You would be hard pressed to scroll through social media without stumbling upon at least one video of an adorable, sleeping dog. But are dogs really dreaming when they twitch or kick in their sleep? Emily Carl, CPDT-KA, CCBC, FFCP, helps us decode our dogs’ sleep and dreams, below.
Sleep plays a very important role in dogs, especially for puppies who are still developing. All animals require sleep to rest their bodies and minds and to restore the energy lost throughout the day. Puppies, in particular, are prone to cycles of high energy and naps. These naps are crucial for both the pup’s physical and mental wellbeing. The Sleep Foundation found that dogs who do not get enough sleep are more likely to respond poorly to stress, demonstrate irritability, and struggle with learning tasks, such as basic training. Sleep-deprived dogs are also prone to delayed healing and worsening of poor health symptoms.
It makes sense, then, that a puppy who does not get proper sleep will be more irritable, fearful, prone to nipping, and struggle with early “puppyhood” training. Just like we may struggle to focus or practice patience when we’re overtired, so do dogs! Dogs can also share the same sleep-related disorders humans experience like narcolepsy and sleep breathing disorders.
What happens in the brain when dogs sleep?
Several studies show that dogs’ brains go through similar phases that human brains go through while sleeping. VCA Hospitals share that when dogs first fall asleep, they experience SWS, or Slow Wave Sleep. During this phase of sleep, your dog’s body is not completely relaxed and the brain waves are slow. This is a type of shallow sleep, where your dog is resting and peaceful but could easily wake up and is likely not dreaming.
REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep follows this phase. In this stage brain waves are much faster and, as the name suggests, the eyes are moving more quickly. This phase functions in an opposite way from SWS because the brain is much more active but the body is in a deeper state of rest. This is the most common time for dogs – and humans – to dream.
How can you tell if your dog is dreaming?
When dogs enter REM sleep, their eyes will start to move more frequently, their breathing will become faster, and other body parts may twitch. Sleeping dogs are frequently seen twitching their paws, nose, or ears, and may even whine. Dreams can feel very real, so it makes sense that dogs will move in a way that reflects what they might be doing in the dream. For instance, if a dog is sniffing in his dream, his nose may twitch in reality. If a dog is running in his dream, his paws might twitch. If your dog has been sleeping for a few minutes and you notice his eyes moving back and forth under his eyelids, his chest moving up and down more quickly, and his paws twitching, there’s a good chance your furry friend is dreaming!
Do different breeds dream differently?
While breed may not make enough difference to drastically chance how and whether dogs dream, some studies suggest there may be subtle differences. Researchers suggest that dogs may dream about what they experience in day-to-day life. The AKC noted that dogs may show breed-specific behaviors while sleeping, such as an English Springer Spaniel flushing “dream birds.”
“Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing or annoying you,” says Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett. So even if you have a mystery mixed breed, you can rest peacefully knowing that you likely make an appearance in your pup’s dreams!
What should you do with a dreaming dog?
It was once believed that dogs should tolerate any and all forms of interference from people. But, frankly, that just isn’t fair to dogs; they deserve to reap the benefits of their sleep uninterrupted. Much like a human who is dreaming or sleepwalking, you should not wake a sleeping dog! Waking a dreaming dog can startle and cause them to nip the person who wakes them, even if they wouldn’t normally hurt a fly when awake. So let sleeping dogs lie…or chase those dream rabbits.