Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

Dear WOOF:

What about dogs who growl, charge and snap at you when you disturb them while they are sleeping? Should owners just leave the dog alone and never allow a child to go near a dog that is sleeping? Or, can
one expect that, with a great deal of time and effort, they can desensitize the dog to accept being touched accidentally while they are sleeping?

Thanks!

Hello:

Imagine that you are sleeping and suddenly someone is manhandling you; poking, prodding or attempting to pick you up! I myself have closely resembled that possessed girl in the Exorcist, even when the
prompting to awaken was far more gentle! I'd really be a monster if someone accidentally fell on, kicked or stepped on me while I was sleeping.

Many dogs (like most people) do not like to be jolted like this while sleeping. Often times, they grow up learning that growling or even snapping at someone when disturbed like this makes the offender "go
away".

Unless a dog has been taught from puppyhood that sudden disturbances during sleep are non-threatening (a very good idea!), she is likely to see this type of thing as frightening and probably a bit frustrating too. When in doubt, it is always safest to just leave the dog be. Do not touch - instead, waken her verbally with an up beat "Doggie let's go!!" before attempting to move or otherwise interact with her. Once she "comes to" she should be alright and look forward to being touched.

When children are involved, it is especially important that you teach them not to bother the dog while she's sleeping. Teach them to arouse her verbally and wait until she is fully awake before attempting to touch her.

Accidents can and do happen, but in the case of a sleeping dog - any youngsters should be kept away, or the dog should be put away safely to nap in another room or her crate to prevent any mishaps.

As always, if your dog is growling, snapping or snarling, please seek the help of a qualified professional in your area for help. These behaviors can indicate deep and complicated issues and if left untreated will only get worse.

Thanks for writing!
Lisa (Laney) Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT