Dogs sleep for many hours each day, and owners love watching their pups asleep. Oftentimes, you’ll see your dog’s paws twitching or tails wagging. We can’t help but wonder what is going on inside their heads. Are our dogs dreaming? Or, more importantly, do dogs have bad dreams? Instead of enjoying watching our furry friends in their slumber, should we wake them up from their nightmares?
If you’re interested in discovering more about your dog’s sleeping habits, you’re in the right place. Here is everything you need to know about dog dreams. Let’s get to the bottom of what is happening inside our dog’s minds as they sleep and how you can help your pup with their night terrors.
There is a general understanding based on science and research that dogs do dream. They’re not dreaming all the time though! Just like people, dogs go through sleep cycles. It is when dogs are in their rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that dreaming occurs.
You’ll know that dogs are in this stage of sleep as their muscles will start to twitch, eyes will move behind their lids, and they might even start to whimper. A sleeping dog will usually enter its first stage of REM sleep around 20 minutes after first drifting off. Puppy dreams last for around one minute, while larger dogs with bigger brains can dream for up to five minutes. This dream state is followed by non-dreaming sleep. And then, the cycle continues!
If you see your dog dreaming, this is a good sign. Dogs that sleep more are happier than those that get less shut-eye, and dogs that have reached the REM sleep have had at least 20 solid minutes of rest. There is also recent research that shows sleeping and dreaming may help with memory in dogs. As you’ll learn in the next section, dogs mostly dream about the information they have processed in the day. Doing so helps them store it in their long-term memory.
Therefore, there is no need to wake a dreaming dog. You wouldn’t like to be woken up for no reason, and neither does your furry friend! In fact, REM sleep is the worst time you can wake a dog up; it can be very disorientating going from dream to reality. If you see your dog twitching, kicking its legs, wagging its tail, or vocalizing in its sleep, let it be. Your dog is likely dreaming, so leave them in dreamland for now.
As just mentioned briefly, dog dreams are thought to be about events or activities that have happened that day. This is because dreams stem from dog thoughts, so their recent experiences are bound to crop up in their sleep. As dreaming is also closely linked with the formation of memories, it makes sense that dogs relive events from that day to help reconsolidate them in their brains.
Scientists also think dogs dream about common activities. For example, your dog might not have been on a walk to the beach that day. But if this is an activity you do with your dog regularly, they can still dream about it. Dogs might also dream about eating treats, playing fetch, meeting other dogs in the park, and all other day-to-day activities. Their dreams are a reflection of their usual lives.
Nevertheless, this is all still speculative. We cannot ask our dogs precisely what they dream of but only guess based on the active brain regions and comparisons to human sleep. So, do dogs dream about their owners? About eating food? About running through the grass? Probably – but more research is needed to know for sure.
So, we know that dogs do dream based on studies that look at the electrical activity in their brains while sleeping. We also know that dogs likely dream about their day-to-day lives, based on the theory that dreams are an extension of dog thoughts. But can dogs have nightmares? And if so, what do dogs have nightmares about?
The answer here is simple – yes! Although it isn’t nice to think about, dogs can and do have bad dreams. As we suspect doggie dreams are based on their real-life thoughts and experiences, negative experiences can spark negative dreams. For example, if your dog felt stressed or anxious during the day, these feelings can extend into their sleep.
The occasional dog nightmare is nothing to worry about. Like humans, all dogs have stressful days from time to time which can manifest as bad dreams. However, regular nightmares are not a good sign. This indicates that your dog is experiencing chronic mental distress. You’ll most often see this with dogs that have experienced past trauma or abuse. Just as dogs can relive running down the beach in their dream, they can also relive their trauma every night when they close their eyes.
Thankfully, it is easy to spot when your dog is having a nightmare. Dogs will still twitch and their eyes will dart back and forth behind closed lids as with normal dreaming. But dogs that are having nightmares tend to be much more vocal. They might growl deeply, whimper and cry, or even bark loudly. They will appear distressed, and some severe nightmares might even cause your dog to jolt wide awake!
As mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t wake dogs up from their slumber. But should I wake my dog up from a bad dream? Although it might be tempting, it is best to simply let the nightmare pass. Most dogs only dream for up to five minutes, so it will be over before they know it. Besides, waking up your dog in the middle of a bad dream can cause them to become aggressive due to their mental distress.
Therefore, the best thing you can do to help your dog is to prevent nightmares from happening in the first place. Nightmares stem from negative emotions and experiences, so dogs that are experiencing high levels of stress when awake are more prone to having bad dreams. By removing or reducing these stressors, you can give your dog more pleasant waking and sleeping hours.
For many dogs, this is easy enough; give your dog plenty of love and affection, mental stimulation, and physical activity. Their days will be so full of fun, and so their dreams will be too. However, dogs adopted from shelters often have troubled or violent pasts and are more prone to nightmares. These dogs need even more love and encouragement. Yet with enough physical and mental training, you can help your pooch overcome its trauma and have a good quality of sleep almost every night.
So, do dogs have nightmares? It is impossible to say for certain what is happening inside the brains of dogs. However, all research indicates that dog and puppy dreams are based on their thoughts and emotions. As dogs can experience feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger, there is a general consensus that dogs can experience these negative emotions in their dreams.
Although it can be tempting, never wake your dog up from a nightmare. It’ll be over soon! Instead, help to give them the most loving and happiest lives possible. Your love and kindness will be reflected in their thoughts and dreams, and, with your help, they’ll have a blissful sleep every night.
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