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The saying "let sleeping dogs lie" is often used figuratively to tell someone to leave things as they are. The phrase originated from the idea that dogs can be unpredictable when their sleep is disturbed. But is this true? Is it unwise to wake a sleeping dog? We detail that here.
Before answering the question "should you wake a sleeping dog or not?", let's look at the canine sleep cycle. Dogs need to sleep between 14 and 16 hours a day, which is much more than humans need. That being said, dogs have similar sleep cycles to humans. In particular, dogs experience SWS (short-wave sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement), where your dog dreams most. This is when you may observe twitching, crying, growling, yelping, barking and more. An average sized dog will take around 20 minutes to reach the REM cycle. In addition, it seems that dogs dream more when they're young and old.
The answer to this is complicated, but the is generally no. It's normal for dogs to have bad dreams. Veterinarians believe that dreams allow our dogs to work through what's on their mind, much like they do for humans. Letting a bad dream progress to a resolution can help your dog's subconscious deal with recent thoughts, feelings and experiences. Even though it may be difficult to watch your dog have a bad dream, waking him or her can disturb that process. Moreover, it interrupts their sleep and prevents them from getting the proper and necessary rest.
Pro Tip: Night terrors are different from bad dreams and it may be a good idea to wake your dog in these situations. You also may want to talk to a behaviorist if your dog has very frequent or recurring nightmares.
Waking a dog can surprise, startle or scare them and cause a reaction according to those emotions. It can result in snapping at or nipping the waker. This is especially the case for pups in deep sleep and senior dogs. Your dog isn't trying to hurt you but may accidentally do so if suddenly awakened.
Pro Tip: If you have to wake a sleeping dog (e.g. for a vet appointment or something similar), do so with your voice. Speak in a gentle, loving and happy tone. Once awake, pet your dog to reassure and comfort him or her.