What Do Dogs Dream About?

Your dog might treat your bed like their own. They might even snore. But do you know what dogs dream about?

They say that best friends act alike, so it makes sense that human behavior shares a lot in common with dog behavior. They get hungry, need exercise, like to cuddle up on the couch, and get startled when an unfamiliar person comes to the door. We’ve figured out what dog facial expressions mean, how many hours a day dogs sleep, and even pondered if dogs can see ghosts. One thing we don’t know is if dog brains process their waking hours in the same way that humans do. Do dogs dream too? And if so, what do dogs dream about?

Do dogs dream?

The answer is yes, dogs do dream while they sleep. An MIT study found that rats dream about the activities they performed earlier in the day. They had the same unique brain activity while they ran through a maze as they did while they were sleeping, which the researchers took to mean that they were likely having a dream about running through the maze. This led to the conclusion that more complex animals such as cats and dogs also dream about things they’ve experienced, just like we do. Your dog’s sleeping position can tell you a lot too.

Do dogs dream like humans?

Structurally, dog brains are very similar to human brains, says Gary Richter, DVM, a veterinary health expert with Rover. This means that dogs and humans have similar patterns of brain waves and brain activity while sleeping.

“Because of these similar brain wave patterns, dogs actually do experience multiple sleep stages during a standard sleep cycle, including dreams that cause rapid eye movement or REM sleep, which is where we see them twitching while sleeping,” says Dr. Richter. But what are dog dreams like?

What do dogs dream about?

You might like to think your dog is dreaming about their owner, and you might be right. “While there is no scientific consensus, dogs most likely dream about everyday activities such as chasing birds, running after squirrels, or even interacting with you and other dogs,” says Dr. Richter. They might also be dreaming about sleeping in one of the best dog beds.

Are dogs dreaming when they twitch?

Puppy sleeping and dreaming on sofaJessica Peterson/Getty Images

Some common signs of a dog dreaming include twitching, quivering, murmuring, barking, sleepwalking, or running.

“While we don’t know exactly what dogs are dreaming about, their behaviors while sleeping could potentially be correlated with what they’re dreaming about—for example, if a dog is sleep barking, he might be thinking about a squirrel running up a tree,” says Dr. Richter. If you see your pooch’s paws twitching, it’s safe to assume they’ve got the zoomies in their dreams.

Do some dogs dream more than others?

The size of a dog actually plays a part in how dogs dream, says Dr. Richter. Small dogs and puppies sleeping dream very fast and more often. They could have 60-second dreams every 10 minutes or so, while large dogs dream for longer and less often. They might have a five-minute dream and then an hour of sleep with no dreams.

Do dogs have nightmares?

Just like humans, dogs can also have nightmares. Their nightmares might be about a traumatic event they experienced or a fear they have. Some signs that your dog might be having a nightmare are twitching, a gentle whining, or sounds of distress. If you know your dog won’t be startled from being woken up, you can gently pat them or talk to them to help them out of their bad dream. However, use your best judgment when doing so.

“But if your dog is showing more intense signs of fear or aggression while sleeping, you may startle your dog out of a deep sleep, causing them to nip or bite,” says Dr. Richter. “In many cases, letting the nightmare run its course is the better choice, with you standing by to comfort your dog once they wake up.” Disturbing a startled dog is just one of the mistakes every dog owner makes.

Dr. Richter adds that if you notice your dog starts having nightmares out of the blue, you should take them to the vet to see if a medical issue is causing the bad dreams. “In older dogs, an inability to sleep or settle at night could be related to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, also called Doggie Alzheimer’s.” Next, learn why your dog stares at you and the reasons behind all the eye contact.

Sources:

  • MIT News: “Animals Have Complex Dreams”
  • Gary Richter, DVM, veterinary health expert with Rover

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is the Senior Production Editor at Trusted Media Brands. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She works with our Production Coordinators to keep content moving and make sure that things are working well behind the scenes for all our digital sites. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.