When I was younger, I was always wondering what my pup was dreaming about. To be honest, now that I’m an adult, I’m still wondering. There’s a lot of controversy about whether dogs can dream or not, but most research is leaning towards– yes! 

What does the research actually say? What do dogs dream about? 

Stages of Sleep in Dogs

Like their human counterparts, dogs go through various stages of sleep, spending nearly half their day in slumber, which provides ample opportunity for dreaming. The stages of sleep in dogs include:

  • Wakefulness: In this initial sleep phase, dogs are in that middle stage between awake and asleep, but don't reach full alertness. 
  • Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM): Like the human sleep cycle, during REM sleep, dogs are likely to have their most vivid dreams.
  • Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM): This stage is characterized by lighter sleep compared to REM.

It's during the REM phase that researchers theorize significant brain activities occur, such as the transformation of short-term memories into long-term ones. 

So, when you notice your dog twitching or moving during sleep, it's a strong indicator that they're deep in their REM cycle.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

Although the exact content of your dog's dreams remains a mystery, scientists believe that they probably dream about typical canine pursuits. 

This might include activities like chasing squirrels, running after rabbits, or maybe even one of the games they play with you. These dreams are thought to reflect the daily life and experiences of dogs, reminding them of the joys and excitements they encounter.

Like us though, scientists believe that not all dreams are pleasant for our canine companions. Just as humans can experience nightmares, our dogs may also have some pretty rough ones. These unsettling dreams could involve reliving traumatic situations or confronting their fears. 

Dogs with separation anxiety might have nightmares about you leaving, those afraid of thunder may form a nightmare about a bad storm that recently happened, and so on and so forth. 

Signs Your Dog is Dreaming

Watching a sleeping dog can be quite interesting because it might show us what they're dreaming about. Like I said earlier, they likely dream about their daily lives or something they’re afraid of, so associating their movements with what they could be doing can be entertaining, interesting, or concerning. 

You might see their legs twitch or move as if they're running, or you might hear them bark, whimper, or even growl. These actions suggest they're dreaming about something, perhaps related to their day-to-day activities.

Besides these obvious movements and sounds, there are also smaller signs that a dog is dreaming. Their breathing might change pace, or their eyes could move rapidly behind closed eyelids, a common sign of dreaming in many animals, including people. 

Our dogs might also tense up or relax their muscles suddenly, reflecting the changing scenes in their dreams. Usually, about 20 minutes after a dog falls asleep, they enter this dreaming phase. This period of sleep can reveal a lot about what goes on in their minds, offering a peek into their feelings and thoughts.

How Dog Gut Health Affects Sleep

Research has found that the gut and brain, like many other organ systems, are intricately connected. Our dog’s gut, and even our own, can affect our anxiety levels, moods, and how well we sleep. Scientifically, this is known as the gut-brain axis. The good news is that adding probiotics could help your dog sleep better. 

Scientists need to do a bit more digging into this topic, but the general thought is that a healthy gut helps balance your dog’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is responsible for telling your dog when it’s time to eat, drink, sleep, and do other activities in their routines.

The diversity of the gut microbiome is connected with longer and better sleep. This means that by providing probiotics, like those found in Daily Dog, you may be able to help your dog sleep better, leaving time for those good (hopefully) dreams. 

Don’t Wake Your Dog Especially During Nightmares

Waking up your dog from a deep sleep, especially during a dream or especially a nightmare, is generally not recommended for a handful of reasons. 

  • Confusion: Just like us, dogs can be startled if woken up abruptly. This sudden awakening can lead to confusion and fear, potentially causing a defensive or aggressive reaction, even towards familiar faces.
  • Fear: If your dog was in the middle of a nightmare, or even in an intense part of a dream, this could lead to an unintentional bite occurring or aggression. 
  • Sleep quality: Our dogs need uninterrupted sleep to rest and recover. Disturbing their sleep cycle can affect their health and mood. Adequate sleep is important for their physical health, cognitive function, and overall well-being.
  • Stress and anxiety: Being woken up unexpectedly can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety in dogs. Over time, repeated disturbances in their sleep could lead to heightened levels of stress, affecting their overall emotional health.
  • Dreaming is important: Dreaming occurs during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, which is important for processing experiences and emotions. Interrupting this process could severely affect their learning and memory. 

For these reasons, it's best to allow your dog to wake up naturally from their sleep. If you must wake them for any reason, it's advisable to do so gently, perhaps by softly speaking their name or lightly patting the ground near them, allowing them to awaken gradually and comfortably.

Further Understanding Our Dogs

The notion that dogs can dream about both positive and negative experiences suggests that their emotional and mental lives are more complex than we might initially assume. 

It shows the depth of their consciousness and their ability to remember and emotionally react to their experiences, even when they’re sleeping. This helps us better understand our dogs and shows us that our dogs can reflect on all experiences, including their fears and traumas. 

→To support your dog even further, try our veterinarian-formulated probiotics today!← 

Read More: 

The Interrelated Effect of Sleep and Learning in Dogs (Canis familiaris)

The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression

Associations Between Gut Microbiota and Sleep

Sleep Characteristics in Dogs; Effect on Caregiver-Reported Problem Behaviours

Sleep, Learning, and Dreams: Off-Line Memory Reprocessing

Photo by Samantha Jean on Unsplash

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