Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
The sight of a dog sleeping is precious and the antics a dog goes through before they fall sleep can be very entertaining. They twirl around to find the most comfortable spot in their bed and paw at their blanket before they eventually settle in for a nap. What’s even more entertaining is seeing them dream – their legs twitch, their tail moves, their mouth snaps at something, or they emit an audible whimper or growl. We assume they are dreaming, but are dogs really capable of this?
Studies of various animals have concluded that many of them dream, including dogs. In fact, their brain wave patterns and electrical activity are very similar to those of a sleeping human. One of the most important studies was performed on rats at MIT. When scientists removed or inactivated the section of the brainstem called the pons, or the area that stops us from acting out our dreams, these animals started to move once they entered the dream stage of sleep, acting out their dreams. During the day, scientists had the rats run through mazes, and during their dreams, scientists were able to pinpoint the exact turns the rats were dreaming about running through.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
It’s believed that dogs dream about what they experienced during day while they were awake, similar to humans and the rats that were studied. Since dogs replay the activities of their day, it’s no wonder that many dog owners report their pooches running in their dreams as this is one of their favorite things to do while they are awake! It is also believed that different breeds of dogs dream about what they were bred to do. Collies may herd, Pointers may point, and Basset Hounds may sniff out a rabbit.
Is Your Dog Twitching in His Sleep?
A normal-sized dog usually starts to dream within about ten to twenty minutes after falling asleep. Their breathing goes from regular to irregular and you start to notice movements, especially in their eyes. They are looking at images, just like humans do during REM sleep. Dogs who sleep with their legs relaxed and stretched out will often twitch their paws when dreaming while dogs who sleep curled up must keep their muscles tense and will not move as much during their sleep. Scientists have also found that smaller dog breeds dream multiple times throughout the night while larger dogs may only dream once. The frequency of a dog’s dreams during the night also depends on their age, as puppies and elderly dogs dream more often than middle-aged dogs. This is because the pons is not fully developed in puppies and doesn’t function as well in elderly dogs.
Are Dog Dreams Nightmares?
Unfortunately, dogs do have nightmares. It can be tempting to wake your dog up when he is having a nightmare, but it is discouraged. Waking him up during a nightmare can be startling for the dog and there is potential for him to become aggressive and snap at you since he is disoriented. It’s better to offer comfort to your dog once he wakes up from his bad dream. One way to prevent nightmares is to give you dog a happy experience during the day with the hope that his dreams will be happy too.
Now that you have some answers about dog dreams, keep an eye on your dog while he is sleeping to see if you can determine what he is doing based on his movements. Is he replaying the events of his day? The answer is most likely yes, and he is probably dreaming about his beloved owner too!
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