What Do Dogs Dream About?

Every dog owner is familiar with their pet’s subtle kicks, eye and nose twitches, and whimpers when she is otherwise asleep. At first glance, it can be easy to think that your dog is having a bad dream and you might even be prompted to wake her.

But do dogs dream?

The truth is science hasn’t been able to determine with any degree of certainty whether dogs dream or not. But that doesn’t mean that some in the field don’t have reason to believe that dogs do dream.

Other Animals Can Dream, So Why Not Dogs?

Researchers have been studying animals and their ability to dream for decades, and over that time many discoveries have been made that support the belief. One of the most compelling studies occurred in 2001 when Matthew Wilson, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, and graduate student Kenway Louie, conducted a study to determine the relationships between sleep, memory, and dreams using rats.

The duo discovered that when the rats were trained to run along a circular track for food rewards, the neurons in the rats’ brains fired in a distinctive pattern. Wilson and Louie continued to monitor the rats’ brain activity while they were sleeping and witnessed their neurons would fire in the same signature pattern associated with running. Even more interesting was the fact that the “memories” played at approximately the same speed during sleep as when the rats were awake.

So, if rats can dream, can other mammals, like dogs, dream too? Dr. Wilson believes they can and he has good reason to. It all comes down to the hippocampus, the portion of the brain that collects and stores memories. Because the hippocampus is wired much the same way in all mammals, there is no reason to believe that if humans and rats can dream, then dogs, cats, and other animals can too.

If Dogs Dream, What Do They Dream About?

In 2010, this question was asked of Dr. Wilson in an interview with healthday.com . Professor Wilson believes that as dogs sleep, images of past events replay in their minds, much the same way people recall experiences while dreaming.

In that same article, psychologist Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind, stated that he believed the frequency and length of dreams is linked to the dog’s physical size. For example, he said, “mastiffs and Great Danes might dream every 45 minutes for about five minutes, compared to their smaller canine cousins that enter a dream state every 10 minutes with episodes lasting less than 60 seconds.”

As for what do dogs dream about? “Pointers point at dream birds, and Dobermans growl at dream burglers,” Coren said.

So, the next time you see your pup sleeping and she looks like she’s chasing a squirrel in her sleep, she probably is!

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