Proof Pups (Probably) Dream & What This Means

When your dog is twitching next to you, they could be dreaming, but what they're dreaming about you may never know.

Published May 2, 2023
English bulldog sleeping on sofa

We're always wondering what goes on inside the canine minds of our beloved furry friends. You've probably seen your dog twitch and yelp while they're asleep, and you probably imagine them chasing a dream bird or barking at a spectral squirrel. But are they really dreaming, and what do dogs actually dream about? Just like humans, dogs have complex brains and rich emotional lives, which leads to the fascinating possibility that they dream like as we do.

Do Dogs Dream?

Yes, evidence suggests dogs probably do dream. Studies have shown that dogs, like many other mammals, experience a sleep cycle that includes Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This is the stage of sleep when dreaming typically occurs in humans. During this stage, the brain is highly active, and the body is paralyzed to prevent us from acting out our dreams physically.

Researchers have observed similar patterns in dogs. Dogs experience rapid eye movement, irregular breathing, and muscle twitching during REM sleep. These observations strongly suggest our dogs are experiencing dreams. However, unless something changes and we're able to peer into our pets' heads while they're asleep, we can't be 100% sure they're dreaming exactly like we do.

How Can We Tell They're Dreaming?

You can also tell if a dog is dreaming by watching for twitching or movement in their limbs and body. This movement can be subtle, but it's a good indication that they're having a dream. You might also see your dog wag their tail slightly or move their head from side to side as they sleep. It's possible that you will even hear them make noises during their sleep.

It sounds awkward, but some dogs can fall asleep with their eyes open. If your dog sleeps with their eyes open, and wonder if they're dreaming, you can tell by looking at their eyes. Dogs' pupils will dilate when they sleep, making the whites of their eyes bigger than when they are awake. Their eyes may also seem to shift rapidly, back and forth - this is REM (and you can observe it through their eyelids, too). When you see this, it means that your dog is dreaming.

Quick Tip

The best way to tell whether your dog is dreaming is by observing them for several nights in a row so that you know what normal sleeping behavior looks like for your particular dog.

How Often Do Dogs Dream?

Dogs, like humans, go through multiple sleep cycles during the course of a night. Each cycle consists of different stages, including REM sleep, when dreams typically occur. The length of the sleep cycle and the amount of time spent in REM sleep can vary between dogs, but on average, a dog's sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.

Dogs tend to sleep when their owners do, especially as they get older. As your dog's sleep cycle progresses through the night, the amount of time spent in REM sleep tends to increase in each subsequent cycle. This means that dogs are likely to have multiple dreams throughout the night, with the dreams becoming more frequent and longer as the night goes on.

Puppies and younger dogs may dream more frequently than adult dogs. This is because they spend more time in REM sleep, which is believed to be crucial for brain development and learning. Additionally, smaller dog breeds tend to enter REM sleep more quickly and have shorter sleep cycles, which may result in them dreaming more frequently than larger breeds.

What Does My Dog Dream About?

While you can't communicate directly with dogs to ask them what they dream about, researchers speculate that dogs dream about things they experience.

  • Daily Life: Like humans, dogs are likely to dream about events and experiences from their lives. This could include playing fetch, going for walks, interacting with other dogs or people, or engaging in any other activities they regularly participate in.
  • Instinctual behaviors: Dogs may dream about behaviors that are ingrained in their genes, such as chasing prey, digging, or herding. These dreams may be a reflection of their evolutionary past and the survival skills their ancestors needed in the wild.
  • Emotional experiences: Dogs are known to have rich emotional lives, and it's possible that they dream about emotionally charged experiences. For example, they might dream about situations that evoke happiness, excitement, fear, or anxiety, depending on their individual personalities and life experiences.
  • Problem-solving: Some researchers suggest that dogs may use their dreams as a way to work through challenges they face in their waking lives. In their dreams, dogs might work through navigating difficult situations or experiment with new ways to solve problems.
Sleepy chihuahua dog

Do Dogs Have Nightmares?

The evidence of dogs experiencing bad dreams is murky. However, some specialists believe dogs can have nightmares. Dogs may exhibit signs of distress during sleep, such as whining, growling, or twitching, which could indicate that they are experiencing a bad dream or nightmare.

These behaviors may be a response to negative or fearful experiences that the dog has encountered in their waking life. It is important to remember that dogs experience complex emotional lives, and their dreams can reflect the variety of emotions they have. Nightmares may be a natural part of the dreaming process, allowing dogs to process their emotions, work through challenging experiences, or practice coping strategies for difficult situations.

Quick Tip

If you notice your dog exhibiting signs of distress during sleep, it is generally best to let them sleep undisturbed. Waking a dog suddenly from a deep sleep, especially if they are experiencing a nightmare, may cause confusion or fear.

What Does it Mean When My Dog Cries When Dreaming?

You've probably heard your dog whimper while they're sleeping. This can be distressing, but try to remember, it's probably only a dream. A dog crying or whining during sleep may be experiencing a dream that involves:

  • Emotional situations: The dog could be dreaming about an emotionally charged experience, such as a moment of excitement, frustration, anxiety, or fear. The crying or whining might be a reflection of the emotions they are experiencing in their dream.
  • Physical sensations: Dogs may dream about physical sensations, such as discomfort, and their vocalizations could be a response to these sensations in their dream.
  • Social interactions: Dogs are social animals, and their dreams may involve interactions with other animals or humans. The crying or whining could be related to a dream involving communication, play, or confrontation with another individual.

FAQs About Dog Dreams

It isn't easy to tell what exactly your dog is dreaming about. All we have to go by are their movements and vocalizations during sleep. However, we can infer a few things about our dogs' dreams.

  • Do dogs dream about their owners? Yes, it's entirely possible your dog is dreaming about you. You are a big part of their daily life.
  • What happens if you wake your dog from a dream? Your dog could experience irritability, confusion, or disorientation if you wake them abruptly out of a dream.
  • Do different breeds have different dreams? This is entirely possible. Although most of their dreams are likely similar, your dog's breed could affect their dreams. For example, if you have a Golden Retriever, they may be more likely to dream about retrieving than your Pug does.

Dogs Have Everything They Need to Dream

Dogs have all of the parts they need to dream, including brains, emotions, and behaviors we associate with human dreaming. Although you likely won't ever know what they're dreaming about, you have very good reason to believe they are dreaming when they're barking or trying to run while they're sleeping. Keep their life as happy as possible, and the likelihood your dog experiences more good dreams than bad will be higher. And, don't forget to exercise them plenty through the day so they sleep deeply when they do eventually take a snooze.

Proof Pups (Probably) Dream & What This Means