What Dogs Dream About: Their Sleepy Minds Explored
We’ve all been there: you’re admiring your fur ball sleeping peacefully on the couch when out of nowhere, their legs start scuffling like they’re part of a high-tail chase or you hear a whimper as if your pup wants a treat. This is because just like you, your fur friend dreams! If you’ve ever wondered what your dog dreams about, there’s science to explain it.
Understanding Dog Dreams
Most animals, including dogs, demonstrate similar brain wave patterns and sleep cycles to humans—an indicator that our fur friends do in fact dream, according to the American Kennel Club. They experience moments of wakefulness, non-rapid eye movement sleep, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is typically when the most life-like, memorable dreams occur…and probably those thrilling chase scenes!
To understand what exactly animals dream about, two scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) explored rats’ dreams. The researchers measured the electrical patterns of rats’ brains while the animals ran on a maze during the day. Next, they compared those daytime electrical patterns to the patterns while the rats slept. The findings? The wave patterns were exactly the same. This concluded that the rats dreamt about their waking experiences (in this case, running through mazes!) and had the ability to recall experiences from their day, which influenced their sleep.
Because dogs’ brains are even more complex than rats’ and display the same electrical sequences, this study suggested that dogs may also dream about what they did while awake—and inspired scientists to learn more about dogs’ dreams.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Studying Dogs as They Snooze
We already know dogs can see color, but what’s going on in our fur friends’ dreams? According to Live Science, researchers studied the pons in dogs, which is the part of the brain stem that prevents muscle movement while sleeping and dreaming. The pons serves the same function for humans; it’s what inhibits us from literally running from that monster chasing us in our dream.
In the study, scientists were able to let fur friends “act out” their dreams for a look into what was going on in their sleeping minds.
The Results: Dogs Dream About “Doggy Things”
Although the electrical recordings displayed that the dogs were fast asleep, the fur friends moved around when they entered REM sleep, indicating that they were dreaming as predicted.
Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus of Psychology at the University of British Columbia summarized the study best: "What we've basically found is that dogs dream doggy things. So, pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars. The dream pattern in dogs seems to be very similar to the dream pattern in humans."
From the behavior the fur friends engaged in while asleep, experts determined that dogs dreamt about experiences they participated in during the day, including breed-specific activities they are likely to participate in.
Furthermore, because dogs are usually close to their pet parents and spend much of their time with them, this means that you probably make appearances in your dog’s dreams just as people in your life show up in your dreams. It’s likely that dogs are dreaming of your face, smell, and pleasing or annoying you, according to a Psychologist from Harvard Medical School.
How Often Dogs Dream
A dog’s age and size affects the frequency and length of their dreams, according to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA). For instance, puppies have more frequent dreams than adult dogs because they are introduced to so many new experiences that they process while asleep. Small dogs also seem to have more frequent dreams that are shorter in length while large dogs have fewer dreams that last longer.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
Because dogs have similar dream patterns to humans and may experience not-so-positive moments throughout the day, researchers believe our four-legged friends have nightmares, too. For example, dogs may dream about something they fear such as going to the groomer or an unpleasant encounter with another dog. Rescue dogs may especially be prone to nightmares about events that happened when they were alone.
If you realize that your dog is having a nightmare, simply let them. You don’t want to startle your dog during their rest—and all dogs need uninterrupted sleep for a healthy mind and body, according to the VCA.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Having Nightmares
Though you can’t stop your dog from having nightmares, ensuring your fur pal has the best sleep possible may help prevent bad dreams. Aside from creating happy memories throughout the day, providing your dog a quiet, comfortable area to snooze can help them sleep peacefully.
If your dog frequently has nightmares, there are multiple other ways to further try to inhibit bad dreams—and they’re pointers you may already try for your own night’s rest. Wag! suggests diffusing calming essential oils such as lavender to create a more relaxed sleeping spot. Additionally, if you witness your pup having a nightmare, call their name gently; this may wake them up, but will make them feel safe and ensure them that you are near. Playing soothing music or leaving the television on for comforting background noise are other options.
You and Your Furry Dreamer
The next time you see your fur friend’s legs moving while they sleep, they may be dreaming about chasing that Power Play toy just as they did earlier that day. If your pup whimpers, they might be imagining the chew treat they enjoyed a few hours prior. No matter what goes on in your dog’s dreams, we are sure plenty of them include spending time with you!