On a regular day when you are watching TV or sipping coffee while reading a book, you hear your dog yelp in pain or give a muffled bark as though it is in trouble. Hurriedly you put everything aside, quickly jump to your feet and run to your dog’s rescue. But what you find there is puzzling and may even seem funny. Doggie dearest is sleeping sound in the corner, not even remotely in danger and yet whining in its sleep. What might the matter be? Do you freak out because you think he is having an attack of some sort? Or do you start wondering if he might be dreaming? But then again, only humans are able to dream, right? Is it possible that even dogs dream? To answer your question, yes they can.
Human beings are not the only creatures that dream while in sleep. Dreams occur in the REM stage of our sleep. Rapid eye movement sleep or REM is one of the five stages of sleep that most people experience every night. It is during this stage of sleep that the brain is most active and primed for some serious dreaming. The brain processes activity just as one would when fully awake. Heart and respiration speeds up, but certain muscle groups go through involuntary paralysis. This explains why humans can go through intense, realistic dreams, and react to them with slight movement here-and-there. Some people who do not experience the paralysis of muscles continue to move in their sleep while acting out their dreams. This holds good for dogs as well.
Not all creatures slip into REM but most mammals are among those that do. Since dogs are mammals and it has been found that their brainwaves are very similar to that of humans when we experience REM sleep, it is true that they spend their REM time much like we do. Therefore it is a good explanation as to why dogs bark and howl very low during a dream and why humans mumble in theirs. Similar to humans, dogs tend to dream of things going on in the past and present. There is also a stage called non- REM sleep or deep sleep. Non-REM dreams consist of quick pictures of things usually done that day. During the deeper sleep state of REM, dreams last much longer and tap into a vast pool of past experiences drawn from weeks, months and even years in the past.
Research has shown that all dogs do not dream equally. According to psychologist Stanley Coren, who is the author of the book “How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind”, the frequency and length of dog dreams varies with their physical size. Small dogs dream more than larger dogs. For example, he said, mastiffs and Great Danes might dream every 45 minutes for about five minutes, compared to their smaller canine cousins that enter a dream state every 10 minutes with episodes lasting less than 60 seconds. Dreaming also seems to occur more frequently in puppies. This might be because they are processing huge quantities of newly acquired experiences.
Funnily though, even though it has been found out that dogs are capable of dreaming, it is still not known as to what exactly they dream about. It is assumed that they dream in a similar fashion to humans, replaying the everyday activities that make up their existence, like chasing, playing, and eating. Since dogs cannot tell us themselves, what they dream about will always remain a mystery to us.
If you too want to know whether your dog is dreaming or not, you can just check for the following signs. After about 20 minutes of an average sized dog dozing off, the dreams should start. You will recognize the change because its breathing will become shallow and irregular. There may be odd muscle twitches, and you can even see the dog’s eyes moving behind its closed lids if you look closely enough. The eyes are moving because the dog is actually looking at the dream images as if they were real images of the world. Sometimes it may even make soft sounds in its sleep like whining or yelping. It is nothing to worry about as the dog is only going through a dream and it will get over soon. There is no need to get worked up about it and wake up the little one suddenly. In fact, it is suggested that you never wake a dog from its sleep. One reason is that dogs, like humans, need uninterrupted sleep for healthy mental activity. Another reason is that if the dream is intense and possibly an aggressive one, they can wake up in a defense reaction and bite. There have been reports of dog owners who have witnessed their own dog wake out of an intense dream only to attack another dog in the household who was lying too close.
So, the next time that you witness this and think of waking up your dog, try not to do that because as the saying goes, “It is best to let sleeping dogs lie”. However, if you must wake them then calmly calling out their name is more than enough, though they usually work themselves out of it naturally.