I bet you look at your dog and think you know nearly everything about them. You know when they’re hungry, when they’re sick, happy, or scared. But do you know if your dog dreams? Or what they dream about if they do?
Perhaps their favourite chew toy, that particularly fun walk in the snow or the excitement when the doorbell rings.
If dogs do dream, are all dreams good or are there such things as dog nightmares too?
Do dogs dream like humans?
Dogs sleep more than humans do, they sometimes even spend more than half the day curled up with their eyes closed. Spending all this time doing catnaps – or even dognaps – it’s impossible to think your pup doesn’t dream. But are dog dreams the same as human ones?
As most dog owners know, the similarities between dogs and humans are much more than their differences, that’s why they’re man’s best friend. This is the same for dreaming. Structurally dog brains are pretty close to human ones. They have very similar brain wave patterns which shows that they go through the same stages of a sleep cycle as humans.
A sleep cycle is made up of wakefulness, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). It’s in the REM stage that both humans and dogs dream more. The brain becomes more engaged and the part of the brain that deals with memory and learning is activated. At this stage the heart rate is higher and the dreams weirder and more memorable.
So, it’s pretty clear that dogs dream like humans, but do dogs dream about the same things as humans too?
The scientific evidence points towards the fact that when dogs are dreaming they’re processing the events and activities they’ve lived in their lives.
Just like humans. And what do most dogs spend their time doing? Running, eating, sleeping, chasing and playing. Although we can’t actually get inside our pup’s brain and know what they’re thinking, their sleep behaviour can indicate what they’re dreaming about.
Dogs that twitch and move alot during their sleep are likely to be chasing or running. Dogs that are moving their mouths may be hunting, eating or playing and dogs that are making soft sounds could be enjoying a good scratch behind the ear.
Although their movements and behaviour can give us an indication of a dog's dream, we can’t be 100% sure whether their leg movements mean they’re chasing the neighbour’s cat, a sheep or a squirrel up a tree!
Can dogs have nightmares?
Surely if our brains are not too different, and dogs dream, they can also have nightmares? Well, yes. Much like us humans, dogs can’t control what they dream about and they process their fears or trauma as dog nightmares.
Just in the same way a dog that’s smiling whilst sleeping could be dreaming about the delicious roast beef they had for lunch, a dog that starts to snarl, whimper or shake could be having a scary nightmare.
Why does my dog have nightmares?
Although nightmares are horrible for everyone, dogs included, they’re an important part of us processing our fears and memories.
In the same way I used to have nightmares about pirates after reading Peter Pan, if a dog has a particularly scary memory they’ll also have nightmares about it. This could be bathtime, another dog, trips to the vet or loud noises.
Dog nightmares can be particularly difficult to deal with if you have an adopted dog and are unsure of their history or experiences. It isn’t, however, recommended to wake a dog whilst it’s having a nightmare – as difficult as this might seem. As the saying goes, let sleeping dogs lie.
If you wake a dog whilst they’re having a nightmare they might get confused, upset or even become violent. It’s best to soothe them when they naturally wake up, comforting and relaxing them. If you feel your dog is particularly distressed by their nightmare and you need to wake them, the best way to do it is by gently calling their name from afar.
Try not to touch them in case they become aggressive and confused.
Just like humans, dogs dream about their experiences and memories whilst also having nightmares about their fears and traumas.
It’s difficult to control whether your dog has nightmares or not, but the best way is to fill the day doing lots of exciting things that your pup will love! That way they’ll spend their sleep time dreaming about them all over again!
Have your dogs ever had nightmares? Let us know in the comments below!
I’m Charlotte, a content and copywriter from the North of England and currently living in Berlin. Animals have always been a huge part of my life, so writing about dogs is a total pleasure! I love all kinds of dogs and their cheeky personalities, but I’d have to say Weimaraners are my favourite!