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What Do Dogs Dream About? Canine Sleep Facts & FAQs

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

whippet dog sleeping peacefully

If you have ever witnessed your pup twitching, whining, or running in their sleep, you may have wondered if they were in pain or just having a dream. You also may be wondering if dogs dream at all.

We can say that there is evidence that leads scientists to believe that dogs do, in fact, dream! What they dream about, however, we cannot know for sure. But we have some general ideas. Read on to learn more!


What Is Dreaming?

Explaining the sleep process can help to understand dreaming. Animals and humans fall into a reduced state of voluntary muscle movement and consciousness when sleeping. In this state of consciousness, the body can recharge and grow, and the brain can process the day’s events. Your sense of smell, taste, and touch are inactive, however.

Like humans, dogs have periods of REM sleep. During this stage, the muscles are more relaxed, eye movement increases, and the brain is more active. This is the stage when your dog may be breathing heavily, whining, and running in his sleep.

We can assume that since dogs experience the same stages of sleep as humans, they have dreams, too. However, the duration and frequency of their dreams can vary among age, size, and even breed.

a dog sleeping on a pillow
Image Credit: Samuel Charron, Unsplash

What Do Dogs Dream About?

Since our canines cannot share their dreams with us, we can only speculate on their dreams. According to Dr. Deirdre Barrett,1 a Harvard expert, dogs are more than likely dreaming about their owners. They may dream of times when you were pleased with them, or they may have been agitating you. The running movement of their legs while sleeping may indicate that they dream about running or chasing rabbits.

You may often notice your dog’s legs moving, indicating they are dreaming of running or chasing rabbits. While we can only guess your pets’ dreams, some researchers say that people dream about human things, and canines dream of dog things. They believe that what a dog dreams about is liking determined by their daily activities and interactions. For instance, a working dog may have dreams of herding cattle, and a guard dog may have dreams of chasing an intruder.

Do Dogs Have Nightmares?

According to Carlo Siracusa,2 or Penn Vet, dogs can experience nightmares, and there are signs that may indicate that your dog is having a bad dream.

They include:
  • Barking or growling
  • Fast breathing
  • Tension in the jaw
  • Whining
  • Sweaty paws

Since a nightmare can cause fear in a dog, it is not recommended that you try to wake him up during a bad dream. The dog may be disoriented and exhibit aggressive behavior.

While doggie nightmares are not a cause for concern in most cases, if they are frequent or severe, you may want to mention it to your veterinarian to rule out any physical or mental issues that may be causing his nightmares.

Dog Dream Fun Facts!

  • The duration of dreams for large dogs tends to be longer than for smaller dogs.
  • Large dogs do not dream as frequently as smaller dogs.
  • The amount of time that dogs spend in REM sleep is half the time that humans do.
  • It is likely that puppies have more dreams than adult dogs because they are processing new information.

mix breed dog sleeping in dog bed
Image Credit: Christin Lola, Shutterstock

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While we know for certain that dogs do dream, we can only guess what their dreams are about. Experts theorize that the body movements and sounds a dog makes when sleeping give us insight into what those dreams are about. Running legs tell us they may be chasing birds or squirrels and whines may be a sign of a nightmare. What we know for sure is that dogs do dream like humans, but what happens while they are sleeping remains in their dreams.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: sergio souza, Pexels

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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