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Do Dogs Dream?

Even though dogs can’t talk to us about their dreams, veterinary researchers have discovered a lot about what goes on in their minds when they are asleep.

Sassafras Lowrey  |  Jan 7th 2021


While we might have a fairly decent idea about what our dogs think of different things like treats and toys sometimes we have to make guesses about what our dogs are thinking and feeling, and what they dream about.

Do dogs dream? Veterinary researchers have discovered a lot about what goes on in the minds of our dogs when they are asleep!

“Dogs enter REM [Rapid Eye Movement] sleep just like humans – and dream during that period of sleep,” says Dr. Tory Waxman, a small-animal veterinarian and co-founder of human-grade dog food brand Sundays.  Unfortunately, because dogs can’t talk to us, it’s impossible for us to know exactly what they experience in their dream life.

“Indications from studies on brain activity in dogs during different stages of sleep would suggest that dogs may dream, but we are unable to know for sure whether the dreams are similar to what humans experience,” says Urshulaa Dholakia, DVM, MPH, DACLAM  in the Anesthesiology Department at NorthStar VETS Veterinary Emergency, Trauma, and Specialty Center.

do dogs dream?

What do you think this cockapoo dreams about?Photo: SolStock/Getty Images

What do dogs dream about? 

What do you think your dog would dream about?

The pons area of the brain is responsible for preventing movement while dreaming and is also helping veterinary researchers understand more about the dream life of our dogs. Studies have taken place that disabled the pons region of a dog’s brain which helped scientists to hypothesize about what our dogs might be dreaming about.

“Based on their observations, they theorized that a dog’s dreams depend a lot on their breed predispositions – for example, a retriever might dream of going on a hunt and a German Shepherd might dream of protecting their family,” says Dr. Waxman.

This would explain why my Newfoundland often makes the same paddling motion in her sleep that she makes while doing her favorite activity, swimming!

“Just like dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so do their dreams. Interestingly, It is believed that small breed dogs dream for shorter periods of time as compared to their large-breed cousins” notes Dr. Waxman.

do dogs dream

Does your dog cry in their sleep? Photo: Getty Images

Why do dogs cry in their sleep?

What about dogs that cry out in their sleep? Most of us have seen a dog start to whimper or cry.  In these instances many guardians are concerned and assume that their dogs are having a nightmare. Dr. Waxman explains that while dogs might experience nightmares, crying or whining while asleep sleep could actually have positive meanings as well.

“Imagine if your dog is dreaming of chasing a rabbit or the moment you come home! Both of these are super happy dreams that I can imagine a dog having that would cause them to vocalize” notes Dr. Waxman. That said if your dog does seem distressed while asleep, it is possible they are experiencing nightmares.

“If the frequency or character of a dog’s sleep changes abruptly, if the episodes of crying increase (unusually), and/or if the dog exhibits changes in its behavior while awake, it may be worth taking the dog to a veterinarian to investigate potential neurological disease,” says Dr. Dholakia.

Should you wake a sleeping dog?

The old saying “let sleeping dogs lie” has some useful meanings. In general, it is best whenever possible to avoid waking your dog while they are sleeping. In particular, if your dog startles easily, is deaf, or is older and losing hearing it’s important to be especially careful when waking your dog.

“If you need to wake your pup, you can try turning on the lights in the room, making some quiet noises, calming saying their name and if they still don’t wake” Dr. Waxman advises.

If this doesn’t wake your dog up, she advises that you could “gently stroke your dog on their back” but encourages you to avoid your dog’s face as again they could be likely to nip or bite if startled awake.

Sleep is important 

Deep dreaming sleep is extremely important for dogs. “Just like in people, dreaming is thought to be very important when it comes to creating memories and learning. Dogs can sleep up to 16 hours a day (or more!). Make sure to give your pup plenty of time to relax and sleep,” explains Dr. Waxman.

Although many of us find ourselves very busy and sleep-deprived, it’s important for your dog’s physical and mental health to let them get enough sleep.

Featured image: Photo: gollykim/Getty Images

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