Have you ever looked at your dog and wondered what they were thinking?
Have you ever watched your dog twitch, run, or bark in their dreams and questioned what they could be dreaming about? Most dog owners have.
Maybe they are chasing after a rabbit or a mischievous cat, or maybe they are chasing after that new toy you just got them?
You probably thought you would never really know what your dogs were dreaming, but today is your lucky day.
Scientists have done multiple studies on dreaming in different animals, including dogs, and have some evidence explaining how dogs dream and what they dream about.
Let’s find out, shall we?
What Does Science Tell About Dog Dreams?
A recent study was done to figure out how dogs dream – and in 2010, Psychology Today talked about the process they used to find out whether dogs dream and the results:
“This kind of research takes advantage of the fact that there is a special structure in the brainstem (the pons) that keeps all of us from acting out our dreams. When scientists removed or inactivated the part of the brain that suppresses acting out of dreams in dogs, they observed that they began to move around, despite the fact that electrical recordings of their brains indicated that the dogs were still fast asleep. The dogs only started to move when the brain entered that stage of sleep associated with dreaming. During the course of a dream episode, these dogs actually began to execute the actions that they were performing in their dreams.”
Pretty cool, huh? And it’s not just this structure (the pons) in our brains that is similar, but also our sleep patterns and brain activity.
When Do Dogs Dream and What Are Their Sleeping Patterns?
It turns out dogs are quite similar to humans when it comes to our sleep patterns and brain wave activity.
Dogs enter a deep sleep stage, much like our own, in which their breathing becomes more irregular and they go into REM sleep (that’s sound familiar, right?).
When dogs are in REM sleep, that is when they dream and when the involuntary movements occur. Dogs might move their legs, like they’re running; they may whine or whimper, like they are in danger or excited; and they may even breathe rapidly or hold their breath for short periods of times.
This activity can occur in any kind of dog, but how long a dog dreams and how many dreams they have all depends on the size of your dog.
Small dogs dream more than larger dogs. While small dogs (like a chihuahua) may dream once every ten minutes, a larger dog (like a golden retriever) may only dream every 90 minutes.
The amount of dreams can also depend on the age of your dog.
Puppies dream more frequently than older dogs, but this also could be because of all the new experiences puppies acquire each day. They need that dreaming time to sort through it all.
An average dog will start to dream about 20 minutes into their sleep and that dreaming state probably lasts two to three minutes, since that is how long REM sleep usually lasts.
REM sleep makes up less than a quarter of their total night’s sleep (not to mention doggie naps) and occurs in multiple cycles of 20 to 90 minutes throughout the night (or the day if you have a sleepy dog).
The video below explains more on how dogs dream.
What If My Dog’s Eyes Are Twitching?
You may have also witnessed your dog’s eyes moving behind their eyelids but don’t be alarmed!
The eyes are moving because your dog is looking at their dream images as if they were real.
Eye movements are most characteristic of sleep that involves dreaming. Cool, right?
What Are the Subjects of Dog Dreams?
While studies have been done, scientists can’t exactly ask dogs what they are dreaming about (at least not yet!). But it has been determined that they likely dream in a similar way and of similar things that humans do.
This includes replaying everyday activities – i.e. running, eating, playing, going to the bathroom where they’re not supposed to, chewing up slippers, etc.
Dogs are also likely dreaming of you since you spend so much time together. As they dream of their everyday activities and you are apart of almost all of those activities, they are certainly going to dream of you at some point.
He/she may dream of your face, your smell, or even what they do that gets you to put them in the doghouse.
What About Nightmares in Dog Dreams?
And as humans get good dreams and bad dreams, so do dogs.
Many dog owners have witnessed their pup whimpering or crying out while asleep. Your first instinct may be to wake them up and comfort them, but try to hold yourself back.
It is advised to not wake up your dog during a dream (good or bad). They need uninterrupted sleep just like humans do so that they can live long healthy lives and have healthy mental activity.
You should also be careful when waking up your dog, especially from a nightmare. Just like with people, it can be disorienting.
Your dog may snap, bark, or try to bite you because they are unsure for the first few minutes of waking up where they are. It’s best to let the nightmare happen, as hard as that can be, and comfort them when they wake up.
Interesting stuff, huh? Now you can be almost positive that if your dog’s legs are moving while asleep on the floor, they are likely replaying that game of catch you played with them earlier in the day.
Or if they are barking in their sleep, they are probably remembering that squirrel that thwarted them by climbing up a tree.
Give them a rub on the head and let them sleep; they will find you when they are ready to wake up.