What Do Dogs Dream About?
Have you ever watched your dog twitching in their sleep and wondered what they were dreaming about? Or what dogs have nightmares about?
We’ll look at both those questions, but let’s start with a more basic question: do dogs dream in the first place?
Do dogs dream?
Yes. At least, that’s the consensus among scientists.
Dreams are subjective experiences, and sadly your dog will never be able to tell you about their dreaming life. But based on evidence from EEGs that look at canine brain waves during sleep, researchers have good reason to believe that dogs do dream. Dogs go through phases of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when humans have their most memorable dreams. This is likely when dogs dream, too.
Simple observation backs this idea up. If you’ve ever watched a dog sleep, you’ve probably noticed their breathing change, their eyes move, and their legs twitch or even “run.” This behavior largely occurs during REM, and it’s not a big leap to conjecture that these movements are associated with the dog’s dreams.
What do dogs dream about?
Researchers theorize that dogs dream of recent experiences, familiar places, people they know, and so on. If this is correct, then dogs are likely dreaming of taking walks, smelling fire hydrants, raiding the trash, and so on. And since they spend a lot of time with their owner, you probably feature in their dreams, too.
Again, observation backs up this idea. The “running” you see your dog doing during REM sleep could be connected to a dream of chasing rabbits. In a landmark 1965 experiment on cats by Michel Jouvet, it was found that disabling the pons (the part of the brain that inhibits cats and dogs from physically acting out their dreams) led to odd behavior during sleep. The cats hissed, jumped, pounced, arched their backs, and so on – behaviors they engaged in on a daily basis. Acting out these same behaviors during REM sleep is good evidence that cats dream about things from daily life. The same is probably true for dogs, too.
Do dogs have nightmares?
If dogs do dream, then they probably also have nightmares on occasion. Nightmares are unpleasant but aren’t different in any meaningful way from regular dreams.
Sleeping dogs sometimes whine and whimper during REM sleep, and this behavior could be a sign of dog nightmares. But more extreme behavior while asleep, like howling as if in pain, actually running around, attacking objects and people, and so on, is probably not a regular dog nightmare. It could actually be a sign of REM sleep disorder, which should be treated by a veterinarian.
What do dogs have nightmares about?
Dog nightmares probably consist of situations and people that the dog finds scary, stressful, or unpleasant. This could be a loud thunderstorm, fireworks, an intruder in the house, getting shots at the vet’s office, and so on.
You may never know for sure what your sweet dog is dreaming of, but now you can make some educated guesses. When you see those paws moving while your dog’s asleep, just imagine that they’re taking a nice long walk with their favorite person in the world – you.
Beckley was a racing greyhound until he retired at 2 1/2 years old and was adopted off the track. He's super fast when he wants to be, but he actually prefers to take it easy, napping on the most comfortable bed he can find!