Labrador Retriever sleeping

If your dog is like most, he may bark or twitch while sleeping, leading you to ponder, “Do dogs dream?” Although there’s no way to definitively know for sure whether our canine companions dream in the same way that we do, science has determined with a fair amount of certainty that dogs probably dream. 

Understanding Dreaming in Dogs

To grasp the concept of your dog dreaming, it’s important to understand the process of a dog’s sleep. Just as humans require sleep, animals also require sleep to assist their bodies and body systems to repair and grow. Sleep in both dogs and humans is characterized as REM (rapid eye movement) or non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. During REM sleep, researchers say the eyes move randomly and rapidly, with brain activity mirroring the activity of wakefulness. It is during REM sleep that dreams occur for the most part. Researchers think puppies dream more than adult dogs because puppies have a heightened need to process the information they learn each day.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

Perhaps the most intriguing of all questions about dogs and dreaming is “What do dogs dream about?” Steak dinners? Playing catch? Chasing their tails? Unfortunately, until we are able to communicate with dogs, what dogs dream about is pretty much anyone’s guess. Researchers believe that anything the dog does during the day is likely being processed as the dog sleeps, and some of that may include reliving the activities in his dreams. You may notice things like twitching of the dog’s whiskers, “running” paws or even whimpering while he sleeps, all of which can be strong evidence that your dog is dreaming. 

What scientists do know is that smaller dogs seem to dream more often than their larger counterparts. In fact, some scientists posit that the size of the dog is directly related to his dream frequency and how long each dream lasts. For instance, a Shih Tzu may display dreaming signs every 10 minutes during sleep while a Labrador retriever may dream just once every 90 minutes or so. 

Do Dogs Have Nightmares?

It is altogether possible that dogs do have nightmares too, just like their human owners, whose dreams are not always the most pleasant experiences. Researchers say that if your dog is making excited noises and paddling his legs, he is likely having a nice dream, possibly about some sort of meal or other pleasant experience. However, if your dog is growling, crying or whining, he is likely having a nightmare — and these signs are indicative of him feeling anxious and threatened. The signs that your dog is having a nightmare are similar to the same ones that he may exhibit if he is annoyed, distressed or anxious during his waking hours.

Is Your Dog Dreaming or Is It a Seizure?

Sometimes, when a dog dreams, the behaviours he exhibits can be very similar to those that you’d expect if your dog were having a seizure. However, it is possible to tell the difference between seizure symptoms and dreaming to ease your fears and help you stress less about your canine buddy. 

Seizures in dogs are abnormal motor responses that originate in the dog’s brain. By contrast, a dog’s dreams are just normal electrical brain impulses that are quite benign. Perhaps, the dog is revisiting in his memory a walk from yesterday or thinking about that time that you played fetch in the yard or he chased a possum away from the trash bin. And while a dog’s behaviour during his dream state may include some of the same movements seen in seizing dogs, the truth is that the gentle twitches and movements observed during his dreams last for just a short period of time. The convulsions associated with seizures tend to be much more violent and last for longer intervals of time. During a seizure, your dog’s limbs may become rigid and stiff, and he may foam or drool from his mouth. Notably, whereas a dog that’s dreaming will appear perfectly normal when he wakes up, a dog that had a seizure while asleep will most likely be distressed and disoriented. 

Should I Wake My Dog While He’s Dreaming?

While you’re likely happy for your dog if he’s dreaming sweetly throughout the night, if you are getting cues that the dog is having a bad dream, you are likely tempted to wake your dog to “rescue him” from whatever nightmare he’s experiencing. However, dog experts say it’s best just to let the dog wake on his own instead of trying to comfort him by waking him early. Dogs that are awakened prematurely during a dream may be disoriented and could lash out at whoever wakes them, no matter the person’s intention in doing so. Remember, even though you are stressed watching your dog having a bad dream, it’s just that, a dream, and chances are good he won’t even remember it anyway if humans and dogs truly do dream alike. 

Do dogs dream of long walks on the beach or being petted by their favourite human, stealing scraps from the dinner table or meeting up with their friends at the dog park? We may never know. However, now that you know more about dreaming and dogs, you can stop worrying about your dog when you notice his peculiar behaviour while he naps.

Related articles

short hair cat being pet by a woman
Cats may not like water, but do they still need baths? Learn about how effective your cat’s grooming really is and when you should be bathing them yourself.
pug puppy playing
treats for training