For many pet parents, the feeling you get when you catch your pup enjoying a nice long nap is indescribable. How do they always manage to look so cute curled up in a furry ball?
Sometimes in these sleepy moments you may notice your furry friend’s paws twitch, tail wag, and even make silly barking noises. If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably found yourself wondering, “are they dreaming?”
It can be hard to know what our dogs are thinking or feeling since they can’t use words to tell us. Thankfully, there is some research out there that can help us get to the bottom of whether or not dogs can dream.
In 2001, researchers at MIT’s Center for Learning and Memory conducted a study in hopes of better understanding the connection between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and dreams. In the study, they monitored the brain activity of rats while they ran around a maze. After the rats were tuckered out, the researchers then monitored their brain activity while they slept.
MIT found that during REM sleep, the areas of the rats’ brains that lit up while they were in the maze also lit up while they were asleep. This suggests that the rats were most likely dreaming about the maze. In fact, researchers were even able to use the data they collected to determine exactly where in the maze the rat was “seeing” themselves.
So, what does a study about rats have to do with dogs? The MIT researchers concluded that by proving rats dream, it is safe to assume most animals – especially ones more cognitively advanced than rats – also dream.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the author of “Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know,” has studied various findings and has come to the conclusion that, “…dogs dream doggy things.” What exactly does that mean? According to Coren, it means that, “…pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars…” and other types of dreams occur that make sense for each specific breed of dog.
Neuroscientist Matt Wilson agrees with Coren that a dog’s dreams can be traced back to their favorite experiences and activities throughout their day. If you took your furry friend to the park, they would probably dream of the park. If you played a game of fetch that afternoon, there is a good chance they will dream of fetch.
The reason dogs have these types of dreams is because sleep helps animals understand and categorize the events of the day. When you take your pup on a long walk where they are chasing squirrels, playing, and sniffing around, it’s likely these experiences will pop up in their dreams.
If you are like most pet parents, though, you may still be wondering if your pup ever dreams of you. 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 pet parents, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you.”
Studies also suggest that the size of a dog may also impact their sleep patterns and both what and how often they dream. Smaller dogs like poodles and pugs experience more frequent but shorter dreams—about 60 seconds of dreaming once every 10 or so minutes. Larger dogs, like Great Danes and Labs, have longer but less frequent dreams – 5 to 10 minutes of dreaming once every hour.
What To Do When Your Dog is Dreaming
Much like us humans, dogs need their beauty sleep. Adult dogs can sleep anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day, while puppies can snooze for as much as 18 hours a day.
Not only is it healthy for your furry friend to get their z’s, but studies have shown that dogs who sleep more are happier. Our suggestion is that if you find your pup is taking a midday snooze, it is best to let them be and not interrupt their sleep cycle.
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!
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