“To sleep, perchance to bark.”
Have you ever looked at your dog as they slept on the floor and watched them wag their tail, or let out a yip or two, and have no clue what’s going on? Are they actually dreaming? Are they even okay in the first place?
It turns out that dogs and other mammals, in fact, do dream, and they dream similarly to us humans. Who would have thought that your pup’s brain neurons act in the same way as ours?
Do Dogs Dream?
Spoiler: yes! A group of MIT researchers back in 2001 performed studies on animal brains and found that animals have the same sort of sleeping behaviors as we do. They made this discovery by training rats and recording brain activity as the rats ran along a circular track while they were running, and then again while they slept.
Researchers found that the brain activity measured when they were running appeared again while the rats slept, giving researchers the ability to conclude that they were dreaming.
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Since rat brains are so similar to dog brains, it’s concluded that dogs also have this capability to dream.
What Do They Dream About?
These dreams mainly consist of the dog’s daily activities, like running around outside or barking at the mailman. Different breeds may also have differing dreams. Your shepherd may be thinking about chasing cats, or your retriever may dream about, well, retrieving things.
Naturally, we can’t ask your pup what they were dreaming about, but being able to decode the things they do in their sleep may indicate what their dreams are.
Do Dogs Dream About Their Owners?
Great news: yes, dogs do dream about their owners! They will often dream about past experiences they have had with their owner, and they may even dream about future experiences they will have with doggo parent.
Although no scientific research has been done on this, it is thought that dogs dream about their owners because they are familiar people. Dogs are social animals, so it makes sense that they would dream about the people they are closest to.
Since They Dream, Do Dogs Have Nightmares Too?
As upsetting as it may be, dogs have nightmares. We know already that animal dreams run off of memories, so if you have adopted a shelter dog with a not-so-pleasant past, then the dog's nightmares might be about the trauma they underwent. You might wonder, what do dogs dream about when they bark?
Chuckles, my BEAUTIFUL rescue, was found in an abandoned house, locked up in terrible conditions with another dog. When I bump her in my sleep, she sometimes barks at me, but then calms down when she realizes who she’s barking at.
How Can I Tell if My Dog is Having a Nightmare?
Dogs may bark, growl, or begin to shake violently. Go with your gut! If your sleeping dog seems upset, turn on the light and check to make sure nothing’s wrong. When in doubt, let sleeping dogs lie.
You’re probably wondering what’s normal and what’s not, so let’s take a look:
- Twitches, licking paws, and small sounds that aren’t severe are entirely normal. You’ve probably noticed that the person you sleep next to at night (besides your pup) also twitches as they fall asleep – it’s completely normal!
- Don’t be alarmed if it seems like your pup is sleeping a lot! On average, dogs sleep roughly about 12-14 hours a day, and they might sleep for a bit longer if they’ve had a particularly active day.
- Circling before laying down and then lying in their bed isn’t just a random habit all dogs do. It shows that they are marking their territory and feel comfortable.
- If the dog is extremely comfortable with their surroundings, they may sleep belly up. They’re comfy where they’re at, and they wouldn’t mind a belly rub or two.
- Your pup sleeping in your bed isn’t just because your bed is comfortable, it means that your puppy sees you as part of the pack and feels firmly bonded to you. Even when your dog takes up your entire full-size bed and kicks you while you try to sleep, or sleeps between your legs, remember it’s just because your dog loves you and sees you as a part of their pack.
Abnormal sleeping behaviors mimic those in humans, so keep an eye out for:
- Not sleeping and being restless at night is a huge problem and a cause of concern. Even though it may be annoying to hear your dog tromp around the living room at 3 AM, your dog may be suffering from anxiety, pain, or even allergies.
- On the opposite side of not sleeping, a dog could perhaps sleep too much. Oversleeping isn’t another primary cause of concern; but if it does seem unusual for your pup, then it’s best to get them checked out.
- Rapidly breathing in their sleep isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, as smaller dogs often breathe more than larger dogs, and puppies breathe faster than older dogs. However, if your dog is having difficulty breathing, then that needs to get checked out ASAP.
- Dogs can also have seizures while sleeping, and it may be hard to tell at first if the dog is dreaming or having a seizure. If you can wake your dog up, then they just had an exciting dream, if the dog won’t come out of the violent state, then it is most likely a seizure. Violent muscle activity will also accompany the seizure, shaking, and thrashing; these aren’t the same as simple twitching during sleep.
Monitor Your Dog’s Habits, Easily
The Petcube interactive pet camera lets you watch what your precious pup is doing while they are sleeping, or if you aren’t home. You can even get sound and motion alerts from the pet camera, to see how your dog (or cat!) is doing. By being able to see what your dog is doing in their sleep remotely, you’re able to be reassured of your pup’s safety.
You want your best friend to make sure that their sleep (and dreams) are pleasant. Rest is essential for all animals, and if your dog doesn't get that good nap in, it’s best to do everything you can so they do.
What do dogs have nightmares about?
Dogs may have nightmares about anything that scares or stresses them. Common triggers include loud noises, unfamiliar environments, and being left alone.
Is my dog dreaming or having a seizure?
If your dog is having a seizure, they will likely collapse and experience muscle spasms. Dreaming dogs may move their legs or make whimpering noises.
Is my dog dreaming or having a nightmare?
There is no way to know for sure, but if your dog is whimpering or crying in their sleep, it is more likely they are having a nightmare. Meanwhile, dogs often move their legs or whimper while they are sleeping, which may be an indication that they are dreaming.
Additionally, dogs may make similar facial expressions to humans when they are dreaming.
Is it normal for dogs to have nightmares?
There's no definitive answer to this question since dogs can have nightmares for various reasons. If your dog seems particularly distressed after having a bad dream, it's best to consult a veterinarian.
About the Author:
Jessica Gunoskey is an academically driven student, creative writer, and pet lover. She's recently adopted a shelter dog named Chuckle.