Have you ever wondered if your dog dreams? And if they do, what do they dream about? Are they hunting rabbits in an open field, or just twitching in their sleep?
While we don’t yet have all the answers, scientists are taking steps to figure out dog dreams, bringing us one step closer to understanding our canine companions.
Many people believe dogs dream. Most dog owners have noticed that at various times during their sleep, their dogs quiver, twitch their legs, whimper or even growl at some sleep-created phantom, giving the impression that they must be dreaming about something.
Vet scientists have conducted studies on sleeping rats and the results suggest that they connect their dreams to actual experiences, much like humans. But what does that mean for the content of our dogs dreams? Researchers haven’t yet conducted a dog specific study, but what they do believe is that dogs dream about day-to-day activities, like that pesky cat that hangs around outside the window or the postman who visits once a day. Research also suggests that one of the principal things your pup dreams about is you!
Further research has found that a dog’s dreams can also depend a lot on their breeding – for example, a German shepherd might dream of protecting their family from an attacker, or a retriever might dream of going hunting. Breeds that love the water like and English Setter may also dream of swimming in a lake and make a paddling motion in their sleep.
A Dog’s Sleep Pattern
Human and dogs’ brains behave in similar ways during sleep. We both have sleep cycles consisting of light sleep, REM sleep (rapid eye movement) and non-REM or deep sleep. However, while we take the majority of our sleep at night, our faithful furry friends sleep in fits and starts throughout a 24 hour period, hence the impression that they are big sleepers.
If you’re one of the rare people who have never seen the fascinating dream dance of a dog in their sleep, this is what you’ve missed. As they fall asleep, their breathing becomes more regular. An average sized dog will start to dream after about 20 minutes. Then it begins; their breathing becomes shallow and irregular. There may be odd muscle twitches and kicks, and their eyes move around during REM sleep. In this phase, your dog is actually looking at dream images as if they were real. In humans, we can recall our dreams if we awaken during REM sleep. Our other dreams are not remembered.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Waking our pups when they are clearly deep in a REM cycle will not harm them, however, it may startle and confuse them. If your dog is prone to surprise fuelled aggression or anxiety, it may be in their and your best interest to let them sleep. However, if your dog seems distressed orin their sleep, try gently stroking their fur or placing your hand near their nose to comfort them with your smell.
The Importance of Sleep
Dogs can sleep up to 16 hours a day, and the deep sleep phase is crucial for dogs. Just like people, deep sleep is vital for a dog’s healing and strengthening of the immune system. Studies show that inadequate sleep can result in a moody pooch, and as a dog ages, they need more sleep.
But when it comes to dreaming, researchers believe it is just as important to dogs as it is for us. Their dreams help the brain learn new things about the world as well as creating and storing memories. If your dog struggles to stay asleep, learn how to Help Your Restless Dog Get a Good Night’s Sleep.