Do Dogs Dream?
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
One of our New Life K9's service dogs in training taking a quick power nap.
I’m sure you’ve noticed it. You look over at your dog who should be peacefully asleep, but somehow they’re twitching or breathing heavily as if they were running after a squirrel! Why do they do that? Are they dreaming like us? Long story short, the answer is yes! Scientific evidence proves that dogs dream.
Research to explain this phenomenon began in 2001 when MIT researcher Matthew Wilson confirmed rats have complex dreams. This study examined the sleeping pattern of rats to humans and found that rats and people experience the same sleeping wavelength patterns and cycles. Rats and people both go through the light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. Additionally, by analyzing the firing patterns of the rat’s cells, researchers determined that rats have similar firing patterns during the day as they do while asleep. To further help explain, think about the dreams you have at night. These dreams, usually, are associated with the activities we did during the day. The same goes for rats! In conclusion, rats are indeed dreaming and are dreaming about events that happened during the day.
In 2016, Dr. Dierdre Barret, a Clinical and Evolutionary Psychologist at Harvard Medical School expanded on this idea to include dogs. She said:
“There’s no reason to think animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you.”
She clarifies that “anything about what animals dream, or even if they dream, is speculative.” Obviously, dogs can’t talk. They can’t tell us what they’re dreaming about, so it’s impossible to make any completely confident conclusions. What researchers do know is that dogs go through the same light sleep, deep sleep, and REM cycles as humans. Because this is the same, there’s no reason to believe that dogs don’t dream like humans.
In humans, the brainstem is what makes it so we don't act out our dreams. The brainstem turns our body temporarily paralyzed during sleep to protect us from unconsciously performing our dream. Dr. Barret explains that the brainstem performs the same job for dogs. It’s likely that movements during sleep (ie: kick, shake, or twitch) are them acting out their dreams. Again, since it works that way in humans, there’s no reason to believe it’s not the same for our pups.
Next time you tuck your pup in for bed, make sure you wish them some “sweet dreams.” It could really count!
Interested in further information? Check out our references below!