We have all seen our dog whimpering, crying and running in their sleep and we have asked ourselves, do dogs dream?
There is lots of research that tell us that all types of animals dream – cats, dogs, rats and so on.
There also have been other dream studies performed on other mammals to understand if it is all mammals or just dogs that dream.
‘We have reason to suspect that most mammals dream. Cats dream, horses dream, but the nature of their dreams and cycles depend on the species.” says Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the author of ‘Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know’
So researchers have confirmed that it is actually a fact that dogs do dream.
Dogs spend a large amount of time resting and sleeping, and much like humans, they move through the different stages of sleep, wakefulness, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep.
During these periods of REM and Non-REM sleep dogs are likely to dream, just like we do. Their dreams, however, will be different during the two different stages of sleep. Dreams that we have during the period of REM sleep are often more memorable and vivid, and it is thought that dogs experience this too.
How Much Time Do Dogs Spend Sleeping?
It may feel to you that your dog is always sleeping, in fact, we covered this recently in another article where we talked about how much dogs should be sleeping.
In 1977, a study was carried out where they recorded the electrical activity of the brains of six pointer dogs for 24 hours. They found that “the dogs spent 44 percent of their time alert, 21 percent drowsy and 12 percent in REM sleep. They also spent 23 percent of their time in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, called slow-wave sleep”.
So from this, we can see that at least 21 % of a dogs day when you probably think they are sleeping, they are actually just drowsy. So maybe they are just resting their eyes rather than actually sleeping.
Why Do Dogs Twitch When They Dream?
You may have noticed that when your dog starts to take a nap, about 20 minutes in they will enter the REM state of sleep. This is the stage at which they will start twitching when they dream, almost like they are acting out their dream. So it may appear that they are running, chasing or playing in their sleep.
There is nothing to worry about if your dog does this, it’s normal. REM is something that we experience in our dreams, although it’s unlikely we will act out running during our sleep!
It is thought that smaller dogs have more frequent, and shorter, dreams than larger dogs. Whereas puppies will have a lot more dreams as they are experiencing new things all the time, and they spend a lot more time sleeping.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Much like we replay what’s happened during the day or what’s going on in our lives, it is thought that dogs do the same.
In other words, they dream about dog things! They dream about that new bone they got and buried in the garden, they dream about having fun in the park earlier that day and they dream about the dinner they just ate. All things that made them happy during the day.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
It is likely that if dogs dream in a similar way to us that they will also experience nightmares as well. It’s unlikely that their nightmares are based on anything other than what they have experienced already in their life.
Whereas we dream about things based on everyday life, like movies we have watched, stories we read in the paper and things that people tell us, dogs do not have those everyday experiences.
So it’s more like that they will relive things that happened to them, for example if they got shouted at, told off, left outside and so on. If a dog has experienced a hard start in life it could be that they suffer more nightmares. However, as with humans, we all react differently to our experiences so this shouldn’t be assumed.
Should You Wake Your Dog Up When They Are Dreaming?
The short answer to this is no. Your dog should be allowed to have uninterrupted sleep and so it is better to leave them rather than wake them abruptly and startle them.
A startled dog may become defensive, thinking that there is something happening that he needs to protect himself from. So if you are going to wake your dog then do it with a loving and gentle tone of voice. Then once they are awake it’s time for some cuddles and love.