Do Dogs Dream?
Many dog owner’s have noticed their beloved pet twitching and softly vocalizing in their sleep. Does this mean that dog’s dream? The answer is yes, dogs do have dreams, sometimes, apparently, they have very active dreams.
In order to understand dreaming, lets first develop a better understanding of sleep cycles in dogs. Dogs experience two stages of sleep. One is known as slow wave sleep (SWS) and the other is known as rapid eye movement (REM). During SWS the brain waves become slower and your dog will appear to be resting calmly. You can easily wake your dog up during SWS. The REM stage of sleep results in fast brain waves that are very similar to the brain wave pattern of an awake dog. REM is the stage of sleep in which dogs dream.
REM involves heightened brain activity which results in occasional leg movement and vocalization. On average it will take your dog roughly 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep to achieve REM sleep. At that point you will notice your dog beginning to have irregular breathing and intermittent muscle twitches.
Stanely Coren, a psychologist that studies dog sleep cycles, has found that puppies and senior dogs tend to dream more frequently than middle-aged dogs. She also discovered that the length and frequency that a dog dreams vary with the size of the dog. Large breeds of dogs tend to dream every 45-60 minutes and their dreams tend to last for 5-10 minutes at a time. Small breeds can dream as frequently as every ten minutes but their dreams only last for a few minutes.
Perhaps the more interesting question about dreaming dogs is what do dogs dream about? A study by Matthew Wilson and Kenway Louie of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed evidence that the brain waves of sleeping rats were functioning in a way that is very suggestive of dreaming. During the study, a rat had electrical brain wave recordings made while learning a maze. At night while the rat was asleep, researchers found that the same electrical patterns were very specific and in fact so precise the researchers could identify where in the maze the rat would be if he were awake and not dreaming. Thus Wilson explained that “the animal is certainly recalling memories of those events as they occurred during the awake state, and is doing so during dream sleep”. The study goes on to show that when comparing the brain waves of sleeping humans and dogs, the wave patterns were very similar. Since the brain waves between dreaming humans and dogs are so similar researchers are confident that what dogs dream about is similar. Surprising, huh?!
Researchers believe that dogs probably dream about the things that they like to do when they are awake. Border Collie’s may dream about chasing a tennis ball and a Labrador may dream about swimming in the pool. It is very difficult to determine if dogs have good or bad dreams. Since the brain waves are so similar to human brain wave patterns it is assumed that dogs do have good and bad dreams but there is no way to verify this.
Even if it seems like your dog is having a bad dream it is better “to let sleeping dogs lie”. Dogs need REM sleep to stay healthy and it is difficult to determine from vocalization and movement if a dream is a good or bad dream. It can also be dangerous to wake a deeply sleeping dog. It is alarming for the dog and before they are fully awake the dog could bite – especially if they were dreaming about protecting their house. Thus if you notice your dog whining and running in his sleep, let him keep sleeping and be confident that dreaming is a good and healthy process for your dog.