What Do Dogs Dream About?

Have you ever watched your dog twitching, running, yelping, or wagging their tail in their sleep and wondered what the heck they are dreaming about? We have! We’ve even caught Lewie our Labrador, eating in his sleep! It turns out that dogs do indeed dream, just like humans.

Shedding Light on Dog Dreams: Recent studies have shed light on the fascinating world of dog dreams. In a study by MIT researchers used brain monitoring technology to watch rats' brains as they learned to run a maze. The researchers then monitored the rats' brains during sleep and found that the brain patterns matched, indicating the rats were dreaming about running the maze. While this study was done on rats, it suggests that other mammals, like dogs, likely dream about their daily activities and experiences.

In another study, researchers disabled a part of the brain (the pons) in dogs that kept them from acting out their dreams. The study observed that Pointers, a hunting breed, displayed hunting behaviors during their sleep, proving for the first time that dogs dream about their daily activities. This study suggests that each dog's dreams are influenced by their breed, individual experiences, and personality.

Fetching Some REM: Dogs spend about 10% of their sleep time in REM sleep, the stage where dreaming occurs During REM sleep, dogs' breathing becomes shallow and irregular, their eyes move rapidly, and they may twitch or make small movements. These signs are very similar to what happens when humans dream.

The Stuff (Dog) Dreams Are Made Of: What exactly is your dog dreaming about? Although we wish they could tell us, it's likely that they are dreaming about their everyday activities and experiences, such as:

  • Playing fetch or playing with toys
  • Interacting with their owners and families
  • Eating or drinking (this explains everything!)
  • Going for walks or exploring outside
  • Chasing squirrels, birds, or other animals

How Dogs Dream: Puppies, who are still processing a world of new experiences, may dream more frequently than adult dogs to help consolidate their memories. When our Lewie was a puppy and was dreaming, we would laugh because he looked like he was nursing from his mom - and in his dream, he probably was! 

Older dogs may start to experience changes in their dream patterns, possibly revisiting past experiences or memories, which is amazing if you think about it. Our eight-year-old Anatolian Shepherd’s dreams seem very different than our Labrador’s dreams. He is a livestock guard dog, so his dreaming involves mostly quiet barking and yelping. He’s most likely protecting his dream flock or Lewie.

Smaller breeds tend to have shorter but more frequent dreams, while larger breeds have longer but less frequent dreams.

Other factors that can influence a dog's dreams include their breed, size, health, and emotional state. Stress, anxiety or health issues may lead to more disturbing dreams. If you notice your dog seem extremely distressed while dreaming,  it's generally advised not to touch or disturb them as it could startle them. Gently calling their name is recommended if you need to wake them from an apparent nightmare.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These: To help ensure your dog has pleasant dreams, it's important to provide them with a comfortable, quiet, and safe sleeping environment. Like humans, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding disruptions before bedtime, and making sure your dog gets enough exercise and mental stimulation during the day can help with better quality sleep and dreams.

While we may never know exactly what our dogs are dreaming about, it's clear that they do experience dreams and that those dreams are an important part of their sleep and overall well-being. So next time you see your pup twitching, wagging…or eating in their sleep, take comfort in knowing they're resting and likely off on a wonderful whimsical dream adventure.

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