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Do Dogs Like Being Pet While Sleeping? Vet-Approved Facts & Care Tips

Written by: Keri-Beth Clur

Last Updated on June 21, 2024 by Dogster Team

beagle dog sleeping on pillow

Do Dogs Like Being Pet While Sleeping? Vet-Approved Facts & Care Tips


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

If you have a dog, you know they love to be petted and cuddled when awake. Some dogs may even snuggle up to you when they’re ready to take a nap and fall asleep against you for warmth. However, petting your dog or someone else’s dog while they are sleeping isn’t always a good idea—for several reasons.

We will 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.

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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 then, 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.

First, never pet a sleeping dog that you haven’t built a strong and trusting relationship with. If you’re at a friend’s house and have stumbled upon their sleeping dog or 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?

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 precisely what will happen if you pet them, even if you do so gently. They’re also likely to jolt awake and react defensively. You have just disturbed them during their most vulnerable time, after all. Defensive reactions may include 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.

Whether you’ve had your dog for years or have recently met a dog, it’s not advised to pet them while they sleep because you’ll interrupt their rest. Just as interrupted sleep can mess up your day, you can leave your dog tired and unmotivated for activity by interrupting theirs.

woman using laptop beside a sleeping brown dog
Image by: bruno emmanuelle azsk, Unsplash

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 constantly experiences interrupted sleep is more likely to be in a bad mood and at a higher risk of getting an infection. Dogs are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep multiple times a day. They may sleep several 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 relatively easy to awaken, and their bodies aren’t completely relaxed yet. The next stage is REM, which usually begins a0 minutes after they first fall 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 related to what they experience throughout the day, such as playing fetch with you and other pets, barking at birds, and other doggy activities. Dogs can also experience nightmares, which likely consist of activities that frighten them, such as bath time if they dread the task or defensive moments where they’ve reacted aggressively toward a person or another animal.

two cute dogs sleeping on the bed
Image by: Pexels, Pixabay

How Can I Help Improve My Dog’s Sleep?

A dog needs plenty of sleep to be happy and healthy, but it may look like they sleep an excessive amount, and they may not be getting the quality of sleep they need. There are numerous ways you can improve 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 your dog’s age or health conditions, you may need to take them outside additional times during the night.

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 at 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 staying at your friend’s house or boarding while you’re away will not sleep as soundly as when they’re back home in their environment.

When Do Dogs Prefer to Be Petted?

Dogs love to be petted because 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 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 on 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.

hand petting an old dog outdoor
Image by: Ksenia Raykova, Shutterstock

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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 vital 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 maintaining a daily routine are great ways to improve their sleep.

Featured Image Credit: Przemek Iciak, Shutterstock

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