Is your dog aggressive when he wakes up? If so, you’re not alone. It’s called the sleep startle reflex, and it’s the reason “let sleeping dogs lie” is more than just a popular proverb; it’s sound advice.
The sleep startle reflex is an instinct in animals, and it is an instinct that many of our domestic dogs carry with them. In this article we discuss why dogs have the reflex, and some practical tips to prevent this behavior.
Why is my dog aggressive when he wakes up?
Simply put, the sleep startle reflex that many dogs have is an instinct to protect themselves from danger. In the wild, it is a defense mechanism that helps keep animals safe when there is an unknown disturbance nearby.
Those seconds after waking can mean life or death, which is why they wake up in an aggressive manner. And like many other instincts, it is a trait that some of our domestic dogs still carry with them.
It is especially common in ex-racing greyhounds who grew up in a kennel environment and was used to long periods of undisturbed sleep. While being cooped up in a kennel for most of the day is not the “best” life for a dog, it is a life that is predictable. Therefore, adjusting to a normal home with a new routine and new disruptions can be quite an adjustment. for some dogs.
Sleep terror is also seen in stray dogs, and those who grew up in a not so safe environment where they were ready for anything immediately after waking kept them safe.
Of course, the exact reason why some dogs have the sleep startle reflex and others don’t is not 100% clear, nor is the reason why some dogs seem to “grow out of it” while others suffer from it for the rest of their lives.
Just because your dog shows sleep aggression doesn’t mean he’s an aggressive dog; it is seen in otherwise well-adjusted dogs. Sometimes it is simply caused by living in a new home or a change in environment.
How to prevent your dog from waking up aggressively
Please note that these tips will not be 100% successful for every dog. Some dogs may never ‘outgrow’ the sleep startle reflex as it happens unconsciously, while others may get better over time.
Don’t feel bad if your dog’s sleep aggression isn’t cured overnight; remember it’s not your fault. It is a normal instinctive reflex, and in some dogs it is much stronger than in others.
The best way to prevent your dog from waking up aggressively is to give him his own bed, in a quiet environment where he can feel safe. Easier said than done if you have other pets and children in the home, but do your best to encourage everyone to leave the dog alone when he is resting to avoid aggressive behavior.
It’s also a good idea to do that wake your dog up with a verbal command when you need to get their attention, rather than coming forward and startling them with touch.
As tempting as it may be, if your dog shows aggression while sleeping, it’s probably a good idea not to let him sleep in your bed. It’s impossible to predict whether your movements at night might trigger their aggression, so a dog bed next to yours may be a better option.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply distract your dog from sleep aggression. The best thing you can do is make him feel safe to reduce the chance of this happening.
If you punish your dog for waking up aggressively, you will only make him more insecure in his environment, which will lead to even more behavioral problems. To remind; they are not aggressive on purpose; it is an unconscious reflex.