Sleeping – Is your Dog a Twitcher?

The other day I was watching my Golden Labrador Zara ‘running’ and squeaking in her sleep on the sofa. Of my four dogs, she does this the most. My German Shepherd went to her and stood over her, head on one side then the other, obviously trying to make sense of the commotion (see another Paws for Thought for more on this).  Then you could almost see her shrug and walk away.

According to Vetstreet, dogs dream just as we do, going through the three sleep stages: NREM, non-rapid eye movement; REM, rapid eye movement; and SWS, short-wave sleep. “It is in the SWS stage that a dog breathes heavily while he is sleeping. Animal experts theorize that dogs dream during the REM stage and act on their dreams by twitching or moving all four paws as if they were chasing a rabbit.”

Sleeping Labrador

Zara is stretched out and dreaming

Dogs that sleep all curled up keep their muscles tensed and are therefore less likely to twitch in their sleep, which may explain why young puppies and senior dogs tend to move most in their sleep – though my Zara is four years old and has always done it.  In my experience dogs are stretched out on their side, rather than lying on their backs.

The other dog of my four who is active when asleep is a Labrador Lurcher mix.  I wondered whether there could be any connection between active sleeping and breed, and although I found no answer to this I did find a nice breed-related article on Dog Channel.

They suggest that “snoozing Toy Poodles venture into dreamland about every 15 minutes with each episode barely lasting three minutes. Springer Spaniels and Shar-Peis dream every 20 minutes with each occurrence averaging about five minutes. Hefty breeds like St. Bernards and Malamutes dream the least – once every 45 minutes – but their dreams last the longest – about seven minutes or longer.

Lurcher sleeps

Pip is doesn’t actively dream when in this position

Scientific studies amply document the duration and frequency of dreams. But what dogs dream about remains elusive. Do Dobermans dream of nabbing imaginary burglars? Do sleeping Beagles bellow at the thought of snagging a rabbit in mid-stride? Do snoring Bulldogs drool at the blissful image of being face down in a bowl of chow?”

It looks like the activity can morph into sleepwalking – that is another interesting angle to delve into another time. Take a look at this video: Dreaming dog (another Labrador by the look of it).

Should we interfere? My German Shepherd, being a dog, probably got it right. She walked away. However Vetstreet advise gently calling the dog to wake him and because some dogs can be touchy and reactive while sleeping, don’t use your hand to rouse him or you may get bitten.

Click here if you are interested in research dealing with a strange phenomenon, that whereas twitches reliably trigger a lot of brain activity, similar (or even larger) limb movements while awake don’t. ‘This seemed paradoxical because we generally associate waking with more brain activity than sleep, not less’.

About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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1 Response to Sleeping – Is your Dog a Twitcher?

  1. My People say I don’t do this very often, but every once in a while, I do twitch and squeak when I am sleeping.


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