Do Dogs Dream?

If you are like most dog owners, you are likely asking yourself what kind of question is this, as the answer is obvious isn’t it? Of course dogs dream! Most people have seen and heard their dogs “running” in their sleep and vocalizing as well.

While dreaming dogs may seem obvious to most dog owners, you can’t exactly ask your dog to tell you what he dreamed last night. What does science have to say about this question?

Turns out that research has been done on dreaming in rats, whose brains are a lot less complex than a dog’s and it’s fairly definitive that the rats are dreaming. The evidence is very strong to support the idea that rats, similar to humans, dream about whatever activities they took part in that day, such as running a maze. 

It’s quite reasonable to assume that with their more complex brains, that dogs dream as well. 

Dogs, as well as humans, have a structure deep within their brains that keeps them from acting out while asleep. This is what keeps us from getting up at night and walking out into the street and getting run over by a car.

Researchers wanted to know what would happen if they inactivated that part of a dog’s brain that kept them from moving around while they were asleep, so they monitored the brain waves of dogs they had operated on to inactivate that brain center.

The dogs’ brainwaves indicated they were asleep but when the brainwaves changed to indicate they were in the REM stage of sleep associated with dreaming, the dogs started to move around. This was fairly concrete evidence that the dogs were actually trying to carry out whatever they were dreaming about. 

The REM stage stands for rapid eye movement and can be seen in humans as well as dogs. You can easily observe when your dog moves into the REM stage by watching him as he falls asleep. As he dozes off, his breathing will become deeper and more regular, then after about twenty minutes, the first dream period will start. His breathing will change, to become more shallow and irregular. 

You may notice your dog’s muscles twitching and if you closely observe his eyes through his closed lids, you may notice them moving rapidly back and forth. In humans, this occurs because we are visually tracking images in our dreams, and researchers think this is the same with our canine companions.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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