As dog parents, we’ve all seen our pups in a deep sleep, twitching their legs or making funny sounds, which often begs the question: “are they dreaming?” It can be hard to know what our dogs are thinking or feeling because they can’t use words to tell us, but there is some information around what’s going on in those sleepy moments.
In 2001 MIT conducted a study that taught rats to do a maze while researchers measured their brain activity. The researchers then measured the rat’s brain activity when they were in REM sleep, this is the sleep cycle where humans experience dreams. They found that the brain activity while the rats were in the maze was the same as when they were in REM sleep, which led to the application that the rats were dreaming about the maze.
After this study, researchers applied that because rats are not as intellectually complex as dogs, but were still able to dream, dogs must also dream.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
In a petMD article, Neuroscientist Matt Wilson claims that dog’s dreams are traced back to their experiences throughout their day. So, when you take your pup on a long walk or to the dog park where they are chasing squirrels, playing, and sniffing around, it’s likely these experiences pop up in dreams.
Dr. Deirdre Barrett, a teacher and a Clinical and Evolutionary Psychologist at Harvard Medical School, suggests that, “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.”
It’s also likely that what a dog dreams about may be dependent on their breed. For example, a Labrador Retriever may be dreaming of swimming to shore after fetching a ball in the lake, while a Border Collie may be dreaming of rounding up the neighborhood kids.
What To Do When Your Dog is Dreaming
Much like us humans, dogs like their sleep. When you see your dog dreaming, it’s best to let them catch up on their Z’s. Waking a dog that is in REM sleep may startle them or confuse them. Or, at the very least, rob them of some important sleeping time.
The next time you see your pup fast asleep and twitching, running or barking, you can rest assured that they are simply dreaming about what they love most.