Do Dogs Dream? Here's What the Experts Have to Say
Your pup is lying beside you asleep—his eyes are darting behind his lids and his limbs are twitching. It looks like he's almost trying to run. He may even let out a soft whimper now and again. Is he dreaming, and just what is he dreaming of?
For animals that spend up to half their day sleeping, it's presumptuous to think dogs don't dream. Of course, they do. "Dog brains are very similar to human brains on a structural level so their brainwaves and brain activity while sleeping are similar to humans," says Dr. Gary Richter, an award-winning veterinary health expert with Rover.com.
Scientists now know that dogs experience multiple sleep stages during a standard sleep cycle, and during REM sleep (rapid eye movement), they dream just like we do, complete with twitches and whimpers.
Dogs hit the REM cycle after about 20 minutes of sleep. There have also even been studies that found dogs sleep better in their own bed rather than on a strange bed and sleep better after exercise rather than after being sedentary. Sounds a lot like us.
How Often Do Dogs Dream?
Some dogs dream more than others. What's more, a dog's size plays a role when it comes to his dreams. "Small dogs and puppies dream fast and often, with perhaps 60-second dreams every ten minutes or so," says Dr. Richter.
Larger dogs have longer dreams—up to about five minutes—with an hour of non-dream time between dreaming sessions.
What Do Dogs Dream About?
While no one knows for sure what your dog dreams about, researchers think they likely dream about dog things like chasing squirrels, running after rabbits, and playing fetch with you.
But while dogs dream happy dreams about fun activities, they can also have bad dreams or nightmares. They may replay traumatic events or dream about fears like being alone, getting in a fight with another dog, or being in a thunderstorm.
Should You Wake Your Dog If He’s Having a Nightmare?
"If your dog is dreaming and twitching or whining softly in his sleep, you can try to gently wake him from his bad dream if you don't think he'll be started," explains Dr. Richter.
However, if your dog is growling or acting aggressively in his sleep, you don't want to wake him in case he accidentally nips you in his confused dream state. In this case, either just observe nearby or use verbal cues like calling his name to see if you can awaken him from the nightmare. Once he's fully awake and shakes off his dream, a good cuddle is all he needs for comfort and sweet dreams again.
Talk with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog's dreams or sleep problems.