What Do Dogs Dream About?

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

It’s late at night. You’re curled up under a blanket on the sofa; in the corner, your dog is lightly snoozing. Then, all of a sudden, their tail wags, their legs bolt. Only for them to settle back down a moment later.

Do dogs dream, you wonder? Yes! They do. When you’re fast asleep dreaming about flying or taking an ice cream bath, scientists say your dogs also drift off to the Land of Nod. But how do we know for sure? And what exactly are they dreaming about?

To discover the truth, we delved into the wacky world of dog’s dreams. Here’s what we found!

How to tell if your dog is dreaming

When they start twitching, or their legs start jerking, it’s not hard to spot a dreaming dog. But what other indicators are a dead giveaway:

  • Paw twitching
  • Eye flickering
  • Whimpering
  • Breathing changes
  • Barking
  • Tail swishing
  • Body twitching

Spot any of the above, and you’ve likely got yourself a dreaming dog.

What is going on inside your dog’s head?

Not all stages of sleep involve movement, however. Like humans, dogs undergo several stages of sleep. These include wakefulness, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, and non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS)). According to Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of Do Dogs Dream?, dogs actually sleep more than people do. While we’re only asleep for around 7-8 hours per day, dogs clock in only 44% of their time alert. Even more interesting, dogs spend the majority of their sleep in non-REM sleep.

What’s the difference between REM and non-REM sleep? Well, in non-REM sleep, a dog’s body is recuperating. No dreaming is occurring. Only in REM sleep do brain scans show dogs slipping into a dream state. So, just because your pooch is asleep doesn’t mean they’re dreaming.

One of the things that makes sleep so vital is its effect on memory. In humans, failure to get adequate sleep significantly impairs memory formation. That’s what scientists believe is happening in REM sleep.For your dog, you’ll notice that they’ll slip in REM sleep around 20 minutes after falling asleep. Then, for 2-3 minutes they’re breathing becomes irregular, and they may even twitch. These are the telltale signs of REM sleep: your dog’s dreaming. 

Why do puppies and older dogs twitch more?

To test what’s going on when dogs dream, researchers temporarily disabled part of the brainstem called the pons. The pons controls the sleep cycle and is responsible for inhibiting your muscles during sleep. If the pons isn’t working, your dog will enact everything they’re dreaming. Suddenly, they’re not chasing after imaginary squirrels; they’re chasing after you!Well, that’s precisely the reason younger and older dogs twitch more. Their pons is underactive. In the former, it hasn’t developed enough; in the latter, it got old and inefficient. That gives a trick to finding out what dogs dream about. If we dull down the pons, we can see what’s happening inside their heads through the dog’s actions.

What do dogs dream about?

So, what is the answer? Are dogs secretly dreaming about taking over the world? Do they dream of doggy damsels or canine hunks? Well, as Coren explained, “What we’ve basically found is that dogs dream doggy things.” Shocking! What’s interesting, however, is how the breed of the dog affects their dream. Dobermans chase burglars; pointers point at imaginary birds. Whatever your dog spends its favorite hours doing is likely what it spends its sleeping hours doing too. That makes sense. A pug is unlikely to dream about chasing tennis balls when it struggles to do so in real life. Nor is that the only breed difference.

Dog size also determines dogs’ dreams. Smaller dogs dream in shorter bouts, while large dogs have fewer but longer dreams. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but here at Woof Crate, we hope your dog is dreaming about our monthly subscription box. That they’re dreaming of their new toys and treats. Is that really so hard to imagine?

Do dogs dream nightmares?

Not all dogs’ dreams are as serene as fetching a stick at the park. Sometimes dogs have nightmares, just like their owners. In one story, published in Psychology Today, a hypoallergenic dog who dreaded baths would run between his owner’s legs after he woke – just as he did when faced with a real bath. That’s not to say your dog is always having nightmares. Most dogs will only rarely have nightmares. After all, there’s not that much to be scared of in most dogs’ lives.

Still, if you think your dog is having a nightmare, it’s important not to wake them. If your dog was adopted, it might have been ill-treated by a previous owner. That means, if you wake it, it could be unintentionally aggressive. Nor is it healthy to disturb sleep. Plus, in people, dreams often help us deal with our emotional baggage. The same might be true for man’s best friend too. 

Does my dog have a sleep disorder?

Given that dogs’ dreams are similar to humans’, can dogs suffer the same sleep disorders? Surprisingly, they can. Reports indicate dogs can get narcolepsy – causing them to fall asleep unexpectedly – and sleep paralysis. The latter is especially bad, as the dog won’t be able to move in the first few moments after sleep. The condition is extremely rare, but dogs who suffer from it need plenty of love and attention first thing in the morning.

Final thoughts

Something is comforting about knowing that dogs dream. That when your head hits the pillow at night, your dog is also delving into their subconscious. Anyone who owns a dog might not be so surprised, though. We know our dogs are packed with personality. We know they’re always exploring or relaxing, even in their sleep. So, what do dogs dream about? Well, that’s easy… squirrels, pinecones, ponds and lakes, ducks and dinners, belly rubs, playing fetch in the park, cuddles on the sofa, and a nice juicy steak. Dogs dream of doggy things. And we… we just dream about dogs. 








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