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Experts say that humans dream at least four to six times a night. Dogs sleep more than humans (12-14 hours a day versus seven on average, which is 70%-100% more). You'd think this would give dogs that many more opportunities to dream. But do dogs dream and, if so, what do they dream about? Find out here.
Yes, dogs do dream! Structurally speaking, dog brains are not unlike human brains. This means they have some similarities in brain activity, even when sleeping. Like us, dogs experience multiple sleep stages during a standard sleep cycle, including the rapid eye movement or REM sleep stage. It's during this stage that humans, as well as dogs, have the most memorable dreams. A 1977 study recorded the brain activity of six Pointers over 24 hours and found that they spent 12% of their sleep in the REM stage. In general, dogs enter REM sleep about 20 minutes in and stay there for just 2 or 3 minutes.
Interestingly and for unknown reasons, the size of a dog can affect the length of a dream - smaller dogs have more frequent but shorter dreams, while larger dogs have less frequent but longer ones. For example, small dogs may have 60-second dreams every 10 minutes. On the other hand, large dogs may have a five-minute dream but then nothing for an hour.
There is no concrete scientific evidence or consensus on what dogs dream about. That being said, an MIT study showed that rats had the same unique brain activity when running through a maze as they did while sleeping after. This indicates that they dreamt about the day's activities. Scientists took this information and concluded that more complex animals, such as dogs, would also dream about their activities and experiences. So your dog very well may be dreaming about running around, playing with their favorite toy, snuggling with you or socializing with other dogs - if they did those things.
Some dogs don't show signs of dreaming, while others make it obvious. In fact, some behaviors could be hints into what your dog is dreaming about. For instance, a barking sleeper may be dreaming about a squirrel or the mail carrier. Or a dog that appears to be running may be reliving a game of chase. Common indications that your dog is in a dream include:
Because the the similarities outlined above, dogs can have nightmares just like humans can. These could be about your dog's fears or a past traumatic experience. Signs of nightmares include twitching, whining and other sounds of distress. You can wake your dog if you are confident they won't be startled and react aggressively. If you know they are easily startled, or showing more intense signs of fear or aggression during a dream, avoid waking them up. That may be hard to do, but it's safer. You can make up for it by being close and providing comfort when your dog awakens.
Pro Tip: If you dog suddenly begins having nightmares, consult your vet to rule out any health issues that could be causing them. For instance, sudden nightmares in older dogs may be due to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Doggie Alzheimer’s.