We've all had that experience where we wake up in the morning and think to ourselves, "Man, that was a crazy dream!"
And we all know what it's like to have good dreams, bad dreams, and just plain crazy dreams.
But, what about dogs? Do dogs dream?
There's a lot of interesting information out there when it comes to dogs and dreaming. Check out this guide to learn everything you need to know about dogs and dreaming.
Do Dogs Dream?
In short, yes, dogs do dream. However, because we can't communicate with dogs the same way we communicate with humans, we obviously don't know as much as we'd like to about dogs and their dreams.
Just like us, dogs, as well as other animals, go through cycles. In fact, scientists hypothesize that most vertebrates have dreams. So yes, even the humble fruit fly may be having a crazy dream when it sleeps.
Dogs, just like humans, have wake cycles, followed by rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep), followed by non-rapid eye movement sleep.
It's during REM sleep that both humans and animals experience the most vivid and memorable dreams. It's also believed that this cycle of sleep is a part of how our bodies process memories.
One very famous experiment was conducted by MIT and involved lab rats. In this study, researches trained rats to run a maze. While running the maze, the researches measured the rats' brain activity. They then later measured the rats' brain activity when they were in a cycle of rapid eye movement sleep.
What they found was that the same areas of the brain lit up when the rats were sleeping as when they were running, which led scientists to believe that the rats were dreaming about the maze.
Through data comparison, researchers were even able to figure out where on the maze the rats dreamed themselves to be.
Thanks to this study, scientists believe that animals dream much like humans do. Just as the rats dreamed about their day running through the maze, you may have a dream about your day at the office.
Researchers have also concluded that animals in fact do have complex dreams, and that they can even remember and replay long sequences of events when sleeping.
What to Dogs Dream About?
So, what are they dreaming about in all of this time?
As we know, most dogs lead lives that are a lot more interesting than rats. Therefore, it stands to reason that they're having dreams that are a bit more interesting than just running around a maze.
To figure out what dogs dream about, scientists ran an experiment. In this experiment, they temporarily disabled the pons, which is a part of the brain stem that has a part in regulating deep sleep and controlling sleep cycles. It's also the pons' job to inhibit the large muscles during sleep. Thanks to the pons, you're not flailing around in your sleep.
If you've ever noticed that puppies and senior dogs twitch in their sleep a lot more than other dogs, it's because of the pons. In puppies, the pons is underdeveloped, and in senior dogs, the pons is not as efficient. The same is actually true for babies and seniors.
So, by disabling the pons during sleep, researchers figured the dogs would act out what they were dreaming.
And, the results weren't all too surprising. It turns out that dogs mostly dream about doggie things. For example, a Doberman might dream about chasing an imaginary burglar. Or, a pointer might dream about pointing at imaginary birds.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
Just as humans have nightmares, it's also assumed that dogs have nightmares.
If you hear your dog whimpering in its sleep, it may be tempting to wake it up so that its nightmare ends. However, this isn't usually a good idea.
If you've ever woken up from a nightmare, then you know that it can take a bit before you realize where you are, who you're with, and that you were just having a bad dream. Just like humans, dogs can sometimes act out aggressively when woken up. Even if your dog never bites, waking up in the middle of a terrible nightmare may cause them to act out in ways they normally don't.
Following the old saying 'let sleeping dogs lie', the best thing you can do for a dog that's having a nightmare is to let them sleep through it and then comfort them when they wake up.
Does the Dog's Breed Affect Their Dreams?
Just as people are different in terms of how often they dream and what they dream about, so too are dogs.
For unknown reasons, we know that smaller dog breeds are more likely to have short dreams, but on a more frequent basis. Whereas larger dog breeds tend to have longer, but fewer dreams.
It's also believed that senior dogs and puppies dream more than middle-aged dogs.
In addition to this, it's also theorized that how your dog spends their day will determine their dreams. For example, Dobermans tend to display guard-like behavior, so it's reasoned to believe that they dream about the same sort of behavior. Or, labs who play fetch with the tennis ball all-day are more likely to dream about that than a pug who spends most of its day lying around the house.
Can I Tell What My Dog's Dreaming About?
So, is there anyone to tell what your dog is dreaming about?
While we may never be able to figure out exactly what a dog is dreaming about, we may be able to guess.
To try and guess what your dog is dreaming about, you should observe it while it's sleeping. Typically, the REM cycle begins 20 minutes into a dog's sleep and lasts 2 to 3 minutes. This is about the time when you'll notice your dog making sounds or twitching.
Then, ask yourself if there are any similarities between your dog's daily activities and their REM sleep cycle.
For example, if your dog spends a lot of the day running around, you may notice their legs twitching and their lips moving. This could mean that they're chasing an intruder, playing with a doggy friend, or fetching a ball.
Sometimes, our dogs give us even more hints as to what they're dreaming about.
In an interview with a Harvard psychologist, an owner reported a suspicion he had about his dog's dreams. His dog did not like taking baths, and whenever the bath was over, the dog would run over to his owner and hide between his legs. The owner noted that after waking from his sleep one time, the dog bolted up and hid between his owner's legs. This led the owner and psychologist to conclude that the dog was having a nightmare about taking a bath.
Dogs and Sleeping Disorders
Just as dogs dream like humans do, so too can dogs have sleeping disorders like humans.
Here are the sleeping disorders that dogs are susceptible to:
Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder in which a dog will suddenly collapse onto its side and fall asleep. This is a genetic disorder that primarily affects younger dogs that have low levels of hypocretin.
Hypocretin is a chemical that helps humans and animals keep normal sleep patterns and maintain alertness.
Typically, when a dog with narcolepsy collapses, it's after a period of excitement. Their muscles will become slack and it'll look like the dog is in a state of deep sleep.
While this sleeping disorder isn't painful or life-threatening, medication may help reduce hyperactivity and stimulate wakefulness.
Sleep apnea is rare in dogs, but it's common in dogs with flat faces and obese dogs. For example, pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers are more susceptible to sleep apnea.
This sleeping disorder is characterized by loud, chronic snoring. The best way to treat it is typically through weight loss.
Just like sleep apnea, insomnia is also rare in dogs.
Typically, when a dog is suffering from insomnia, it's a sign of a larger problem such as fleas, arthritis, or cognitive dysfunction. To determine the underlying problem, you should see your vet.
REM Behavior Disorder
If your dog is active in its sleep- doing things like running into walls or attacking inanimate objects- then there's a chance that they're suffering from REM behavior disorder.
Luckily, medication can help treat this disorder, so speak to your vet.
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