Do dogs dream?

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A rare moment of peace and quiet, your dog has finally drifted off to sleep. But suddenly, they’re twitching, tossing and turning, along with letting out a few tiny whimpers. Does this mean your pooch is dreaming?

It’s a true fact that dogs do dream, and it’s believed by several researchers that dogs, along with other animals, dream in a very similar way to us humans.

How do we know that dogs dream?

Even though there are several differences between people and their pups (the fact that our dogs can’t speak and that they walk on four legs being the main ones that spring to mind), we actually do have a lot in common with them.

Humans dream all the time, whether you’re able to remember them or not. Initially, it was undetermined if our pooches, and other animals for that matter, experienced the same phenomenon. To figure this question out, scientists began monitoring rats using an electroencephalogram, which is a test used to record brain activity.

The research involved examining the brain waves of rats during their waking hours, while they were running around tracks and mazes for food. When they began to drop to sleep, the researchers were able to see how their brain activity differed when they were sleeping to when they were awake.

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The results revealed that the exact same areas of the rat’s brain were active while they were sleeping as to when they were running around the mazes. Overall, this confirmed that the rats were dreaming, and they were in fact dreaming about the activities they got up to in the day!

Have you ever found yourself dreaming about very mundane things, such as a trip to the supermarket or even completing a full shift at work?

Well, this proved that rats are the exact same. They dream about their experiences in their day-to-day lives.

Rats are proven to have a much lower level of intellect than our clever canines, which implies that dogs will dream just like the rats do, and it’s likely that most mammals are the same.

What are the signs that my dog is dreaming?

If your pup does any of the below while fast asleep, they may well be dreaming:

  • Whimpering

  • Twitching

  • Rolling

  • Tail moving

  • Paws moving, possibly in a running/paddling motion

  • Teeth chattering

How does sleeping and dreaming work?

Dreaming for dogs works almost the same as it does for humans. However, as much as we wish they could, our dogs can’t wake up in the morning and tell us about the crazy dream they had last night.

So, to try and interpret what our dogs are actually dreaming about, we must understand how dreaming and sleeping work in the first place.

Sleep is a necessary part of life for every person and animal, it’s a time to recharge and repair the toll our bodies have experienced throughout the day and take the time to rest.

Apparently, dogs spend about half of their day sleeping, which we’re sure owners of all those crazy, always-on-the-go dogs would argue against. If you own a lazy, loafing dog like a Bulldog though, you’ll probably say they could sleep even longer than half a day!

Puppies, seniors and larger dog breeds require more sleep . Puppies and senior dogs tire a lot quicker and larger dogs simply have more body mass to move around so need to sleep more to regain all that energy they use up simply from walking around.

Both humans and dogs experience the same two main sleeping stages, referred to as non-REM sleep and REM sleep.

REM, standing for rapid eye movement, is a very important sleeping stage, where your pooch starts to process everything they’ve experienced that day, whether that be their walk in the park, a new trick, or even just processing that really tasty dinner they had today.

Your pup will be hard to wake up during this stage, they’ll be sleeping very deeply. However, this is the stage where they’ll be having vivid dreams and making sure their bodies are restored for their next round of mischief. REM is characterised, as the name would suggest, by the sleeper’s eyes moving rapidly. It’s also paired with the sleeper flailing their limbs and making those endearing little whimpers.

A puppy will spend more time in the dreaming stage than an adult dog, most likely because they’re experiencing lots of things for the very first time, so they need more time to process all the new information.

The size of your dog can actually have an impact too. For some reason unknown, smaller dogs seem to dream much more frequently in quick bursts, whereas larger breeds don’t dream much but their dreams will be longer. So, a tiny Chihuahua might dream every 15 minutes, whereas a larger Labrador might only dream every hour.

What’s the difference between human sleep and dog sleep?

As stated, dogs sleep a lot more than humans, around half of their day. Young puppies can even sleep for up to 20 hours in one day. Sounds like a great life!

Both dogs and humans experience the cycle of non-REM and REM sleep, however, these cycles occur differently. Humans complete about 4 or 5 full cycles in a night, which all last around 90 minutes each. A dog on the other hand can experience around 20 cycles!

This means that even though dogs have more opportunities for a quick kip, the amount of time they spend in the REM stage each time is significantly shorter than ours. We spend around 25% of our sleeping time in REM sleep, whereas for pooches it’s around 10%.

Twitching, tossing and turning

As we know, dreaming is quite a complex and peculiar phenomenon, with many components and factors that go into it. We know that both humans and dogs twitch and kick their limbs in their sleep - the section of the brain that regulates these movements is called the pons.

Signals are sent by the pons to encourage our muscles to relax, preventing us from doing a complete re-enactment of our dreams in real life.

Sometimes our dreams can get a bit crazy, you might have just dreamt that you were jumping from a tall building or hiking up a massive mountain, but realistically you’re laid almost completely still in your nice, comfy bed. It’s a good job we have the pons to restrict our movements, otherwise we’d probably cause some danger to ourselves and others.

You’ll likely notice if you have a young pup or a senior pooch that they seem to twitch, shake and be more active in their sleep. This is because pups have underdeveloped pons and older dogs have weakened pons.

What do dogs dream about?

Dogs have a pretty easy life: eat, sleep, play, repeat. But is this what they dream about?

Researchers decided that the only real way to figure out what’s happening when our dogs are dozing is to disable the pons. Without the pons in play, our pooches would actually act out their dreams allowing us to interpret what their actions relate to in regard to their everyday lives.

As we know, rats dreamt about their day. This test essentially confirmed that our dogs are exactly the same, dreaming about things that they encounter day to day. However, a dog does lead a more interesting life than a rat.

Everyone would love to get inside their dog’s head and know what they’re thinking about, or dreaming about. Although this is pretty impossible, try observing your pup while they’re snoozing to see what they do.

Your pooch will doze off and probably enter the REM stage of sleeping around 20 minutes into their nap, however, it’ll only last a couple of minutes so keep an eye out! Here is where you might notice your pup starting to dream, making little noises and moving their limbs.

You might have taken your pooch for a big run that day and they’re moving their legs in a similar running motion. They could be dreaming that they’re racing down the field, chasing a ball or even playing with another pooch. Most dogs love a wild run around, so it’s no doubt that they’ll be having sweet dreams about it as well.

Certain dog breeds have traits that are characteristic of the breed. If you own a Pointer, you might notice them going into the pointing position in their sleep, ready to seek out game.

Or, you might have a Doberman or a German Shepherd, who were once bred to be guard dogs. Listen out for these dogs barking in their dreams, they might be warding off an imaginary intruder.

Do dogs have nightmares?

If our pups dream in a similar way to us, it can be assumed that they’ll have nightmares too. If you notice that they’re mimicking the behaviours they show when they’re stressed, anxious or fearful while they’re sleeping, your poor pooch might be having a bad dream. Look out for whimpering, crying and even growling.

Should we wake our dogs up from a bad dream?

Bad dreams are horrible, they can even put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Obviously, we don’t want our pooches to experience this, so it might be tempting to wake them up to give them a reassuring, comforting snuggle. However, it’s not advisable to do this, and instead just let the nightmare play out.

Nobody likes being woken up prematurely, whether that be by your alarm clock or someone else. Being woken up abruptly can sometimes make you feel disorientated and unaware of your surroundings, needing a quick second to remember what’s going on.

Dogs are the same, and they could react aggressively, thinking they’re still in the nightmare. This can be dangerous, even more so if it’s a child waking them up.

Do my dog’s sleeping positions affect their dreams?

Dogs snooze in many weird and wonderful sleeping positions, we have absolutely no doubt that you’ve said, ‘surely that can’t be comfy!’ on many an occasion!

Your pooch’s napping pose probably doesn’t have much impact on the type of dreams they end up having. However, some of your dog's sleeping positions will give you a better view of those strange movements they make when they’re dreaming.

Many dogs curl up into a tight, little ball when they go to sleep. This conserves any warmth and is a natural survival instinct to protect their vital organs. Your dog could still be dreaming when they sleep like this, but they’re wrapped that tightly into a little doughnut shape you won’t be able to spot much movement.

Dogs that sleep on their side are the most likely to act out their dreams, look out for their legs moving in a running motion.

This is similar to what is labelled by many pooch parents as the ‘superman’ position. This is where your dog sleeps on their stomach with all four legs sprawled out beneath them. If you have an overly energetic dog, you might notice them sleeping like this a lot. This position allows your pup to spring up to their feet at any moment and resume the action. You’ll notice dreaming happening quite a lot in this pose.

Overall, a nice, long kip is essential for your pooch, whether they’re a young puppy, an adult or a senior dog. If they’re a pup, it’s no doubt that you’ll want them to have a snooze so you can have a moment of peace!

Next time your furry friend is taking a catnap, or a dognap should we say, pay attention and see if you can figure out what they’re dreaming about.