If you’ve ever watched your dog twitching, chattering or moving their paws while sleeping, you may have wondered if they are dreaming. The answer is yes. Dogs do dream.
While we know that humans regularly dream during their sleep, for many years it was unclear if animals did. So scientists monitored the brains of rats while awake and performing tasks such as running around tracks for food. They then compared their brain activity while asleep and discovered exactly the same. This indicated that rats were indeed dreaming. In fact it’s likely that all mammals dream. But why?
To understand dreaming, it helps to understand the process of sleep. Sleep is a natural state characterised by reduced consciousness along with reduced or paused sensory and voluntary muscular activity. In other words, you don’t eat, smell or walk during your sleep. We still do not know the reason that sleep is so important to animals but it appears to aid in growth and repair of our body systems. During sleep the brain also appears to process information and experiences gained during the day.
There are two main types of sleep - rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. During REM sleep, as the name suggest, the dreamer’s eyes move rapidly and randomly and their brain activity mirrors that of when awake. While the dreamer may appear quite active during this stage of sleep, they are very difficult to wake. Dreaming occurs mainly during this REM phase of sleep. It’s the same with cats. A puppy will spend more time in dream sleep than an adult dog, probably due to the need to process new information.
So just what are our furry friends dreaming about? Dinner? Playing Fetch? Walkies?
Probably all of the above. Anything your dog does during the day is being processed while they sleep and relived in dreamtime. Thus the twitching whiskers, the whimpering and the running paws that we commonly observe. Dreaming is your dog’s attempt at understanding the information being processed in the brain.
Of course, just like humans, the dreams of animals may not always be pleasant or based on realistic experiences. Our sleep may give us nightmares as a kind of ‘heads-up’ on how to behave should we be faced with the same scenario in the real world. Not that dogs are likely to be worrying about sitting exams or finding themselves naked in public, unpleasant dreams that humans often experience!
Instead our dog’s dreams are likely to be filled with chasing toys, finding a lap to snooze on or discovering ways to convince owners to feed them again! A dream life for a dog.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au