Do restless dogs dream of scary sheep? Or quite possibly being chased by something scary? Many dog owners have wondered what is on our little furry friends’ minds when they look like they are having a nightmare. Some people, on the other hand, are skeptical about whether dogs dream at all. 

We see them run in their sleep, their tails are wagging, their paws are twitching, and you might even hear them bark or yelp. It’s pretty clear that they do dream, something supported by most veterinarians. And while we can’t really say for certain what they dream about, there is some interesting information about doggy dreams and nightmares that we have gathered in the article below.

Just like us – the science behind doggy dreams

Scientific research has shown that dogs can dream just like humans. Furthermore, they are not the only ones. Cats, rats, some birds, a host of other animals are able to dream as well. The mistake that people make here is thinking about consciousness as zero and one notion. You either have consciousness and imagination (like humans) or you don’t (like every other living creature). Without going too deep into this idea, the perspective of seeing consciousness and imaginative ability as a scale could be quite beneficial when looking at dogs and their dreams.

Namely, there are certain similarities in brain structure found between humans and certain animals. We all have sections of the brain that are responsible for memories, and for creating visuals. Furthermore, both humans and dogs have a part of their brainstem that is responsible for restricting physical moment when we sleep. Just as humans toss and turn during the night, so do dogs twitch and wag their tails.

Furthermore, both dogs and humans have similar sleep cycles. Both species pass through wakefulness, REM sleep, and non-REM sleep. It’s important to note that during the rapid eye movement phase of sleep (i.e. REM phase) both humans and dogs dream. 

What do they dream about?

It’s still rather difficult to guess and actually understand what dogs dream about. Until they develop the ability of human speech we probably won’t be able to find out. However, when we do consider the similarities between our brains and sleep patterns and theirs, we can still make an educated guess or two.

Namely, they will most likely dream of the day’s events, of the things they have seen and the people they have met. If they have any past trauma, they might have nightmares of the bad things that have unfortunately happened to them. Even those fortunate to have had easy lives might dream about things in the park that have scared them, bigger and louder dogs or mean and feisty cats. 

What causes nightmares

So all this science basically points towards one thing – if dogs’ sleep habits and structures are so similar to humans, and if they do indeed dream, then it stands to reason that they have nightmares as well. Going further with this notion, we can also expect that we have bad dreams for the same reasons.

Stress, sleep disorders, and trauma affect both humans and dogs. These same issues can cause us to get nightmares and can make a puppy have a nightmare as well. Just like how we seem scared, frustrated, or sad during a nightmare, so too are our puppies. Any dog owner can tell when their dog is feeling sad or frustrated when it’s awake – so why wouldn’t we able to tell the same thing when they are asleep? 

How you can help

In general, nightmares are benign issues that shouldn’t be given that much thought. Sometimes they are simply spontaneous, they occur for no other reason than simply random chance or the usual stressors of life getting to use. Sometimes simply letting it go is enough.

However, if they are frequently occurring, you can do a couple of things to get the situation under control. First of all, maybe getting the best orthopaedic dog beds on the market can help them sleep a bit more comfortably. Try to minimize any stress they might suffer from day to day. Also check with your vet – they might have some stomach issues or pain that might be disrupting their sleep. Otherwise, you can stay pretty certain that it’s not that big of a deal.

You also want to help your dog by setting up a clear routine. Keeping things consistent, like walks, food, playtime, this all can help it have a sense of regularity, and a sense of structure. This helps it keep to a regular sleep schedule. 

You also want to give it as much exercise as you can. A tired dog is a sleepy dog, so it will go to bed earlier. This is also a great way for it to release some steam, getting rid of any stress it might have felt, reducing the chances of it having bad dreams even more.

Conclusion

We share many things with our dogs – food, warmth, shelter, companionship. This has been going on for millennia, they were, and still, are, our faithful companions. So why not share the ability to dream (and to have nightmares) as well? The way we sleep and dream, certain parts of our brain, it all scientifically points towards dogs being able to have nightmares. And anecdotal evidence supplied by basically any dog owner points towards dogs truly having good and bad dreams. 


About the Author: Sofia Alves is a volunteer with local dog rescues and a freelance writer. She treats all animals as if they were her own. Sofia’s family includes her husband, a 3-year-old daughter and a sweet 7-year-old Hungarian vizsla, Lily. Outside of loving pets and spending time with her family, she’s probably bicycling somewhere in nature