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Canine Behavior/English Bulldog having nightmares?

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Question
I have a 1 1/2 year old male English Bulldog and an 8 year mixed breed dog. In the evening the dogs and I sit in the living room and watch TV. The bulldog will be sleeping peacefully on his bed and will suddenly will jump up growling and try to attack me. I don't know if he is having nightmares or what. It's getting to be a real problem because you never know when he's going to go into attack mode! It has my other dog totally freaked out and sometimes he will try to protect me from the bulldog and they get into a fight. Do you have any idea why this happens or what I can do about it? I'd appreciate any help you can give.

Answer
Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts,
It's highly possible for him to have bad dreams and wake up startled, disoriented and defensive. Some dogs will react this way and then seconds later resume life as always as if nothing ever happened. However, in some cases it may just be he has a hard time recognizing where he is and what he's doing. In other words, he may have a hard time going from the sleep stage to the awaken stage. At times, this aggressive display can happen in dogs whose philosophy is "attack first and then think later."  How to deal with this?

For starters, try your best to stay composed. If he notices any changes in you, he'll be more likely to feel more confused and reactive. Try to ignore (as hard as it is) the behavior and if he's confused, talk softly to him in a calm tone of voice as you pronounce his name. This should hopefully help him gain back to his normal world.

This is a bit of a challenge to deal with as it's most likely a startle response, in other words, it's more like reflex that's not really under his control. It's a good idea to bring this issue to your vet's attention and possibly seek the opinion of a board certified neurologist just to rule out possible medical/neurological causes. In some cases, some behaviors as such can be triggered by a psychomotor seizure disorder or something known as "waking SOA" which is seen mostly in certain breeds. SOA in this case stands for "sudden onset aggression"

In the meanwhile, it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep him in a play pen when it's time for him to sleep. This way you can manage his environment and you and your dog are protected from his random attacks and your dogs will no longer get into a fight. I hope this helps! Good luck! Best wishes and kind regards,
Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA

Disclaimer: my answers are not to be used as a substitute for veterinary or behavioral advice. If your dog is sick or has behavioral problems, please seek a professional and make safety your top priority. By reading this answer you accept this disclaimer.  

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.

Experience

I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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Suite 101 Examiner.com Daily Puppy

Education/Credentials
Certified dog trainer (APICC, CPDT-KA)

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Over 800 fans on my blog offering tips for training dogs and treating behavioral problems

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