Why Do Dogs Run in Their Sleep? Causes & What Should You Do?

Last Updated on July, 2024

Does it look like your dog is having the time of his life engaging in some cardio while sleeping? Something that many of us don’t do even if we need to lose some weight.

Dogs spend most of their time sleeping or, at times, the dog running in their sleep. Maybe the dog is dreaming that he is running through a field chasing a frisbee, or Freddy Krueger is hot on his tail (pun intended).

We, humans, dream weird nonsensical things or day-to-day adventures. Your pet dog does the same, but their dream consists of barking, twitching, and running.

A sleeping dog is something that all of us find fascinating to look at, with all their odd behaviors capturing the hearts of humans.

Let’s take a look into what triggers this muscle memory in sleep.

Quick Summary

During the later stages of sleep, dogs can experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and may dream, resulting in behaviors like barking, whimpering, and running.

Dogs sleep for 10-12 hours a day and go through a series of 20 or more sleep cycles, with more stages than humans.

Causes for dogs running in their sleep include dreaming, deep sleep, seizures, and the age of the dog. Owners should let their dog sleep and only wake them if they seem to be having a nightmare or if they are having a seizure, in which case a visit to the veterinarian may be necessary.

A Typical Dog Sleep Cycle

a dog sleeping on the ground

Your best friend (four-legged one 😊) usually sleeps 10-12 hours daily. It is pretty high in the early stages when they are puppies, sometimes reaching for 18-20hrs of sleep.

Like humans, dogs’ sleep is relatively high when they are young puppies and decreases later.

Adult dogs in the senior years of their lives have a higher need for sleep, just like the pups.

Mainly depending on the age, breed, and activeness of your dog. Some of the smaller dogs sleep moderately less than the large ones.

A dog’s sleep cycle consists of more stages than a human’s. They go through a series of 20 or more cycles.

The initial stages begin with a light napping, where they wake easily from any noise in the environment. This is usually known as the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage.

Then it gradually progresses to deep REM sleep, where the dreaming and twitching of muscles begin.

What is the Standard Behavior of Dogs When Dreaming? 

a dog sleeping near the window

Unlike at the time of seizures, where they lose control of their body, They have light movements in their eyes and twitching in their legs while dreaming.

Some dogs run and even bark, which is how dogs experience dreams.

It is perfectly normal behavior for all sleeping dogs. Nothing that you need to worry about. 

If you think it’s a bad dream, wake them up carefully using your voice.

What Goes On in a Dog’s Head During Sleep?

Your buddy might be dreaming of the time he was playing catch with you or the time he was chasing a squirrel up the tree.

For a long time, it has kept scientists wondering if dogs dreamt like us when asleep.

It was later proved when rats who were experimented on started showing brain wave activity in their sleep. Scientists have concluded that dogs have brain waves acting up when sleeping, confirming your dog dreams.

As a far more advanced species than rats, it is understandable that dogs and other animals dream.

Causes for Your Dogs to Run in Their Sleep


Researchers have stated that they believe that your four-legged best friend is likely to dream about a time at the park with you.

Or chasing another dog across the field. There are times that they may be prone to nightmares as well.

Deep Sleep (REM)

Deep sleep is the latter stage of proper sleep, where they sleep deeply. This is the time they might experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM).

The dogs have limited movement in their body while sleeping, which is why they don’t run right out of their sleeping bed, chasing an imaginary ball.

They may also bark, whimper or snarl depending on their dreams.


Sometimes your dog may be taken suddenly by seizures. It may happen when they are either asleep or awake.

This is the opposite of dreaming, with high muscle twitches and contractions.

Their eyes will be wide open, yet they will see nothing.

They may drool, defecate or even urinate at times of seizure. This is quite a severe issue that may warrant a visit to the Veterinarian.

Life Cycle (Age) 

Another aspect that affects the sleep cycle is age. Little puppies usually need more hours of sleep which is quite similar to all babies across species.

Older dogs need more sleep due to low metabolism and are easily prone to tiredness, whereas your average-aged dog needs a lower amount of sleep unless you bore them to sleep.

What Should Owners Do to Help Them When it Happens?

a human touching a dog's head

As dog owners, you might be here to find out what to do to help them in these instances.

Yes, dogs RUN in their SLEEP (I believe we have established that fact).

Let them sleep. It’s that simple. As long as it is not a nightmare.

In case of a nightmare, it is better to wake up your buddy by calling his name or dropping something on the floor to make some noise.

Make sure that you don’t wake him physically. Because the fear of the nightmare tends to make them aggressive and accidents may occur when they are woken up abruptly.

If your pet is having a seizure, make sure that they don’t hurt itself when twitching and convulsing. Give them adequate space and a soft area to sleep on.

A Vet visit would be needed as soon as possible to keep the dogs safe and you updated.


To determine if your dog is having a dream or a seizure, look for signs such as wide-open eyes during a seizure, flickering eyes when dreaming, loss of bowel control, vomiting, and difficulty waking up after a seizure.

It is not recommended to wake a dog while they are dreaming. If you feel that they may be having a nightmare, call their name or make some noise to wake them up. Otherwise, just enjoy their cuteness while they dream.

Yes, dogs can have nightmares too. They may experience similar nightmares to humans and include chase dreams with characters such as Freddy Dogger or a clown dog.


As you can see, dogs have an imaginative world of dreams. 

Let them experience their REM sleep and dreams.

Seizures, on the other hand, are not something simple to discard. At times like this, your dog needs you to protect him from harm.

This is a guide to all dog mums and dads to keep their pets safe at night and day. If you are looking for an intelligent tracker to keep a check on your pet and its health, Whistle Health & GPS Tracker is the surefire way to have peace of mind.

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Thomas Villalpando
Thomas Villalpando is the main author of Dogs Academy. He spends his time reading, training, and working with several Dogs' behaviors. He has been featured in MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Sun, Entrepreneur & More. You can find more about him here.

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