Can Dogs Dream?

English cocker spaniel sleeping in a dog bed

Scientists assume that dogs can also have dreams.

You have probably observed this phenomenon before: dogs bobbing their paws, twitching their tail and gently whining in their sleep. This begs the question: are dogs somehow able to have dreams?

Interesting sleep behaviour

If you’ve ever observed a dog sleeping, you will probably know that they can squeak, growl and even bark in their sleep.

Some even snap or bare their teeth. Their eyes move frantically back and forth beneath the closed eyelids and the paws and tail twitch visibly.

So it seems reasonable to assume that four-legged friends also experience a kind of nocturnal cinema in their mind. Do they romp across meadows and fields in their dreams? Do they chase after their favourite toy or do they see an irresistible treat in their mind’s eye? Or is it completely different and we are simply applying our human experiences to our dog’s behaviour?

What science says about dreaming dogs

Our intuition isn’t lying to us. Scientists have researched the sleeping behaviour of dogs and have come to the conclusion that dogs can have dreams too.

They have measured the brain waves of sleeping dogs and determined that just like us humans, sleeping dogs also go through several cycles of light sleep, deep sleep and REM.

When dogs dream: Rapid eye movements

REM stands for rapid eye movement, which is the phase in which the eyes of whoever is sleeping move very quickly.

We know from interviewing human study participants that the most intense, emotional and confusing dreams occur during the REM phase. And because the brains of all mammals are built similarly, we can assume that this is the case with dogs too.

Beagle puppy sleeping in a dog bed with toys © zhitkov /
What might this little Beagle be dreaming of when snoozing in its basket alongside its toy?

Why do dogs twitch when they dream?

Just like us humans, dogs twitch when sleeping because their muscles relax. Indeed, puppies in particular dream a lot. Like children, they process their experiences during sleep, which helps them to consolidate what they have learned.

But adult dogs too need their sleep (and their dreams) to recover from exciting walks, tussling with the neighbour’s dog or challenging agility training. Hence, you should stick to the notorious rule and “let sleeping dogs lie”.

Breed and size of the dog determines the type of dreams

The question remains of what our dogs dream of. Their nocturnal experiences are probably based on what they know from their day-to-day life. For instance, an English Pointer may dream of chasing a hare or pheasant and indicate this by showing its front paw.

A watchdog like the Doberman may scare away intruders from the farm, whilst a companion dog like the French Bulldog might dream of adventures with its owners.

You’ve read it correctly: It’s very much possible that your dog dreams of you! Researchers presume that the close bond between dog and owner leads to them appearing in their four-legged friend’s dreams.

Chihuahuas have different dreams to mastiffs

The size of the dog also seems to play a role in dreams. According to the emeritus psychology professor Stanley Coreen, small dogs like Chihuahuas dream more than larger dogs like the Great Dane. However, dreams last longer with large breeds.

Can a dog have nightmares?

Dogs can have nightmares too. You can gently stroke your dog if you get the feeling that it is dreaming of its last trip to the vet or another unpleasant event.

Why should we let sleeping dogs lie?

Speak to your dog in a low voice and watch to see if it calms down. As previously mentioned, it’s better if you don’t wake your dog, because even a negative experience may, and indeed must, be processed during sleep.

The perfect sleeping spot

You should offer your dog a calm sleeping spot to give it sweet dreams. Choose for its dog bed or blanket a place in your home where it can dream for several hours undisturbed every day.

If you want to watch your canine friend dream, creep up on your tiptoes and watch your dog’s fur slowly rise and fall in rhythm with its breathing.

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