sleep is important for their development, health, and mood and although dogs can sleep up to 50% of the day, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re getting the quality sleep they need. Exercise and routine are great ways to help improve their sleep and live happy and healthy lives.
Featured Image Credit: Przemek Iciak, Shutterstock