Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nightmare on Elm Street

It's pretty obvious from the twitching and noise making and REMing that all dogs do when they are asleep that they dream and since they dream, I wonder if they have nightmares and if they have nightmares I wonder what they have nightmares about.

It's around 2 a.m. Rocky is in a deep sleep when he suddenly snorts and pops up wide awake and scurries out of the bedroom in the dark, bumping into things and slipping on the wooden floor in his eagerness to get out of the room and downstairs. At first I think he maybe needs to go out for a bathroom break - though that would be very unusual and quite worrying actually as Rocky has got an iron gut - but, no, he's not interested in going out. After a few minutes, I persuade him to go back upstairs and back to his bed but he just as he touches down, it's like he recalls something deeply unpleasant and he grunts and he pulls himself up and runs downstairs again. After that, I can't get him to go back upstairs.

Rocky is not one of those dogs who instantly wakes. He likes to loll about and snort and lick his paws and rub his eyes. For him to jump out of bed from a deep sleep is quite extraordinary. Then to rush out of the room for no reason other than to escape the room is quite disconcerting. I'd almost be tempted to blame a ghost, not that I believe in ghosts, but hey, you never know what spirits might be haunting a 130 year old house. I'd be tempted to blame a ghost but Stella, who is sleeping in her bed right beside Rocky's bed, is watching all the commotion with much annoyance. She wants the lights off and silence please if you don't mind. There are no ghosts disturbing Stella's sleep so I'm guessing that whatever it was that disturbed Rocky, disturbed him alone.

Downstairs, Rocky stands by me for a few minutes then he goes and lies down on the bed in the living room but he doesn't sleep. He lies there with his head up, staring at me in the semi-darkness. I go over to him give him a pat on the head and check his stomache for bloat but don't notice anything unusual and feel his heart which seems a bit more speedy than normal. After a few more minutes, I want to get back to sleep so I beckon him to follow me upstairs but he won't come. He just watches me at I climb the stairs. Rocky is a Velcro dog so for him to stay downstairs by himself is very odd. Something really must have freaked him out upstairs. I'm thinking he had a nightmare.

In the time I've had Rocky, this has happened three times, though the other two times I managed to convince Rocky to go back up. Was there a monster in his dreams that he now thinks is still in the bedroom? Do dogs even dream of monsters and if so, what's a monster for a dog? I would think if a real monster appeared on the scene, most dogs would bark at them, chase them around and generally be a nuisance to them. The only thing I've ever seen Rocky run away from is a squeaky toy. Could he have been dreaming about monsters with squeaky toy voices?

So, questions for you all. Do your dogs have nightmares? Do they bark and howl in their sleep? Do they sleepwalk? Do they wake you up in the middle of the night, frantic and looking for reassurances?


Falen said...

I think mine do. Mine both will bark, growl and howl in their sleep - what's interesting is my frenchie George normally has a very low gravelly howl (when we can get him to sing or he hears a siren) but occasionally he'll be startled out of his nap and he'll howl in concern, and when that happens, his howl is highpitched - completely different than ususal

Sharon said...

I haven't seen my boy do this due to a dream, but a few nights ago I left him out of his crate for the night, to see if he was ready to venture into the next step (he LOVES to be in my room and nap there), and he woke me up about 5 times, and when I'd get up, he'd get me to follow him to his "room" where we keep his crate, and lay down in it. Then when I'd walk away, he'd get up and follow me back. I think he was asking me to crate him, which I finally did after the 5th time. Something had him spooked enough he wanted to sleep in his own den...

CyborgSuzy said...

Last year my dog had an episode like Rocky's. 2 am, everything was quiet, all of a sudden she leaps off the bed, growling and barking hysterically. We jump out of bed and turned on the light, and she was standing there with her ruff up, looking around wildly. Certainly seemed like a nightmare.

Fred said...

Falen, it's so cool when dogs vocalize in their sleep and they sound completely different than when they're awake. It's like they're a Linda Blair Exorcist impersonation. Rocky's got quite a deep, strong voice when awake but in his sleep, he often sounds like a little puppy. I'm sure he'd be embarassed if he only knew.

Sharon, that totally sounds like Rocky. It's funny because you'd think they'd want to stick around their owners/parents, like children, after a nightmare and not away.

CyborgSuzy, Stella does that, sort of, sometimes but I'm never too sure if it's from something she's dreamt of of if it's because Rocky inadvertantly reached out with his paw and invaded her personal space on her bed.

Laura HP said...

That's really interesting! I can't say anything about dogs, but our lovebird Bailey talks endlessly in his sleep. A little while after he falls asleep, he starts up and he goes through his entire repertoire. It's interesting because he'll use sounds he used to use, but no longer does when he's awake, or sounds I've never heard while he's awake. And sometimes, he'll jerk awake, screaming and flapping his wings like a lunatic, which I have to assume is some kind of nightmare-like thing. Sleep is a fascinating subject.

Michelle said...

I've never even seen/heard Dingle dream - no twitching, noise making etc. My boyfriend's dog does it all the time... but not Dinglehopper.

Heather B said...

I have a foster dog, Molly , A BouvierX, who originally came from the pound. She has regular nightmares where she starts up suddenly , growling and barking. I speak to her to tell her she`s alright and a good girl then she turns around where she was laying and goes back to sleep. I feel that somewhere in her past she has been badly frightened by something or someone and has recurring dreams about that issue. I have no doubt that dogs have dreams and hence, nightmares.

Rita said...

Both my dogs had nightmares as well. My wee one never did the leaping off the bed barking like mad thing but my bigger dog certainly did causing my heart to leap in my chest too many times. I do believe that animals experience night terrors/anxiety like we humans.

Usually my bigger dog would sleep in bed with me or the kids but one time he slept in the hall and let out a haunting, mournful howl that woke the entire house and had everyone rushing to his side.

Incidently, there was only one other time he gave us that same haunting howl when we had to walk away from him at the vets. He died the next morning during surgery to try to save his life. I always question whether he knew and was trying to tell us. How I miss him.

Anonymous said...

My dog used to have nightmares, but they were very infrequent. We got her as a puppy from a breeder (back when I was 12 and didn't know better) and she had never known fear in her life. The few nightmares she had involved a hunt that went awry, and she always jumped up with a start, barking and looking for us in desperation. She always came to use for comfort afterward.

But I adopted a cat about a year ago from the THS. She was a queen who was found as a stray and gave birth at the shelter. I stayed with her while she gave birth, moving her cage around to suit her, giving her water from my hands, kissing her and singing to her to reassure her. She was panicky during her very long and painful labor, and I helped her relax.

Who knows what happened to her while she was on the streets, but I do know that she got a bad case of URI at the shelter and one of her kittens died of the same illness. She had meds gruffly forced on her and the final straw was when they took away her surviving kitten to put him up for adoption.

She totally gave up, and I went for my weekly visit with her one week to find her in the back room emaciated and with her back leg muscles atrophied. She had stopped eating and stopped moving, except to use the litter box.

I couldn't let that slide. I took her home under the pretense of fostering her, but she was so emotionally damaged I couldn't give her up. She spent the first two months standing in my room crying constantly if I wasn't there. But she was too scared to leave to come find me.

At any rate, April *definitely* has nightmares. They are coming fewer and further between now that she's been with me almost a year. But she had another one just recently.

She'll start to breath in short, sharp staccatos, then she'll begin making quiet mewling sounds. When she gets agitated enough she will bolt straight awake and give out a desperate sounding trill. She's looking for me, she wants to make sure I'm there and that she's safe.

Sometimes I will go over and reassure her. If I'm stuck under another sleeping cat, I can just call to her and once she's located me she'll come right over to snuggle up and go back to sleep while I pet her.

I don't know what happened to her out on the streets but it clearly made a lasting, negative impression. And she definitely has nightmares about it.

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha does she ever. I get quite a kick out of watching her little feet twitch and move and all the little gruffs and huffs and puffs that she makes. I always assume that in her dreams, Blondie, Always catches her pray.


P.s she always dreams way more after a " extra fun day" maybe at the farm or hiking all day

Anonymous said...

My old dog, who died earlier this year, had nightmares. He'd get up and stare and do this low, menacing growl at the wall sometimes with his hackles up, and it'd take him a while to calm down.

My new dog hasn't had one like that yet, but she does the regular pawing and running and whimpering thing.

But here's the way I figure it. When I have nightmares, they're not really necessarily something I'd be afraid of in the daytime. I've had nightmares about babies and a really chilling one about a menacing old senator from Texas, despite the fact that I can easily beat up babies and old men. It's just that, in the dreams, they trigger some kind of fear response in my brain. I assume it's similar with dogs. It's not so much that the object they're dreaming about is all that inherently frightening, but that they're all pumped up with adrenaline or whatever, and it causes an exaggerated fear response.

(Please note here that I'm not anthropomorphizing my dogs so much as I'm dogropomorphizing humans. It's a totally different thing.)

Cathrine said...

My dogs definitely dream. No evidence of nightmares which, given their history, is surprising. They 'run' and twitch, but don't bark or howl. They *both* mumble as if they dream they can talk like humans. This might be because the shelter had a lot of people around who talked to them all the time. We still talk to them a lot, because awake, Jimmy is anxious and Magic aggressively defensive, about strangeness and strangers. Talking to them helps keep them calm, we find.

The cats also dream, but Gus-Gus seems to have only good dreams. Posey has terrible nightmares, and will go from fast asleep to upright, ears back, yowling and spitting without going through the intermediate stages! He was a breeding stud, she spent her first 8 months on the streets,

So the evidence here says, yes, they dream, and the dreams are affected, but not determined, by their life experience. If I could ever find the person who gave Ms. Posey those nightmares, s/he would have their own nightmares thereafter....

Fred said...

What I find fascinating about dogs and animals in general having dreams, but nightmares especially, is how much we living creatures have in common, how much we must share in a common ancestry. To do this thing called dreaming and for it to initiate an emotional response and for that response to manifest itself in an abrupt physical behaviour is pretty specialized behaviour. Imagine how far back we would have to go and what that common creature ancestor would have looked like which first dreamed and had nightmares. It means that we all have subconscious and conscious minds, that we all have imagination (how can any creature dream if it doesn't have imagination?), that we all feel anxiety and hope and thus, I believe, a sense of past, present and future because both anxiety and hope are things which are associated with anticipated events, things not yet occurred but will likely occur. You can't feel anxious or hopeful about something if you don't have a concept of future.

CyborgSuzy said...

Dogs and people are very similar, and it's ridiculous to assume they *don't* do all the things that we do with our large brains. We may be a bit better at abstract thought, but the difference is by degrees, not category.