You've just snuggled in for a cozy evening on the couch and you gaze over at your best furry friend sleeping beside you. Then, it happens: Their nose begins to twitch, their legs move in a rhythmic running stride, and they start gently barking. It sure looks and sounds like they're in dreamland, but do dogs dream? If so, what do dogs dream about?
If you're asking yourself these questions, you're not alone. Pet parents and researchers have pondered these issues for years. Let's take a look at what science has to say.
Do Dogs Have Dreams?
By looking at how the canine brain works and comparing it to how the human brain functions, scientists have been able to draw some interesting conclusions.
According to Psychology Today, a dog's brain is similar in physical structure to that of a human's. While they sleep, their brain waves also go through a similar pattern of activity to ours, lending credibility to the idea that dogs have dreams.
How Do You Know When a Dog Is Dreaming?
There are a few telltale signs that a dog has drifted from restful sleep into active dreaming. About 20 minutes after dozing off, a dog's breathing will transition from regular and deep to shallow and irregular. You may also notice eye movements, tail wagging and random muscle twitches.
How often do dogs enter dreamland? The American Kennel Club (AKC) says that a dog's size and age determine how frequently they dream. Small dogs dream more in a night than large breeds. And when it comes to age, senior dogs and puppies dream more often than middle-aged dogs.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Dogs tend to dream about activities they engage in when they're awake. This might include flushing out a pheasant while hunting or growling at a stranger at the front door. This explains why a hunting breed may point or run in their sleep and why a territorial dog may emit muffled barks while dreaming of protecting their turf.
The AKC says it's best to let a dreaming dog dream. Waking them up may startle them and create confusion between the dream and real life, resulting in an unintended growl or bite.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
As a caring pet parent, you might sometimes wonder whether your dog is having a nightmare. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University says that dogs can indeed have unpleasant dreams. This is because, like humans, dogs use dreaming time to process experiences and emotions — including upsetting ones. This may cause them to cry or yelp. If this happens, let your dog sleep. Try talking to them with reassuring words and using their name. You can also softly pet their back to let them know they're not alone as they work through the tough dream.
If you notice uncharacteristic yelps or screams, or full-body spasms — which might indicate a seizure — call your veterinarian immediately for assistance.
Do dogs dream? The brain science sure points to a yes on this common question among pet lovers. Next time you notice your pupper drifting off into dreamland, rest assured they're probably just thinking about the next ball they get to chase or adventure you two will go on together.
Angela Tague is a pet mom, writer and yogi living in the Midwest. When she's not making a mess in the kitchen or attending a yoga workshop, she's writing full-time for multiple lifestyle and technology brands. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn @AngelaTague.