When you were a kid, your parents' last words to you each night might have been, "Sweet dreams." While such remarks may fall into the realm of conversational convention, there's real significance behind them. After all, dreaming may prove to be a wonderful experience or a literal nightmare. People spend a good part of their lives dreaming, as do other mammals.
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If you've got a puppy in your house, you may feel like doing a little dreaming yourself when the constant activity stops and she catches some shut-eye. As she lies there all curled up — or stretched out, as the case may be — what's going on in that little canine brain? Is she dreaming about playing, eating, or just spending time with you? You'll never know for sure, but odds are she's dreaming about something.
The life of a neonatal puppy consists of nursing and some crawling around, but 90 percent of their young lives is spent sleeping. Around the age of 2 weeks, you might notice puppies twitching as they slumber. This might prove to be the start of puppy dreaming. There's no definitive answer, but the twitching appears to be related to neural development.
The twitching may signal rounds of activity in the neonatal brain. Whether or not it has anything to do with dreaming, such twitching may relate to muscle development. A puppy's back legs aren't as strong as his front legs in the first weeks of life, and the muscle twitching may help strengthen the rear legs so he's able to stand rather than crawl.
Stuff dreams are made of
By the 2-week mark, a puppy's eyes are open, but that doesn't mean she can see very well. Her vision at that point is quite limited. By the time she's 4 or 5 weeks old, however, her vision is much improved, according to Dogtime. That, of course, begs the question, what does a young puppy dream about if she doesn't have much in the way of eyesight or ability to hear?
In humans and other animals, dreaming consists of images. You know from your own experience that dreams are often memory related, although the dream may have a far different slant than any actual event. If a puppy has only tactile experiences, such as her siblings or the soft towels in the whelping box, can she still dream about them? No one really knows, but puppies sure look cute whether or not their deep sleep comprises actual dreaming.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep
Dreaming occurs during the REM stages of sleep. Much like people, dogs go through several periods of REM and non-REM cycles when snoozing. Dogs spend about 12 percent of their sleep in the REM cycle during the 12 to 14 hours they sleep daily. Puppies spend even more time in REM sleep than mature dogs, according to PetPlace.
It's during the REM cycle that the classic "running" pattern occurs. All four paws may move, an action that long ago gave rise to the idea of dreaming dogs. A dog sleeping stretched out may exhibit this pattern, but a curled-up pup isn't in the right position to do so.
Young and old dogs
The start and end of life in canines include more dreaming than at any other time. Vetstreet notes that young and old dogs spend more time moving during sleep. That might consist of moving their legs, wagging their tails, and generally jerking around. They might also vocalize during their dreams.
Although it's pure conjecture, it's good to think that puppies are dreaming of the exciting life to come, while seniors are reliving the adventures they've had. A walk in the park, catching a Frisbee, chasing a squirrel … those are dogs' dreams come true. Perhaps they dream about the most important event of the day — when you walk in the door.
- Live Science: What Do Dogs Dream About?
- VetStreet: Why Does My Dog... Twitch While Sleeping?
- Dogtime: Stages of Puppy Development
- PetPlace: Sleep Behavior of Dogs
- American Kennel Club: Puppy Senses: How Your Puppy Sees, Hears, Smells, and Tastes the World
- American Kennel Club: Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much?
- American Kennel Club: Why Is My Dog Twitching in His Sleep?