Many pet parents have experienced their dog howling or making other noises in their sleep, leading them to ask, “Why does my dog howl in its sleep?”
Many dogs vocalize in their sleep, and howling is but one of many vocalizations. Many cultures have myths that explain such howling, and a prevalent myth relates it to someone’s death. Yet the scientifically proven reason your dog is howling is simple — they are reliving their day as dogs do, in fact, dream.
Dreaming dogs is a concept most of us have seen in cartoons but never experienced. Thanks to research, we now know that dogs dream. Read on to learn about this fascinating topic. This article will cover why they howl, dream, and a few myths that seem to make sense.
Why Does My Dog Howl, Whine, and Bark While Asleep?
Why dogs howl, whine, or bark in their sleep has long been a pet parent question. You might think that your dog must be awake. Perhaps they heard something, and their instinct is to warn you.
Perhaps a friend has told you that dogs dream. Naturally, you don’t believe this, so your friend must be full of poppycock. Many dogs are quiet in their sleep, rarely making a sound, and this might be your first experience of sleep howling.
If you really feel something is wrong, visiting your veterinarian is a great place to start. However, once your vet gives a clean bill of health, they may confirm what your friend said — your dog is dreaming, and it is perfectly normal.
Do Dogs Dream?
Your vet confirmed what your friend told you — dogs do dream. You may be skeptical and require scientific evidence. Luckily scientific studies definitively prove dogs dream.
According to an article in Psychology Today, researchers have conducted studies proving the similarity between dogs and human brains. The article says that while asleep, dogs and humans cycle through the same sleep stages (source).
Researchers tracked the brain waves of both humans and dogs while asleep and, when compared, the brain waves are almost the same. Humans dream during the REM stage, and so do dogs and other animals.
Study on Sleeping Rats
Mathew Wilson from MIT concluded that animals recall a very long series of events while asleep. Mathew Wilson and Kenway Louie (graduate student) studied sleeping rats’ brains, tracking electrical activity during every sleep stage (source).
The study concluded that animals do indeed remember and relive events from the day. They compared the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory, had distinctive neuron firings during certain activities. Later, while the rats slept and were in the REM stage, the hippocampus had the same neuron firing pattern.
Dr. Cohen describes a study in which researchers removed the pons from the brain stem of dogs, which keeps sleepers in their place while dreaming. Once in the REM stage, the dogs relived their day but were able to move freely. For instance, a pointer will start hunting and even go on point.
What Is My Dog Dreaming About?
It is not as difficult as you may think to know what your dog’s dreams are about. Observe your dog while it is asleep. Wait until your dog’s in a deep sleep. Their breathing is shallow and has a regular pattern somewhere within the first 20 minutes, depending on their size.
Now the fun begins. Observe the way your dog moves, such as running, and you’ll see the eyes moving behind closed lids. They are picturing events from their day as if they are watching a movie.
Having Established Dogs Dream, What About Howling?
Howling is eerie, no matter the circumstance or time of day. Dogs howl for specific reasons, and there are a few interesting myths curated by humans. Let’s first look at the scientific reason for howling.
Most dogs are descendants of the grey wolf who will howl to bring the pack together and warn the pack of danger. Domesticated dogs retained these instincts. Wolves, wild dogs, and domesticated dogs are not meant to lead a life of isolation and call to you because they are lonely (source).
The howling could be your dog is telling you, “I’m lonely or nervous, so spend time with me and never leave me” (source).
There is a chance your dog may be injured or sick and howling for help. For any unexplainable or persistent howling outside of sleep, consult your vet.
Noise triggers a response known as Response Howling. For example, sirens or other noise could induce howling. Also, other dogs howling and barking will cause your dog to join in. Response howling is not usually a problem as long as you can tolerate it. It is a problem if you have pesky neighbors who don’t understand dogs.
Your dog may be warning potential intruders to stay away and that they are not welcome. Your dog is protecting that which is his — his yard, house, and family.
Most likely, your dog is communicating with you and saying, “Spend time with me! I miss you.” Be aware that howling for attention can quickly become a habit. Only reward your dog with playtime once the howling stops (source).
Dogs also howl to say they found a fabulous prize, and it is a happy howl (source).
Superstitions and the Howling Dog
Humans have many superstitions to explain howling, and many cultures believe howling foretells a death. Others believe someone will die if the howling takes place in the wee hours of the morning or the dog is under the porch and howls four times.
In actuality, when night falls, and all is deadly silent — excuse the pun — dogs can hear a pin drop (source).
Some believe howling may be a sign they have seen a ghost or other unworldly spirit. If you’re standing at a crossroads and your dog breaks into mournful howls, the Greek goddess Hecate is close, and you may want to get out of there.
It would seem dogs have earned the distinction once only attributed to ravens and crows. They are the harbinger of death. Then there is the mystery of the full moon.
Why Do They Howl at the Moon?
There are no supernatural reasons dogs and wolves howl at the moon, such as turning into or calling werewolves. As we now know, dogs howl because they need to call the pack (you) together. No one wants to be alone. Your dog may also warn you of danger.
Dogs and wolves — wolves are not werewolves — appear to howl at the moon because they point their snout up while howling, which is a natural position. Also, a full moon is bright, so your dog can see better, and, as such, must alert you to any potential danger they can’t otherwise see on a darker night (source).
Many myths explain why dogs howl, including the supernatural, such as a person’s imminent death. However, dogs do not predict death. What they fear is being isolated from the pack.
Research has proven that dogs dream and relive their day the same as humans. They, like people, have good and bad dreams. Although you may want to wake your dog up, it is best to let them sleep unless they are in distress.
Myths seem like logical explanations and may even work out to be true in certain circumstances, giving them credence. However, knowing your dog dreams is a bit more comforting than that your dog is predicting a fatal future or is convening with ghosts.
Watch your dog sleep, and you’ll be surprised at how funny and cute they are.