Research tells us that dogs sleep similarly to the way we do, with the same types of cycles including REM sleep. We know this because of research that compares a sleeping dog’s brainwaves to a sleeping human's brainwaves. (For more about dogs' sleep cycles, read our post on how much dogs sleep). For this reason, we can reasonably assume that yes, dogs have dreams.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
It’s a bit tougher to determine what dogs dream about. We can’t exactly ask them. Human dreams frequently reflect what we’ve experienced during our waking hours, so we can assume that with sleep patterns similar to ours, dogs also dream about their actual experiences.
Have you ever seen or heard your dog while he’s sleeping? The whimpers could be muted versions of barking at the delivery man that came by. The twitching of his paws could be a dream of romping through the dog park. Though the body’s natural paralysis during sleep keeps your dog from actually barking or running, we see small signs that clue us in to the topic of his dreams.
There’s research to back up this theory. According to an article in Psychology Today, tests were done on rats to determine what happened when they slept. They ran mazes during the day, during which monitors tracked their brain’s activity during each part of the maze. As they slept, they were monitored still, and their brains replicated the exact activity it showed as the rats ran through mazes while awake. This is strong evidence that the rats were reenacting their conscious lives as they dreamed. Dogs have higher-level brain activity than rats do, so it’s highly likely that if rats are capable of reenacting their conscious life during dreams, dogs are too.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
Nobody knows for sure if dogs have nightmares. But it makes sense that if they experience something distressing, their fear may carry over into their dreams. If you think your dog is having a nightmare, resist the urge to wake them. Dreams occur during deep sleep, which is the sleep cycle that gives the most rest. Waking your dog will confuse him and interrupt the sleep he needs. If stressful dreams appear to be an ongoing problem, try something like Rescue Remedy to relieve your dog’s fear.
If you’ve ever thought that your dog is having a vivid dream, you’re probably right. Dogs do dream, and most likely about the experiences they have during the day. Next time your dog shows signs of dreaming, think back to what he's experienced that day to guess what he may be dreaming about.
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Photo credit: Greg Dalrymple & Jennie Woo