What Do Dogs Dream About?
Scientists who study sleep, dreams, and rest don’t always do their research on human subjects.
Sometimes, to understand the data they collect from humans, they look at how other animals experience sleep and dreaming.
Dogs are often part of their research. While these studies are primarily to learn about human sleep, they give us great insight into what’s going on with our canine friends.
Are we sure dogs dream?
Turns out that most animals dream – even ostriches.
Dogs sleep more than people do and 23 percent of that sleep is in slow wave sleep – the kind where you have your weirdest and most memorable dreams.
If your dog is older and no longer twitches or moves when sleeping, that doesn’t mean his isn’t dreaming.
Brains – dog or human – have a portion of the brain stem called the pons. The pons paralyzes your muscles when you’re sleeping so you don’t injure yourself acting out your dreams.
The older a dog gets, the more developed the pons is. So, puppies and young dogs are more likely to look like they’re trying to run in their sleep and older dogs might not even twitch.
But what do they dream about?
Scientists think it’s most likely that dog dreams come from the same source material human dreams come from – our real life experiences.
Dogs dream about what they know, what they like, and how they live.
Dreams vary between breeds
If dogs dream about what they know, then their dreams vary between breeds and lifestyles.
Professor Emeritus Stanley Coren has said in multiple interviews that “Dogs dream about doggie things . . . pointers will point at dream birds and Dobermans will chase dream burglars.”
Watch your dog’s behaviors in life and how he reacts physically and vocally to different stimuli. That will clue you in next time he exhibits similar behaviors in his sleep.
They dream about what they’ve learned
One of the major functions of dreaming is to process information.
In a study designed to understand how dreams affect learning, a research team tested their theories on dogs.
Dogs were taught new information and then were monitored while they slept using EEG and polysomnography recordings. Dogs not taught the command were monitored as well.
The study showed that learning had an effect on the dogs’ sleep cycles. The test also showed dreams may have an effect on how our dogs understand us and how they develop social skills in interacting with humans.
What about nightmares?
It’s apparent to many dog owners that their dogs have nightmares. One sleep researcher noticed that that cartoon movies were showing dog sleep disorders way back in the 1950s before science was even onto it.
Nightmares can be more common in both humans and animals that had bad experiences in their very early years. It’s complicated, but those events alter the natural process of infantile amnesia – that thing that makes you not remember much about being a toddler.
Basically, what happens it that after the bad experience, the dog (or human) matures very quickly to an almost adult level of emotional control. When this happens, the brain does not build a sufficient barrier to the kinds of feelings we have as a child. Those fears and feelings resurface as nightmares.
If your dog is having a nightmare, you will be tempted to comfort it.
Be careful! As you know, it takes a minute to readjust to being awake or to even know you’re in the real world if something suddenly wakes you. It’s the same with your dog. They might bite you before they realize you’re not the threat from their dream.
If your dog tends to take naps at certain times of the day, why not run an experiment of your own?
Just before naptime, play a little game of fetch or go on a walk. Then, watch her while she sleeps. Does she repeat a behavior that you witnessed during playtime?