We only need to watch our dogs while they sleep, to see their little, running paws or hear their muffled barks to recognize when they are dreaming. Scientists studying dogs and dog dreams have recently confirmed floating theories on a dog’s sleeping reveries. Dr. Stanley Coren, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia notes that, “… at the structural level, the brains of dogs are similar to that of people… [they] go through the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans – all of which is consistent with the idea that dogs are dreaming.” But what are the signs of a dog in dreamland?
Signs of dreaming
According to VCA Hospital, dogs experience both slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM), just like humans do. SWS is the early stage of sleep; the dozing off period. Mental functions are slowed down, but the body is still engaged. REM sleep is the deeper stage of sleep, it is recognizable from eye-darting movements, body twitches, and noise. Dogs begin dreaming after around 20 minutes of sleep. Signs of deep sleep include shallow, slow, and regular breaths, muscle twitches, and noticeable eye movement behind their lids.
Dream duration has an interesting connection to the size of your dog. Scientists have found that “for unknown reasons, the size of your dog may determine the size of their dreams,” states Dr. Coren. “Smaller dogs have more frequent, but shorter dream periods. Larger dogs have less frequent, but longer dreams.” But what do they dream about?
Scientists studying dog dreams have come to some interesting conclusions in regards to the exact nature of your dog’s dreams. Dr. Coren writes that “much of the dreaming you do at night is associated with the activities that you are engaged in during the day.” This means that, at least a portion of your dog’s dreams are likely to involve their walks, playtime, meals, and you! Dr. Barrett, clinical and evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has been studying dog dreams for years and recently presented the idea that your dog goes to sleep and dreams of you. Because we know that humans frequently dream about different aspects of their day, “there’s no reason to think [non-human] animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human(s)… it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing you.” How sweet is that?!
Do dogs have nightmares?
Yes, dogs do, in fact, have nightmares just like their human companions. In both humans and dogs, traumatic events are stored in long-term memory. As such, if your pup had a traumatic past before being adopted into a loving home, they might suffer from nightmares related to their life before you. How can you help? If you suspect your dog is having a bad dream, try not to startle them by waking them too quickly. Calling their name quietly will help them wake more slowly and to the sound of a familiar voice. If your pup has frequent nightmares, share your concerns with your vet so that you and your dog can enjoy a good night’s sleep.
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