Behavior, Blog

Dog Wagging Tail in Sleep – What Does This Mean?

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Author: Jacob Kay

As a dog owner, have you ever observed the phenomenon of a dog wagging tail in sleep? If so, then there is an obvious curiosity in mind – Why is my dog wagging its tail in sleep? In general, we know tail wagging is a common phenomenon in dogs. They use it to express different emotions or try to communicate. But, when they are asleep it usually means something different.

There are lots of possibilities or reasons for a dog to wag its tail while asleep. For instance, they are having a good dream like playing with toys, chasing prey, and so on. The movement is so, random and dog owners need to know specific details as to what possibly triggers them. Keep reading this article and you will find out the reasons explaining the tail-wagging behaviour of dogs in sleep.

Dog Wagging Tail in Sleep

In general, there is no one right answer or reason explaining dog wagging tail in sleep behaviour. The best plausible explanation for this behaviour is they are having dreams and it’s a reflexive response. But, that’s not it. There is a whole spectrum of emotions which can trigger such behaviour. Let’s have a closer look at them.

#1. Feeling happy

When dogs are happy while asleep, they will wag their tail. This indicates that they are having a nice dream. In their happy dream, they are either playing with their toys, playing fetch with you, imagining chasing their prey or having a pleasant meal.

Along with the wagging, you may also hear light sounds of bark. In addition, if they are having a relaxed and comfortable dream, you will see them wag their tail.

#2. Excitement

If a dog is getting a feeling of excitement during its sleep, you can expect it to wag its tail. In case of excitement, they are either chasing their prey, running in a natural environment, or meeting a fellow canine. The movement of their tail is fast and active.

Such movement of the tail also suggests sexual arousal, panting, twitching, or rapid running movements. For instance, an exercise or playing session with the owner. If they are having such a dream, you will see them get excited in sleep and wag their tail continuously.

#3. Feeling confident

If a dog is having a dream where it sees itself winning something, solving a puzzling problem, or protecting its owner, it feels confident. Their tail-wagging movement is usually stiff and high in such instances. Also, a confident wagging tail is a sign of a dog having a secure and assertive sleep in a soothing environment.

Highly energetic dogs and the ones who often participate in various dog competition events with their owners will show such behaviour in their sleep. You may also observe the growling, or barring teeth emotions, both suggest a feeling of dominance portraying confidence.

#4. Satisfaction

A normal health condition ensures proper sleep. Also, if a dog is receiving their meal on time, they feel satisfied. This feeling of satisfaction is reflected in their sleep and they often wag their tail. The dreams for such scenarios often reflect their daily routine, having good meals. The wagging of a tail in such a state may also suggest they are stress-free, free of any pain, or not in distress at all.

#5. Scared

Sometimes the wagging of the tail while sleeping is also triggered because of a nightmare. So, when a dog sees different scenarios such as encountering a stranger, being chased by other animals, or a fight with other canines, can lead to them wagging their tail.

Further, wagging of the tail out of fear also makes them whine, shake, and reflect hiding movements during their sleep.

Dog wagging its tail in sleep – Additional reasons

We saw a spectrum of emotions which can trigger dog-wagging behaviour during sleep. Now, let’s have a look at some other reasons why a dog might exhibit wagging behaviour in sleep.

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  • Cold

Dogs feeling chilled in their sleep will shiver, curl up, seek warmth and wag their tail as well. They are probably dreaming of a cold atmosphere which makes them feel cold. However, if there is no suitable blanket on them during cold winters, they might wag their tail in sleep because of that as well.

  • Arousal

A dog having a sexual dream is likely to wag their tail. They also get arousal while having a dream of a meal, playing or exercise session. The movement of the tail wagging is fast and there are other dreams such as running, barking, or jumping.

  • Anxiety

In dreams, if a dog is facing an anxious situation like facing a threat, or seeing a stranger, they get anxious and begin to wag their tail. An anxious tail wagging is low and tucked. Also, at times, the surrounding environment may create a feeling of stress right before they sleep and they reflect this feeling while asleep.

  • Curiosity

Normally, dogs exhibit their curious behaviour via sniffing. They inspect new objects, sniff people they meet and assess the environment out of curiosity. The same behaviour sometimes is reflected in their dreams. So, while they are sniffing some area in their dreams, you will see them wag their tail.

  • Aggression

When a dog is having an intense dream like a fight over their dominance, defending their territory, or challenging other dogs, they will get aggressive even though asleep. Their wagging of the tail will reflect this as it gets high and stiff.

Health Hazards For Dogs Wagging Tail in Sleep

While the chances of a dog suffering from health issues because of wagging tail behaviour while asleep are low, there have been few instances where dogs have suffered from health issues. Also, sometimes the behaviour may indicate an existing health problem which was ignored for a long time. Here are some of the health hazards for dogs with tail-wagging behaviour in sleep:

  • Pain

Continuous wagging of the tail during sleep can lead to pain. This pain can further compromise their sleep and you may start seeing them wag their tail more often. They do it to cope with the pain they are suffering but, are causing more damage.

Additionally, many medical conditions, infections, or injuries can lead to such wagging behaviour because they keep feeling the pain all the time, even while sleeping.

  • Seizures

Wagging of the tail indicates seizures. They are mainly caused because of trauma, brain tumours, toxins, or infections. So, wagging of the tail is an indicator of a possible seizure but, not exactly responsible for it.

However, in rare cases, a traumatic dream may cause seizures in dogs and you may see them wag their tail during sleep. Seizures can cause serious issues for dogs so, it’s best to take them to the vet on spotting them at any point.

  • Neurological disorders

Wagging of a dog’s tail during their sleep may also indicate a neurological disorder. These conditions can make a dog’s tail wag during sleep involuntarily. You will observe abnormal movement in their tail and also signs suggesting neurological impairment. The signs suggesting such disorder are – paralysis, weakness, abnormal behaviour or incoordination.

These issues need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Because not only it affects dog’s sleep, but, makes their health condition worse.

  • Injury

If a dog is suffering from an injury, it will often reflect the tail-wagging behaviour while asleep. This happens because of the pain triggered because of the sustained injury. Injury can often lead to infection, nerve damage, inflammation, or muscle spasm and you will see dog wag their tail aggressively while they feel pain during their sleep.

These were some of the prominent health issues that are either recognized or triggered because of wagging of the tail in sleep behaviour. But, that’s not it.

A dog may exhibit such behaviour while suffering from different sleeping disorders. Let’s understand this correlation.

Sleeping disorders and Wagging of the tail

Insomnia, Narcolepsy, and Sleep apnea are sleeping disorders that can affect a dog’s sleep. They also trigger the wagging of the tail in their sleep. Let’s get into the specifics and understand how:

  • Insomnia

A dog with insomnia sleeping disorder will have a hard time falling asleep or sleeping for long hours i.e. normal hours. Their REM (Rapid eye movement) stage sleep is compromised, and they will not have dreams.

Ironically, not having dreams must not cause the wag of the tail but, in this case, less sleep for dogs is responsible for causing the wagging of the tail.

  • Narcolepsy

Contrary to no dreams or no sleep issue in insomnia, a dog instantly enters the RM stage of sleep when they are suffering from Narcolepsy sleeping disorder. Now, you are probably wondering – isn’t this good?

Well, it is but, the dog gets vivid and intense dreams while asleep. So, not only they will wag their tail in sleep but, also get tired because of the active dream. Such dreams make dogs more tired even after having slept in the REM stage.

  • Sleep apnea

This sleeping disorder disrupts the breathing of dogs while they are asleep. They try and gasp some air because of this issue. Less breathing means their oxygen levels are also low (hypoxia), so, you may see them wag their tail in sleep because of hypoxia.

Dogs having sleep apnea will not enter the REM stage of sleep and won’t get dreams. You will see them wag their tail slowly. Also, along with low oxygen levels, the dog may be suffering from heart issues or have high blood pressure. It’s best to consult a vet and get a thorough assessment regarding their health condition.

You can clearly notice that these sleeping disorders not only trigger the wagging of the tail but, also indicate other underlying health issues in our furry friends. So, if you observe any abnormal behaviour or see your dog having uncomfortable sleep, take them to the vet.

Tips For Containing Tail-Wagging Behaviour in Dogs While Asleep

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In general, a dog wagging their tail in sleep is quite normal. The behaviour becomes concerning when there is a noticeable change in the movement of the tail in their sleep. A gentle movement usually suggests they are having a dream and are emotionally stable.

But, if the wagging of the tail is aggressive, and excessive, it indicates pain, fear, anxiety or sleeping disorder issues. Usually, it’s good to visit the vet but, if you have detected the motion in the early stages, you can follow these tips mentioned below to contain such behaviour.

#1. Manage their routine

A proper routine ensures your dog receives normal sleep. You need to schedule their wake-up time, meal time, playing time, exercise session, and bedtime. This will help in avoiding any anxiety or confusion and your furry friend will get to sleep their normal hours and enter the REM stage. A pleasant and peaceful sleep will make their tail wag gently.

#2. Regular exercise

Exercise is a crucial part of a dog’s routine. They receive necessary physical and mental stimulation and the release of energy after exercising makes them feel stress-free and helps in falling asleep quickly. They will sleep well and you may see their tail wag while dreaming but, not rapidly.

#3. Change their sleeping area

Often dogs wag their tail out of frustration in sleep, because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their allocated sleeping area. So, it’s crucial for you to change their location and provide them with a safe and soothing environment to induce proper sleep.

Once you change the location, and make sure there is no discomfort or noises in the area, you will observe a significant change in their sleep and wagging of their tail during the sleep. The movement is light and they will appear peaceful while asleep.

#4. Avoid sharing your bed

While you may consider sharing your bed with your dog a positive gesture, but, it can cause disruption in their sleep and yours as well. For instance, your snoring, or physical movement can wake them up and their sleep cycle is compromised.

This impacts their wagging of the tail behaviour and hence, it’s best to provide them with their own mat or bed for sleeping.

#5. Vet consultation

It’s possible that a sleeping disorder is causing the wagging of the tail and if so, these tips might not work after all. For such instances, you need to take your furry friend to a vet. They will recognise the issue and provide some medications if required.


What does a dog wagging its tail mean when it’s asleep?

When a dog is wagging its tail in its sleep, you need to observe the movement, direction and intensity of the tail. This helps in recognising their emotional state in sleep while they are dreaming. Watching their tail is necessary because they might also be suffering from potential health issues or discomfort.

Which dog breeds are prone to wagging their tails behaviour while sleeping?

There is no exact information suggesting breeds of dogs are susceptible to wagging their tails in their sleep. However, there are some factors like their size, shape of the tail, health, temperament, and sleeping hours which can influence the behaviour. For instance, some dogs have flexible tails and move fast while wagging them in sleep. Other dogs may have shorter tails and stiffness in them may cause slower movements.

Is it OK to stop a dog wagging tail in sleep behaviour?

It’s not OK to stop a dog from wagging its tail in sleep unless you feel they are having a seizure or in pain. The behaviour is normal and is basically an instinctive reflex to various ranges of emotions they have during their sleep while dreaming. An interruption will disrupt their sleep and could manifest fear or anxiety in your dog not to mention their sleeping pattern will also change. For seizures, you need to gently pet them and wake them up.

What is the reason behind a dog wagging its tail in a circle during sleep?

If a dog is wagging its tail in a circle while asleep, they are having a playful or positive dream. In their dream, they are either chasing a squirrel or simply running. So, the excitement and joy of such a dream will often make them wag their tail in a circle while asleep. But, sometimes, a nightmare can also reflect such behaviour. Regardless, you must not wake them up.

Concluding Remarks

Dogs wag their tails while sleeping because they most likely having a dream. They too have multiple sleep cycles like ours, and in the REM stage, they get a clear vision of their dreams. The movement of the tail along with the activity of other body parts often indicates what they might be dreaming about.

Thus, if you observe your dog carefully, you will observe emotions like – happiness, fear, curiosity, excitement, arousal, aggression, or anxiety. In addition, it could also be a sign of sleeping disorders or some other health issues. To identify such prospects, you’ll have to analyse their barking vocals, breathing, and body language.

Finally, you must not interfere with your dog’s sleep when you see them wag their tail. Often new dog owners tend to shake their dogs up and wake them. This could lead to different issues, and their sleep cycle is compromised for sure. Also, if you have to wake them up on suspicion of a seizure do it calmly with a gentle pat. Consulting a vet is crucial if there is any abnormal movement to rule out neurological or sleeping disorders.

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Jacob Kay
Jacob Kay is a Veterinary Advisor and Editor at WWD. He’s also a dog lover and has two pet dogs of his own. He has extensive knowledge in the field of veterinary medicine and is always happy to share his insights with others.

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