Our understanding of some of the otherwise peculiar behavior of man’s best friend has definitely grown by leaps and bounds. In the past, we really didn’t believe that dogs dream, get jealous, see things in color (albeit not as vivid as we do), can smell the presence of disease, and many other things that were simply absurd to even think about. After all, they are pets. Yet there is now growing evidence that say dogs can do all of these things, especially dream. Hold on to your seat as we give you some of the more interesting facts that you may have never known about your hound and its dreams.
How do we know that dogs dream? We don’t. We can only somehow deduce it by studying the patterns of their brainwaves while they are sleeping. What may surprise you is that the structure of the dog’s brain is uncannily similar to what is encased in our skull. More interesting is the fact that dogs also go through a number of sleep stages; although we can safely say that there is a slight difference.
When we go to sleep, we have non-REM and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is further divided into three different stages. By the way, REM stands for rapid eye movement in obvious reference to one of the fundamental characteristics of this stage of sleep whereby the muscles of the eyes contract at a rapid pace leaving very busy eyes. Incidentally, REM sleep corresponds to very active, very erratic brain wave activity. This is interpreted as that time in the sleep cycle when we are dreaming.
Now get ready for this. We now know that dogs progress through the same non-REM and REM stages of sleep, but with the addition of another stage which is the SWS or slow-wave sleep. The non-REM sleep in dogs is almost the same as what we have. They can also be easily aroused or awakened, although majority of their organs have already been toned down in preparation for deep sleep.
But before the dog goes into deep sleep which is the SWS part of the sleep cycle, the dog has to go through the REM stage first. In this stage, the dog can exhibit highly erratic physiologic manifestations such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, more erratic and often shallower breathing, muscle twitching, and a whole lot more. Technically, you’d think that the dog is awake, except that it has its eyes closed. But then, its eyes are highly active, too, even underneath the closed eyelids. No wonder they called it the rapid eye movement stage.
All of these are correlated with an increase in brainwave activity which is similar to what people who are currently in a dream state also have. This is why we believe dogs dream basing only on the electrical patterns of their brain.
Dreams and Vocalizations
Dogs dream. We know that now. But perhaps what many of us do not know is that they can also produce vocalizations while they are in a canine dream state. It’s like someone who talks in his sleep. He may be ranting and cursing, but he obviously isn’t aware that he is doing such a thing.
The same thing can happen to your dog while it is dreaming. Dog dreaming noises can include barking, crying, whimpering, yelping, howling, and all the other vocalizations that dogs can make. There really is nothing wrong with these vocalizations, except perhaps that it can be especially unsettling. Imagine you’re sound asleep only to be awakened by a faint cry or bark and yet when you look at your dog it is sound asleep.
Vocalizations in dogs while sleeping are a part of their dream. We strongly believe that such behavior is related to an activity in the past whereby the dog was vocalizing. It could be because it is dreaming of a past situation where it had to bark incessantly at a stranger by the door. Or it could be whimpering and crying because of the stress that it went through at the vet clinic or even at the dog grooming salon.
The point here is that these doggie vocalizations that occur during sleep are mere manifestations of the dog’s dream. So, if it is barking in its sleep, don’t be in a hurry to wake it up. It might bite you thinking it is still in its dream.
Dreaming About their Favorite Person
We always get asked, do dogs dream about their owners? Of course, they do. Unfortunately, there’s really no way for us to prove this. We haven’t really met a dog that we can interview and ask questions related to the content of its dream.
However, it would be safe to point out that the similarities in brainwave patterns during sleep and dream states between man and dog are enough to give us the ability to make assumptions to what our dogs may be dreaming about.
Since a dog’s life is centered on its human family, but mostly the person whom it considers to be its favorite, we can safely say that the dog dreams about its owners, too. Everyone knows that dogs can be highly attached to their owners. They love your voice, your scent, and everything else. They love you more because you’re the one giving them food and yummy treats. They also know you’re the one that takes them out for a walk and who will spend 30 minutes to an hour playing with them. To your dog, you are simply the most important person in its life.
It is for this reason that human owners are a central part of a dog’s dream experience. They may dream about those times when you were playing with them a game of fetch. They may relive in their dreams those times when you were teaching them something and giving them treats every time they get it right.
Dogs Can Have Nightmares, Too
Not all dreams are happy and pleasant. They can be frightening, too. If you observe your dog crying and ‘running’ in its sleep, it usually is taken to mean that it is running away from something in its dream. Your dog is having a nightmare.
If we are to attach electronic probes into the dog’s head while it is having a bad dream, we may see a slightly different brainwave pattern. Sure, the brainwaves in dreams are erratic. This can grow worse in a bad dream. This is one of the most intriguing things we know so far about dogs.
Watching your dog having a bad dream can be heart-rending. Most dog owners will instantly wake their dog up from its nightmare just as they would on a child who is having a really bad dream. This is not really a good idea as your dog can lash out at you or snap at the person who is trying to wake it up.
In a dream state, the brain is super active. When it wakes up in this state, the electrical activity in its brain continues to send impulses to its muscles and other organ tissues. Its brain is still pretty much in the ‘dream’ state such that it becomes slightly disoriented when suddenly awakened. That is why waking up a dog in the middle of its dream is never a good idea as doing so can startle the dog.
Now imagine if this is a dog that is having a really bad dream. The energy in the bad dream can literally keep your dog disoriented for several minutes after being awakened. As such, it is important to never physically awaken your dog in the middle of a nightmare. What you can do is to wait until your dog wakes up by itself. This is something that you should teach your kids, too.
Small Dogs Tend to Dream More
No one can explain why smaller dogs tend to have more frequent dreams than their larger brethren. For instance, pugs and toy poodles can have a dream about their favorite things every ten minutes. On the other hand, a Labrador Retriever or a German Shepherd may only dream as infrequently as once every 1.5 hours. The same is true with puppies. It is a general observation that puppies tend to dream more frequently than their adult brothers and sisters.
Why do puppies dream more frequently? We all know that puppies are like children who are still in the process of discovering things and processes. Many of these experiences provide puppies with the fuel necessary to dream. As such, they will be dreaming about that new trick they learned or how a certain behavior affected the chances of them not getting any treat. Puppies are processing a lot of information that they are gaining from new experiences.
Adult dogs, on the other hand, already have these experiences in their memory. What they will be dreaming about will be more recent ones.
Dogs dream and that’s a fact. They do have nightmares, too. And if you really want to know, yes, they dream about their owners as well.