Do Dogs Have Dreams & Nightmares?

By Rodney Wilson

It's a phenomenon every dog owner knows well: After a long day of living a dog's life, the family pet stretches out on the carpet for some well-deserved shuteye, only to start twitching, kicking and uttering muffled sleep barks. And most dog owners, upon witnessing this somnambulant activity, come to the logical conclusion of a canine dream, but is there any truth to this? Do dogs really dream?

Do Dogs Dream?

It's widely believed that, yes, dogs dream.

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The short answer is yes ... probably. Without the emergence of the long-fabled talking canine companion to confirm that dogs do dream, people can only make an educated guess that Fido's twitchy sleep growls indicate brain activity similar to the human concept of “dreaming.” Luckily, curiosity about dog dreaming is a longstanding topic of study; this educated guess is based on an expansive body of scientific studies and intellectual queries.

Scientific Evidence

Scientific studies support the theory that dogs dream.

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There's plenty of hard evidence suggesting that dogs do, in fact, dream. For starters, dogs' brains are structurally similar to humans. Scientists at MIT studied brain wave activities of sleeping dogs to find that canines experience the same stages of electrical activity as unconscious humans. The researchers confirmed dreaming occurs in animals with less complex neurological systems, as studies on sleeping rats suggest the rodents also dream. Interestingly though, frequency varies, with small dogs dreaming more often than large dogs.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

Just like humans, dogs likely dream about their daily activities.

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What do dogs dream about? Well, what do humans dream about? The most common belief is that animals dream about activities their waking selves participate in, just as a person's daily activities determine subsequent dreams. Science confirms this belief: The MIT studies observed identical brain activity during sleep as was seen while the rodents performed activities awake. Presuppositions can be made that a dog who experiences fearful situations while awake is more likely to have nightmares.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

A dog needs sleep, so let it lie.

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Many pet owners wonder if a dreaming dog needs human intervention when kicking, growling or otherwise experiencing brain activity while sleeping. Sometimes this is based on concern for the dog, other times driven by more selfish motives such as a desire for uninterrupted human sleep. The old adage is the best advice, though: Let that sleeping dog lie. Interrupting REM sleep can confuse the animal and compromises your furry friend's much-needed sleep cycle.