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Can dogs tell when you are asleep?

Can dogs tell when you are asleep?

Humans and their dogs have a special bond. In fact, it’s been said that they essentially hacked our parental instincts, which is why we view them as similar to our children. This close bond may have you wondering if your dog knows when you are asleep. 

Can dogs tell when you are asleep?

Yes, your dog knows when you are asleep. The more interesting question is how do they know?

A Dog’s Understanding of Sleep

Dogs have sleep cycles similar to those of humans, although they vary greatly in length. Dogs enter REM sleep quickly, and sleep in shorter increments than humans. 

Just like humans, dogs dream when they are sleeping. They also consolidate memory and learning during sleep, the same as humans do. 

We can’t ask a dog exactly what they know about sleep, but we can intuit that they have a basic understanding of the process. This likely helps them identify when their owner is sleeping. 


Yes, your dog watches you while you sleep, at least if you sleep within seeing distance of them. They can see 5 times better than humans in the dark, so they can observe you even when the lights are off. 

Your dog may watch for your chest to begin rising and falling slowly, your eyelids to become still, and for your body to stop making small movements. When they observe these things, they know you are sleeping. 


If your dog sleeps cuddled up next to you, they can feel your body. When you sleep, your body relaxes. Muscle tension eases. Your dog will be able to feel this. They will also feel any small movements. When you are completely still except for breathing, you are likely asleep. 


Dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell. In fact, it’s between 10,000-100,000 times better than ours. In addition to better smell detection, dogs are able to separate specific scents and even chemical messages. 

Your dog may be able to tell if you are happy, sad, or sick based on the way you smell. They can also tell when you are asleep. When you sleep, your body releases certain chemicals and hormones. Melatonin signals it’s time for sleep. When you are asleep, your body produces high amounts of growth hormone. Other chemical changes occur as well. 

We can’t smell these changes, but your dog can. Over time, they learn that you have a particular smell when you are asleep vs. when you are awake. So, essentially, they can easily smell you sleeping. 


Many dog owners believe their dog can tell time. Maybe your pooch goes to the food bowl and waits for dinner at the time you usually feed them. Perhaps they wait by the door when you are about to come home. Scientists aren’t sure if or how dogs tell time, but preliminary research suggests that they do. 

One study linked a dog’s ability to tell time to scent. They spread the owner’s scent over the house. The dog was then confused about when the owner would be home. This study suggests that dogs can use the fading of a smell to gauge time. Once the smell has dissipated to a particular level, it’s time for their owner to return home. 

Some believe they tell time by looking at shadows and light. Dogs are extremely observant, so it’s possible they can tell time by the way shadows and light appear. 

Still others believe it’s part of the dog’s sixth sense. 

Sixth Sense

The sixth sense has become synonymous with the paranormal and a certain film. However, it’s much more than the woo woo many people perceive it as. 

Dogs actually do have a sixth sense. Some people believe that the sixth sense is simply information from the other 5 senses combined. Others believe dogs, and humans, can sense things beyond the 5 recognized senses. 

When it comes to dogs, this is certainly true. Dogs can sense barometric and electromagnetic changes. It’s possible that they can sense other things as well. It’s possible dogs use their sixth sense to know when we are asleep. 

Do dogs protect you when you sleep?

Yes, they do. There are many anecdotal stories of dogs protecting their sleeping owners. Has your dog ever barked at a noise while you are sleeping? Has someone tried to enter your room and encountered a protective pooch standing guard? These are signs your dog is protecting you while you sleep. Again, the real question is why?

Pack Instinct

In the wild, dogs must work together to survive. This plays a role in pack behavior. Dogs in the wild will typically sleep together. The alphas will choose the best sleeping spot, and the other dogs will sleep around them. This provides an extra layer of protection for the alphas. They also decide who sleeps where. 

Dogs will instinctively protect themselves and other members of the pack when sleeping. In domestic dogs, this transfers to their owners. The owner is the pack alpha, so the dog will protect them. 

Dog Waking

When it comes to waking up, dogs and humans are different. Dogs can quickly and easily come out of a deep sleep and be completely alert. Humans take a longer time to wake up and become completely coherent. You are certainly not at full awareness the moment you wake up in the morning, but your dog is. 

Dogs developed this ability because it was essential to their survival. Dogs are at their most vulnerable when sleeping, so it’s important for them to be ready for danger, even when sleeping. 

Keen Senses

Dogs possess some senses that are much keener than ours. Their sense of smell and hearing are much more powerful than ours. Even when asleep, their brains are attuned to look for threats. Because of their superior senses, they can hear and smell a potential threat long before you do. 

Protective Agression

Protective aggression is a natural instinct in dogs. They are simply protecting a member of their pack, their owner. Protective aggression occurs when your dog senses a threat and reacts aggressively. 

It can include barking, snarling, and growling. A dog acting protectively aggressive will have a stiff body posture as if they are ready to pounce on the threat. 

Protective aggression is a good thing in appropriate situations. If a burglar breaks into your home, you want your dog to be protective. However, you don’t want your dog to act aggressively if a family member enters your room at night. 

Protective aggression can get out of hand. In these situations, your dog is acting aggressively when there’s no actual threat. This can include barking and growling at the mailman or not letting friends and family get near you. 

In many situations, what you want is protective behavior, not protective aggression. A protective dog will watch the potential threat calmly and place themselves between you and the potential threat. They may bark but stop when you reassure them things are ok. 

They don’t growl or raise their hackles unless they are provoked or there’s a clear sign of danger. 

A protective aggressive dog essentially overreacts. They act aggressively when they should adopt a protective stance. 

Do dogs know when you wake up?

Yes, they do. Just as your dog knows when you are sleeping, they can also tell when you wake up. 


If your dog sees you beginning to move around or sees your eyes open, they know you are waking. A dog’s keen senses and observation allow them to notice these subtle signs. Your dog may also notice that your breathing has changed by watching your chest. You take shorter, shallower breaths when awake. 


If your dog is beside you, they will feel the signs of you waking up. You’ll begin moving, and your muscles will be more tense than they were previously. They will also feel the changes in your breathing and heart rate as you move towards consciousness. 


Just like when you are sleeping, your body goes through chemical changes when you wake up. Cortisol increases. Neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine also greatly increase when you begin to wake. Potassium ions also fluctuate greatly between sleeping and waking. Studies in mice suggest that they play a critical role in the sleep-wake cycle. 

It’s thought that your dog  can smell these changes in your brain, which tells them that you are waking up. 

Why does my dog check up on me when I sleep?

It can be adorable or downright annoying when your dog checks on you while you are sleeping. You may wake up because you feel your dog’s presence, which interrupts your sleep cycle. Of course, if they are checking on you to be sure you are ok, it’s adorable, even if it causes issues. 

They Need Something

Sometimes, dogs check on you because they need or want something. They may attempt to wake you up to ask for water, a potty break, or even playtime. 

Most well-mannered dogs won’t intentionally wake you unnecessarily. Instead, they check on you to see if you are awake. They may wait hoping you wake up, or come check again later. 


If you are a parent, you’ve checked on your sleeping child countless times for a simple reason. You love them. You may find yourself missing their presence, and watching them sleep just to be close to them. 

The same is true for your dog. Particularly if you and your dog are close, they may just want to be close to you. Dogs get lonely and miss their owners.

If your dog gets upset anytime they are away from you, they have separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety may cry, shake, howl, or become destructive when left alone. A sleeping owner can trigger separation anxiety because they are unable to interact with their dog when they are asleep. 


Your dog may check on you when you are sleeping to make sure you are ok. Their instinct tells them that you are vulnerable when you are sleeping, so they may check on you to make sure you are ok. 

Dogs wake up frequently during the night. Sometimes, they are semi-awake. You are probably familiar with this state as well. Have you ever woken up to your alarm, hit the snooze button, and fell instantly back to sleep? You were semi-awake. In this state, they will do a quick assessment to make sure everything is as it should be. 

When they wake fully, which will also occur a few times each night, they will walk through the house, essentially doing a security sweep.