Do Dogs Dream?

Pet Insurance  •   Mary Shaughney  •   Jun 28, 2018

 

On average, dogs sleep about 12 to 14 hours a day. Puppies need closer to 19 hours of sleep daily! It takes dogs roughly ten minutes to enter a deep, dream-filled sleep, but have you ever wondered what they’re dreaming about?

How do we know dogs dream?

Researchers have studied brain waves of dogs during their sleep cycles and compared them to humans’ brain waves. Dogs experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and slow wave sleep (SWS) just as humans do. The REM stage of sleep is a deep sleep where dreaming can occur, and dogs spend about 10% of their time in this dreaming phase when asleep.

One of the earliest sleep researchers, Michel Jouvet, conducted a series of sleep experiments on cats. Initially, his studies focused on the similarities between sleeping cats and sleeping humans by measuring muscle tension and brain activity. Later in his research, he disabled parts of the cat’s brain stem called the pons that controls paralysis during sleep. While in REM sleep, the pons is responsible for sending signals to the muscles to relax and abstain from moving around acting out dreams. Once the cat’s body was no longer inhibited of movement during REM sleep, the cat would perform actions that he often went through while awake. The cat stalked invisible prey, groomed himself and walked around- all while asleep! Jouvet realized that the cat was dreaming of the tasks he had performed throughout the day while he was sleeping each night.

How are dog and human sleep cycles different?

We’ve already mentioned how dogs and humans both experience slow wave and rapid eye movement stages of sleep, but these stages occur differently in the sleep cycle for dogs and humans. Humans will average about four or five complete cycles per night, with each cycle lasting roughly 90 minutes. Canines, on the other hand, have shorter, 15-minute cycles and often will experience 20 per night.

What does my dog dream about?

Similar studies to Jouvet’s cat research have been done more recently, with the temporary deactivation of the pons in several different dog breeds. With the pons deactivated, the dogs were free to act out their dreams and often acted out activities that they enjoyed doing while awake. Pointers would point at dream birds, dogs who liked to chase would “run,” etc.

Does age or breed affect my dog’s dreams?

It’s been found that small dogs have more frequent dreams than large dogs, however the small dogs’ dreams are often shorter in duration. Age may also play a factor in your dog acting out his dreams! Younger dogs have an underdeveloped pons and senior dogs have a pons that may not work as efficiently. This contributes to less control of muscle paralysis during sleep, which is why puppies and senior dogs are often more “active” in their sleep.

If my dog can dream, can he have nightmares?

Unfortunately, dogs can have nightmares. If you think your dog is having a nightmare because he is snarling, growling or crying out, restrain the impulse to wake him from it. Dogs who are woken from a scary dream may not know where they are right away and could impulsively lash out at you. Dogs don’t have the ability to construct fearful, imaginative monsters, so when your dog has a nightmare he is remembering a traumatic experience that happened to him. If your dog frequently has nightmares, you can try to help by making his sleeping environment more relaxed. Play quiet music, provide a crate to help your dog feel safe in his “den,” or try a pressure wrap.

What does my dog’s sleeping position mean and does it affect dreams?

Your dog can sleep in any comfortable position and still dream! Dogs who sleep on their side are often relaxed and their limbs are freer to move during their dreams. If your dog plops down on his side against your body, he is showing affection and considers his naps with you as bonding time.

 If your dog prefers to curl up in a ball, you probably won’t see as much active movement, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dreaming. Dogs who sleep in a curled-up position may choose to do so because they feel safer with their vital organs protected, want to conserve warmth or think they may need to get up quickly.

The “superman” position, when a dog sleeps on his stomach with his legs kicked out, is a favorite of high-energy puppies who want to be prepared to hop on their feet at a moment’s notice to play. Because puppies have less control of their body when sleeping, you can often see them dreaming from this position.

If your dog chooses to sleep on his back with his paws up in the air, he may be cooling down, since hair is thinner on a dog’s stomach and the paws hold a dog’s sweat glands. Only dogs who are very comfortable with their surroundings will flop down and take a nap in this position.

Tips for a better night’s rest!

Whether your dog is a rambunctious dreamer or a quiet, tightly curled ball, it’s important to provide a comfortable sleeping spot for him to call his own. Leave blankets or a dog bed down if you don’t allow him to sleep in your bed with you. Ensure that your dog’s bed isn’t somewhere that will get too hot or too cold, such as in direct sunlight or near a drafty door. Don’t forget to give your dog plenty of his favorite exercise during the day to wear him out and give him something to dream about!

Share the Greatness
Mary Shaughney

About the Author
Mary Shaughney

Mary comes to AKC Pet Insurance with an extensive background in animal care and as a lifelong animal lover, has a passion for promoting pet health and wellness. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her orange kitty, "Cat", and is currently searching for the right pup to join her family!