The Science of Doggy Dreams: What Do Dogs Dream About? – Oakland Veterinary Referral Services

Any dog owner has probably noticed their pup twitching, whimpering, or otherwise moving while in a deep sleep. Are our dogs dreaming? What do dogs dream about? Oakland Veterinary Referral Services(OVRS) is here to dive into the science of doggy dreams and give you more insight into what happens while our dogs’ eyes are closed.

The Stages of Sleeping Dogs

Just like humans, dogs experience a few different sleep phases. Since many dogs spend about half the day asleep, this leaves lots of room for dreams. The different phases of canine sleep are:

  • Wakefulness: Dogs very lightly awaken during this stage of sleep, but not enough to be fully alert.
  • Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM): similar to the human sleep cycle, the canine REM cycle is when dogs experience the most graphic dreams.
  • Non Rapid Eye Movement Sleep: This is considered a light stage of sleep.

Researchers believe that the REM stage of sleep is when the brain performs important tasks like converting short term memories to long term ones. The next time you see your dog moving in his sleep, you can be sure he is experiencing his REM cycle. 

Do Dogs Dream?

Scientists tend to agree that dogs do dream. While it is hard to know exactly what they see, researchers have performed some studies to get a better idea. One of the most informative was one performed at MIT in 2001, during which scientists studied the brains of lab rats. They had them run through a maze while studying brain measurements. They repeated these measurements during the REM cycle and saw that the rats had a similar response as they had in the maze. This led them to believe that the rats were dreaming about the way they moved through the maze. Since dogs have much more intellectual capability than rats, they made the conclusion that dogs also dream.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

So, what do dogs dream about? Unfortunately, we can’t ask our dogs to relay their dreams to us, but we can make assumptions about their dreams. They most likely dream about what they see in real life. This can include a favorite walking route, a bird or squirrel they wanted to chase, or even a favorite human. Scientists believe that certain breeds might dream about specific things. Hunting dogs might dream about a hunt, for example. It also seems that smaller dogs tend to dream more frequently than bigger dogs. 

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

While most doggy dreams are probably positive, they can also experience nightmares. And, unlike humans who are paralyzed from moving during dreams, dogs can still twitch and jump. You should never wake a dreaming dog. Such a quick transition from a dream to the real world could startle the dog and lead to an unexpected (and somewhat aggressive) reaction. 
At OVRS, we are always fascinated to learn and share new and interesting facts about pets. We believe that well-rounded care gives the animals we love the best chance at a happy and healthy life. To learn more about our specialty and emergency veterinary services, please call (248) 334‑6877.

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