Why Dogs Run in Their Sleep

Dog running while it's sleeping.

There are few things in life as cute as seeing a dog run in its sleep. If you’re a lucky canine owner, it’s likely you’ve seen your furry friend go on an adventure or two while it’s sleeping. We all want our pups to get the exercise they need, but why do they try to run when they’re asleep? Are they seizing?  Is it healthy? Should you wake them up?

We did a little research so that you know what’s happening the next time your pup decides to take a “run” during nap time.


We’re more alike than you think

Did you know that humans are 95% identical genetically and physically to dogs? Sleep is an important part of our daily life, so it only makes sense that it’s important for dogs, too. In fact, dogs, like humans, have varying degrees of wakefulness when they sleep. Dogs cycle through rapid eye movement (REM) and slow wave sleep (SWS) and tend to fall into REM sleep about 20 minutes into their snooze session.

Also like humans, dogs dream more vividly during REM sleep. This is where owners may see dogs rapidly moving their legs (like they are going on a run) or twitching their muscles. So when your dog is taking a casual stroll/run when they’re sleeping, they’re probably just experiencing a vivid dream.


Not all dogs dream alike

Live Science reveals that the part of the brainstem called “the pons” is responsible for paralyzing the large muscles during sleep. For both humans and canines, the pons is underdeveloped in early ages, which is why puppies are more likely to twitch in their sleep than older dogs.

“There is also evidence that they dream about common dog activities…The dogs only started to move when the brain entered that stage of sleep associated with dreaming. During the course of a dream episode these dogs actually began to execute the actions that they were performing in their dreams.” Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC, is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia for Psychology Today.

Studies have also shown that the quality of sleep and length of the dream also depend on the size of the dog. The AKC found that a dreaming Pointer, for example, may immediately start searching for game during sleep, but a sleeping Springer Spaniel may flush an imaginary bird in its dreams.

Similarly, for reasons yet to be explained, young puppies and senior dogs tend to move more in their sleep and to dream more than adult dogs. In fact, puppies spend much longer in REM than adult dogs, who only spend about 10-12% of their sleep time in REM.

Does your dog run when it’s asleep? What do you think they’re dreaming about?