What Do Dogs Dream About?

If you’ve ever had a dog, you don’t need any proof that, just like us, they experience dream-filled slumbers. As their paws twitch, are they chasing after squirrels in dreamland? Could those smacking noises mean they’re chewing some tasty invisible†treat?

Yes, and yes, according to experts. Most importantly — and endearingly — dogs probably spend a lot of time dreaming about their owners.

“Humans dream about the same things they’re interested in by day, though more visually and less logically,” Deirdre Barrett, a teacher and psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told People. “Thereís no reason to think animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, itís likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you.”

Sweet!

Matt Wilson, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes dogs and other animals dream. And like Barrrett, he thinks those dreams are likely based on activities during their waking hours. “The dream experiences can be traced back to real experiences,” Wilson†told petMD.com. “Itís memory thatís being used to synthesize the content of the dreams.”

As you probably know if you’re a dog owner, our four-legged friends sleep a lot more than we do — an average of 12 to 14 hours a day. But their sleep patterns are very similar to those of humans, researchers†have found. Just like us, dogs go through stages of wakefulness, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the stage when dreams occur — and non-REM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep.

In a 1977 study, scientists recorded the brain activity of six Pointers for 24 hours. They discovered that the dogs were alert for 44 percent of that time. The remaining time consisted of drowsiness, REM sleep and non-REM sleep, at 21 percent, 12 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

While that study used non-invasive electroencephalogram testing to record the Pointers’ brain activity, a controversial 1963 cat sleep study seems†horrific.

In that study, scientists surgically removed or inactivated the part of the cats’ brains that prevents them from acting out their dreams. Humans and dogs also have this structure — the pons — in the brain stem. It paralyzes the major muscles during the REM stage of sleep.

When those pons-less cats began dreaming, they stood up and began hissing, pouncing, chasing and batting their paws, apparently going after phantom rats or other prey.

Understanding†gorilla dreams involved a much more humane process, thanks to Koko and Michael, who described their dreams using sign language after they awakened. But rather than dreaming about everyday activities, Koko has signed about fantastic events and people she hasn’t seen, according to People.

Michael, who died in 2000, would sometimes sign, “Bad people kill gorillas” after waking up. In his case, he’d been dreaming about a real, and terrible, experience: poachers had killed his family.

Hopefully our dogs have much sweeter dreams. If, as the experts say, the stuff of dogs’ dreams is their daily routines, then this old Disneyland commercial is inaccurate, since dogs — with the exception of trained service animals — aren’t allowed inside the theme park. But, hey, it’s still fun to watch.

Photo credit: Joao Vicente

51 comments

Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jennifer H
Jennifer Habout a year ago

I have often wondered if her dreams were nightmares from her previous life or fun runs with friends but who really needs to know that much when you read "In that study, scientists surgically removed or inactivated the part of the cats’ brains that prevents them from acting out their dreams. Humans and dogs also have this structure — the pons — in the brain stem. It paralyzes the major muscles during the REM stage of sleep." WTF Why was this so important to put animals through hell.

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago

ty

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

How do we know when they have nightmares? What is the difference in their behaviour.

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Chris Ringgold
Chris Ringgoldabout a year ago

I found this article to be very informative, thanks to Ms. Laura Goldman, the author, who explained very well how and why Dogs (and other animals) dream.

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Andras C
Andras Cabout a year ago

Thanks for the great explanations. I've always wondered, and this makes sense to me.

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI Rabout a year ago

THANK YOU

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earthism info
earthism infoabout a year ago

Dogs dream about a place filled with bones

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Julia Mathon
Julia Mathonabout a year ago

I think that dogs and cats dream about repressed feelings too. Last night our cat had a little cry in his sleep and I have heard our dog do the same. And once our gentle, self-effacing and peace-loving cat had such a battle in his sleep that he woke me up with his hissing and growling!

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