Lucy Growled in her Sleep Last Night
Not just once. Lucy, our one-year-old Labrador Retriever mix dog, growled about four different times in her sleep. And it was loud enough to awaken other members of the household. But Lucy just kept on dreaming.
Do Dogs Dream?
Most animal behaviorists believe that dogs do indeed dream, although no one is really sure what they dream about. After all, they can’t just wake up and tell you about the rabbit they chased or the hole they dug or that great belly flop into the lake they took in their dreams. But judging by their movements and actions during sleep, it is pretty easy to guess that dogs dream about their favorite activities.
If you watch your dog while she’s sleeping, you might see her running in place, legs and feet moving furiously back and forth for several minutes before she relaxes again. She may move her face around and inhale sharply several times as though sniffing something. She might let out a yelp or two, or even a howl.
Although I’ve seen both my dogs run in place and sleep-sniff, and have heard them “woof” and even howl in their sleep, I had never heard such persistent and repeated sleep-growling before. What did it mean?
Why Dogs Growl
If dogs dream about their favorite activities, then maybe that means that growling is high on Lucy’s list of things to do. Most people understandably associate a growling dog with an aggressive dog. According to the writers of Dogspeak: How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You, growling can be an “unmistakable warning sign” that tells humans and other dogs to “back off.” Dogs may also growl when they’re frightened or defensive.
So why would the pooch I’ve dubbed Miss Happy-Pants because of her playful and loving disposition be growling so much in her dreams? It seems there are other, less ominous reasons why dogs growl. In fact, dogs often engage in play-growling.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Play-Growling
You can tell if your dog is play-growling largely by observing her body language. If she is growling while she is playing, that is a pretty good indication that her growling is not aggressive. An alert expression, a wagging tail, a play-bow stance, and a relaxed mouth are all indications that a dog is not growling to threaten or intimidate, but as an indication that she just wants to play.
Lucy and Frankie spend a great deal of time in the yard and in the house either tumbling all over each other or playing tug o’ war with tug toys or palm fronds or anything else they can get their mouths on. When they’re really engaged in a game, they are also usually play-growling.
So I guess it only makes sense that, after a long day of play-fighting and the play-growling that goes with it, little Miss Happy-Pants would spend her sleeping hours reliving those good times and growling her little happy pants off, so to speak.
Resource: Matthew Hoffman (ed.), Dogspeak: How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You. Rodale 1999.