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Dog’s attacking owners in their sleep is a common urban legend. And, many dog owners may worry about it if their dog starts showing signs of aggression. Whatever the reason, fearing that your dog might attack you in your sleep is something you need to address. So, let’s take a closer look at whether dogs attack their owners while asleep, and if so, why?

Will my dog attack me while I’m asleep?

Anything is possible, but stories about dogs attacking people in their sleep are mostly anecdotal. If it does happen, it is incredibly rare and unlikely. If it were to happen, it would most likely be caused by fear aggression, resource guarding, or startle reflex.

Let’s quickly define what a dog attack actually is, as it’s important to understand if a dog would attack you while you slept.

What qualifies as a dog attack?

When we think of acts of violence in humans, we think of cases where someone meant to cause serious bodily harm.

We don’t necessarily think of someone slapping another person’s hand away as a violent criminal, even if it seems rude or unnecessary.

In that same way, even though many dog behaviors might look like an attack, most are attempts to communicate.

Dogs nip puppies to correct their behavior, and they sometimes do the same to children without meaning any harm. Unfortunately, nipping a child is never acceptable, and if it happens, it’s important to bring in a professional.

Another common example of mistaken aggression is resource guarding. A dog could nip or snap when guarding their favorite person, toy, bed, or food.

This is certainly a behavior problem, but it is generally not true aggression.

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Young dogs may also play too rough and could bite a bit hard by accident. This is certainly not an attack either.

If you have an out-of-control puppy, you can read how to calm your puppy down.

There are so many dog behaviors that look like an attack from our perspective. But, for the most part, these all turn out not to be true aggression.

When a dog means to hurt a person or fellow dog, they sink their canines in, bite down hard, and bite into the flesh.

In addition, a dog shakes their head and body when they have a firm bite. This is instinctive and meant to maximize damage. This is a real attack, and it is very unlikely to happen if all is quiet and you are asleep.

dog watches owner sleeping

Most dog attacks are something else

This means that a dog that sleeps with you may growl when you approach if they learn to guard the bed or another person who shares your bed.

They may also growl and snap if you try to move them off the bed. This is unwanted behavior that you will need to address. Usually, this is done by some combination of preventing your dog from getting on the bed, and by addressing the resource guarding.

In some cases, a dog may be used to sleeping with you, but have some sort of pain injury. It is then possible that you may accidentally hurt your dog in your sleep and cause a reaction.

Therefore you should assess the situation and consider the context if you have worries that your dog might attack you while you are sleeping.

Common reasons dogs attack owners

The most common reason a dog may genuinely attack their owners is redirected aggression.

This happens when a dog is in a state of hyperarousal, such as when it is trying to or busy attacking another dog. An owner intervening in a dog fight can sometimes have their dog turn on them.

It is also more common amongst trainers and handlers of working dogs, such as police or military dogs. A dog may “lock on” to a target, and feel intense frustration if the handler blocks them from attacking. This frustration can lead to the dog redirecting the aggression and attacking the handler.

Because redirected aggression happens in a state of extreme stress, there is no logical reason it could happen while you are sleeping, with nothing to trigger you into a state of fight or flight.

Scared or anxious aggressive dogs may also attack their owners if they feel trapped and see no other option.

Again, this is unlikely to happen while you are sleeping.

Will my dog bite me while I sleep?

Now we know that your dog is unlikely to attack you while you are sleeping, but there is still a chance that they will bite you. Unfortunately, even though a full-on attack seldom happens, dogs can sometimes bite their owner in their sleep.

If your dog bites you in your sleep, you can be certain there is a reason for it. Therefore, should it happen, context is everything.

Some of the reasons that your dog might bite you while you sleep include:

Resource guarding

Dog’s have a bad habit of becoming possessive over resources like their food, favorite toy, or a beloved blanket. So it stands to reason that something in your bed could trigger the same response.

It could be that they value a specific spot, or perhaps they guard your partner and show dominance as the ‘alpha’ in your home.

If they have toys that they bring to bed, a dog that has a problem with resource guarding is all the more likely to dole out an unforeseen bite.

A correction

Dogs communicate differently than we humans do. We can see it in the way they interact with each other. From sniffing each other’s rear ends as an introduction to urinating to sending messages to other dogs, it’s a language a little alien to us.

It’s not surprising then that the way dogs correct their pups strikes us as an act of aggression. However, there is nothing hostile about a dog nipping at a pup when its behavior is out of line.

Unfortunately, if you are accustomed to sleeping with your dog and you fling an arm over them, it is possible that you can startle them into a snap. Even so, for the vast majority of pet parents who sleep with their dogs, the likelihood of anything like this happening is slim.

Medical reasons

Naturally, a dog might bite you due to a health issue. However, the most immediate concern is that your dog is in pain, which is why they bit you. Unfortunately, biting is a natural response to severe pain.

You might have accidentally caused the bite by kicking or pressing against an injured or painful area on your dog’s body. In addition, severe pain can make a dog very defensive, increasing the likelihood that they will nip you as a knee-jerk reaction.

Fear aggression

It is another rare but plausible reason your dog might bite you in your sleep. Some dogs could have fear aggression, especially if they suffered previous abuse or homelessness. These dogs are very sensitive to their personal space.

Therefore they can react pretty badly when they feel smothered or overwhelmed. Dogs with fear aggression will respond poorly to anything they are afraid of doing.

So, if you have adopted a dog that experienced trauma, take things slow and don’t have them sleep in bed with you until you understand their triggers.

Sleep startle reflex

The sleep startle reflex is when a dog reacts to getting woken up by surprise. Like the other reasons we’ve listed, it’s pretty rare. However, because the sleep startle reflex happens when a dog is startled in their sleep, it is a plausible reason they might bite you if they sleep in bed with you.

Why does my dog attack me when I’m sleeping?

If you are certain that it is an intentional attack, rather than any of the reasons discussed above, a dog attacking you in your sleep is a serious problem.

A genuine attack is, by definition, an intentional attack. Given the dog broke the skin and bit down into the flesh and started aggressively shaking their entire body, your dog can be considered dangerous.

If you think your dog is dangerous enough to attack you in your sleep unprovoked, you may need to contact animal control or emergency service.

Do not allow a dog that does this in a house with any children. If calling animal control is not an option for you, then emergency steps need to be taken:

  • Finding a behaviorist and trainer that specializes in dog aggression and extreme behaviors is paramount. Make sure to do background checks and ensure they have a track record of helping dogs with severe behavioral problems. This kind of behavior warrants a specialist, as the wrong trainer can exacerbate the issue.
  • Make sure your dog is crated or otherwise contained at night and does not have access to you or anybody else while you’re sleeping.

Final Word

There is a difference between a dog bite and a dog attack. Your dog might bite you in your sleep for a couple of reasons, none of which are truly hostile.

These incidents are rare, and you can address them by addressing the underlying reason. You need not put your dog down.

Even rarer are actual attacks. Most evidence of dogs attacking an owner in their sleep is anecdotal. However, if you have genuine concerns that this may happen, then you need to take active measures such as bringing in professional help and blocking your dog from your room when you are sleeping.