Doggie Dreams: One More Reason to Love Man's Best Friend
Mon, April 19, 2021

Doggie Dreams: One More Reason to Love Man's Best Friend

Merely watching them while asleep and showing any of these actions, it’s difficult to imagine that they don’t dream too. It seems the way that the dog acts in their sleep is almost like how they act in their fully awake state / Photo by: Sigma_S via Shutterstock

 

We all dream in our sleep. Even dogs do, as many experts believe. While we may toss and turn when we dream, in dogs we may notice that they paddle their legs, whine, growl, wag their tails, exhibit chewing jowl actions, make twitching noises, and even twitch their noses. Merely watching them while asleep and showing any of these actions, it’s difficult to imagine that they don’t dream too. It seems the way that the dog acts in their sleep is almost like how they act in their fully awake state.

 

What an Animal’s Sleeping Position and Behavior Indicates

Experts say dogs go through the same sleep stages as humans, but they spend lesser time at each sleep stage than humans do, with REM happening 20 minutes into a nap, lasting two to three minutes. The National Sleep Foundation shared that big dogs dream longer than little dogs, and little dogs dream quickly and frequently. Moreover, the position that a dog takes upon sleeping indicates how they are feeling. A dog that sleeps on their side feels safe as their vital organs are exposed—this may not happen if they sleep in areas with numerous unfamiliar people. In contrast, dogs sleeping curled up in a ball would indicate that they are not comfortable, and are ready to get up faster. They are thought to secure their vital organs or preserve body heat. Similarly, puppies that sleep on their stomach often do so to get up quickly to be ready for playtime.

Dogs circle around before lying down. This is an instinct that originated from dogs’ ancestors, the wolves, which trampled grass down to make a comfortable bed, even digging to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. A dog that sleeps during the day may be bored. If their ears perk up, they are just waiting for something exciting to happen.

Generally, larger mammals sleep less than smaller ones, which is said to explain the 25% difference in sleep hours for different animals. Larger mammals have longer sleep cycles and require more REM sleep, attributed to brain mass and metabolism to help the brain consolidate memories and learning. Additionally, protection against predators is a natural factor of the way a dog and other animals sleep. Birds may sleep with one eye open and half of their brain awake. Carnivores may sleep longer than herbivores as herbivores spend more hours in the day to eat food. Lions are known to sleep in short periods during the day and at night to take advantage of catching prey.

Experts say dogs go through the same sleep stages as humans, but they spend lesser time at each sleep stage than humans do, with REM happening 20 minutes into a nap, lasting two to three minutes / Photo by: James McKay via Shutterstock

 

What We Know About Dogs and Dreaming

In an article titled “Fascinating Animal Sleep Facts” published in Startsleeping.org, an organization raising awareness on detrimental effects of poor sleeping habits, it was said that many animals sleep longer compared to the average elderly human. A human infant sleeps roughly 16 hours per day while the average adult sleeps eight hours per day while the average elderly person sleeps 5.5 hours a day. In other animals, brown bats are known to sleep the longest at 19.9 hours per day, dogs sleep for roughly 12.6 hours a day, and cats and mice would sleep the same number of hours at 12.1 hours per day. Fish or guppies sleep for seven hours a day.

While scientific knowledge of dogs and dreaming is very limited, the following information helps us believe that dogs really do experience dreams similar to humans. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) News, as presented by Matthew Wilson, professor of neuroscience at MIT, and 2001 graduate student Kenway Louie, they did an experiment connecting memory, sleep, and dreams with rats as test subjects and found that similar brain activity is experienced by rats that are awake and those that are asleep. In the experiment, rats were trained to run a similar track to get food rewards, and in the process, their brains created a certain firing pattern of neurons or brain cells in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory formation and storage. This pattern of brain cells was observed as the same signature brain activity whether rats were asleep or awake, approximately at the same speed during sleep and during consciousness. In this scenario, the brain activity exhibited by the mouse was so clear and specific that the researchers could pinpoint where in the maze the rat was dreaming. As quoted in Psychology Today, "The animal is certainly recalling memories of those events as they occurred during the awake state, and it is doing so during dream sleep and that's just what people do when they dream."

In dogs, although their brain is more complex, it showed similar electrical sequences. There is also reason to believe that they dream about common dog activities, with a structure similar in human brains that keeps us from acting out our dreams and regulates deep sleep, the pons. According to Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, puppies and older dogs twitch and move in their sleep, with puppies moving more as their pons are still underdeveloped and less efficient than in older dogs (similar to infants and adults). 

Additionally, dogs dream of “doggy things” with a similar dream pattern in humans. For instance, a labrador retriever is more likely to dream about chasing tennis balls than a pug. But, there is no exact way to tell what a dog is dreaming. Even dogs can experience nightmares. In this case, they may react aggressively toward the person waking them, so much caution should be taken when it comes to children handling animals.

Bad dreams and good dreams, dogs (and cats as well), the fact that they do dream means that these animals share one more thing with humans, which makes them all the more special.

Bad dreams and good dreams, dogs (and cats as well), the fact that they do dream means that these animals share one more thing with humans, which makes them all the more special / Photo by: Grisha Bruev via Shutterstock