Do Dogs Dream Like Humans?

Gypsy taking a nap


Chihuahuas have short and frequent dreams lasting less than 60 seconds.
Gypsy is pictured here.

It is generally believed that dogs dream about their everyday experiences, just like humans. Sleep allows animals to consolidate and encode memories to learn things. Dogs probably dream about their owners or about playing with other dogs.

This notion is not new. More than two thousand years ago, in “The History of Animals,” Aristotle wrote “It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.”

According to Dr Deirdre Barrett, a clinical and evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School, “Mammals have a similar sleep cycle to humans, which includes phases of rapid eye movement (REM), the point at which dreams occur.” Thus by matching REM data points, some assumptions can be made when comparing their recorded activities while awake. [source] “Humans dream about the same things they’re interested in by day, though more visually and less logically… And there is no reason to think that animals are any different. 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.” [source]

Most land animals experience REM sleep and there have been many studies related to their sleep and dream activities over the years. In the 1960s, French researchers studied the effects of sleep deprivation on cats. When prematurely wakened during their REM phase, “the subjects stood up, pounced, arched their backs and stalked the room, hissing, suggesting they were dreaming of hunting something.” To the researchers, this suggested that the cats may have been dreaming of their hunting activities. [source]

Similar tests done on dogs have led some to believe that canines may tend to dream more of playful activities or those involving running.

In 1977, scientists reported in the journal Physiological Behavior about their study of the electrical activity of the brains of six pointer dogs for 24 hours. “They found that the dogs spent 44 percent of their time alert, 21 percent drowsy and 12 percent in REM sleep. They also spent 23 percent of their time in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, called slow-wave sleep.” [source]

Aristotle - The History of Mankind: It would appear that not only do men dream, but horses also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all viviparous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dreaming by barking in their sleep.

In 2001, researchers at MIT studies looked at rats who were trained to running maze. They found that their brain activity during their rapid-eye-movement sleep matched their activity while they were awake running the mazes.

“While a rat was awake and learning the maze, electrical recordings were taken from its hippocampus (an area of the brain associated with memory formation and storage). Researchers found that some of these electrical patterns were quite specific and identifiable depending upon what the rat was doing. Later, when the rats were asleep and their brain waves indicated that they had entered the stage where humans normally dream, these same patterns of brain waves appeared. In fact the patterns were so clear and specific that the researchers were able to tell where in the maze the rat would be if it were awake, and whether it would be moving or standing still.” [source]

In 2007, University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked at the brain activities of zebra finches. “These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.” [source]

On average, dogs dream up to 14 hours a day. The smaller a dog is, the more frequently it will dream. For example, a toy poodle may dream once every 10 minutes, an Irish Wolfhound once every hour or two. Chihuahuas have short and frequent dreams lasting less than 60 seconds.

In the Newcomb household, our Smooth Coat Chihuahua named Gypsy is the best dreamer. I have often been awakened by her dream-barking. She barks softly but boldly in her sleep. Her eye movement is noticeable on occasion. Maybe she is protecting the house! Frazier, who is a Chihuahua mix, also dreams. He moves his legs a bit as if he is chasing a rabbit. Carl, the oldest Chihuahua is restless sometimes, perhaps he is dreaming of his younger days.

Terra, the Fox Terrier, sleeps like a rock all night long, no visible nighttime activity for her. The others are quiet sleepers but Yoshi snores loudly. I am not sure if she is dreaming.

When I was a child I remember our German Shepard dog, Rinney was a vivid dreamer. He would move his legs in his sleep and also bark softly. He was in hot pursuit of something.

I’d like to think dogs have happy dreams. They always seem so comfortable when they are asleep. Our lucky pups share a nice big bed with lots of room for many dreamy naps and evenings.

As I am writing this, Frazier and Gypsy are sleeping I have seen both of them quite actively dreaming. They’re making little sighing sounds, twitching their noses and eyes, also breathing rapidly. Although they fall asleep quickly, they are also light sleepers and wake up at the slightest sound.

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** 2018 UPDATE **
An interested reader sent in this link to an article on “30 Interesting Facts About Dreams (Backed Up By Science)” from The website does contain mostly reviews for the best pillows on the market. But the post delves into the intriguing world of dreams and presents many facts with links to helpful outside resources.

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