Have you ever wondered what your dog is dreaming about, or if they're dreaming at all? Are they really chasing squirrels in their heads, or are they just having muscle spasms? Although there's no way to get a first-hand account of what kind of nighttime endeavors their minds might be taking them on (at least not yet), scientific evidence points to the idea that our canine companions do, in fact, dream! And if that news wasn't cute enough, many experts affirm that not only do dogs dream, but they also more than likely dream about their humans. Aww!
How Do We Know That Dogs Dream?
Back in 2001, researchers at MIT conducted studies with lab rats that ultimately proved that animals — dogs included — go through similar sleep cycles that humans do. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the phase of the sleep cycle where mental activity is at its peak, and it's when our most vivid dreams tend to occur.
Thanks to the groundbreaking developments like that of MIT (along with studies presented by The National Sleep Foundation and countless others), we know for a fact that our dogs' brain activity while sleeping is on par with ours in a lot of structural ways. So not only do our furry friends experience REM sleep just like we do, but it's also pretty safe to then assume they dream as well.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Much like us, our pets are likely dreaming about the activities they do while awake. From eating and playing to interacting with their best friends (that would be us), our pups' sleeping minds are presumably replaying the different affairs that make up their existence. Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, PhD, echoed this thought back in 2016, suggesting that "since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it's likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing or annoying you."
Can Dogs Have Nightmares?
According to registered vet tech Liz Waynick, it's unfortunately plausible that dogs experience unpleasant dreams on occasion. Nonetheless, very little research supports the idea that dogs have developed imaginations. So while your dog is not likely having nightmares about doggie zombies or ghost hounds, things like bath time, thunderstorms, and past trauma could all be plausible.
It may pain you to stand by as your dog twitches or whimpers in their slumber, but veterinary practitioner and co-owner of The Animal Center, Inc. Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, said it's best to leave them be — "most [of dogs'] dreams are not nightmares," she clarified, and consistent, uninterrupted sleep is crucial for a healthy mind and body.
Does Breed Have Any Effect on Dreams?
Studies conducted by Stanley Coren, PhD — a psychology professor and author of many books on canine psychology — indicate that the size of the dog can play a role in the length and frequency of the dreams they have. A great dane would generally have less frequent but longer dreams, whereas a chihuahua would generally have more frequent but shorter dreams. Puppies, regardless of the breed, tend to spend more time in REM sleep than their adult counterparts, suggesting they dream more frequently; this is likely due to the fact that they have to mentally process more new experiences.
So while we'll have to wait for technology that translates barks into human language so we can be sure exactly what it is they're dreaming about, for now, we can rest assured that it's all part of a good night.