You have probably seen it happen – a dog twitches in sleep and lets out a few infrequent woofs. Has this happened to your dog? Is your dog dreaming? Do dogs dream? Have you ever wondered what this behavior is all about? Is your dog really hunting the squirrel that it sees every day through the window, or is it just a regular dog twitching in sleep?
These are a lot of questions, and you probably want answers to all of them. Well, there is no clear evidence that tells whether dogs dream or not. But scientists are taking steps to determine if it is possible that our canine companions can dream about stuff similar to humans.
Keep on reading as we discuss the topic in further detail.
Do dogs experience REM sleep and dream?
Scientists believe that most vertebrates, and perhaps even a housefly, do dream on a regular basis. Dogs, like humans and other animals, have several sleep cycles – from wakefulness to REM sleep, and non-REM sleep, there are numerous periods taking place in between sleep.
What is REM (rapid eye movement)?
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, also known as paradoxical sleep, is a fascinating stage of sleep where the most vivid and memorable dreams occur. This unique sleep phase is believed by experts to play a significant role in the cognitive and physiological memory processing mechanisms of dogs, helping them consolidate and retain information.
During REM sleep, the brain becomes highly active, and the eyes move rapidly beneath closed eyelids, indicating a heightened state of mental activity. It is during this phase that dogs are thought to integrate and make sense of their daily experiences, emotions, and learning, contributing to their overall cognitive development and well-being.
So, many scientists say there is evidence to support the idea that dogs can and do, in fact, experience dreams. Researchers have tested the brain wave activity of dogs during sleep using EEG (electroencephalogram). The result gathered was surprising. It was found that canines are similar to humans in brain wave activity and sleep patterns.
Dogs can enter a deep sleep stage similar to humans, during which they have rapid eye movements, and their breathing becomes irregular. This is when the involuntary movements and actual dreaming takes place.
When dogs sleep, they can can hold their breath for short periods of time or breathe rapidly, whimper or whine as if excited, or move their legs as if they are running when they have a dream.
In fact, it would be a greater surprise if dogs didn’t dream because the recent evidence suggests that animals that are less intelligent and much simpler than dogs seem to dream. Kenway Louie and Matthew Wilson of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have proof that the brains of sleeping rats function in a way that unquestionably theorizes dreaming.
During an experiment, many animals, including rats, spent a significant portion of their day running in a maze. The scientists monitored their brain activity during maze running and compared it to the brain activity of the same rats during their sleep phases.
This comparison allowed them to analyze the impact of muscle movement on brain function.To everybody’s surprise, it was found that the same area of the rats’ brains lit up during sleep, which was highly active when they were running in a maze. Scientists concluded that the rats were likely dreaming of the maze.
This experiment is enough to prove that animals tend to dream as we do, but they have more complex dreams compared to us. That is, scientists suggest that animals can remember and replay extended sequences of events that happened in a day when they are asleep.
So, What Do Dogs Dream About?
As compared to rats, dogs lead more interesting lives. To determine what our canine buddies might dream of, scientists had to temporarily disable the pons (a part of the brainstem that controls the sleep cycles, regulates deep sleep, and inhibits the muscles from twitching or moving during sleep).
Simply put, without pons acting up, you might physically do everything that you are dreaming about.
In dogs, their pons are underdeveloped. This is why you’ll see dogs twitch in their sleep. The same goes for human older adults and infants. Researchers figured that by disabling the pons of the dog’s brain during normal sleep, the canines might act out their dreams. Surprisingly, it was concluded that dogs have a very similar sleep pattern.
In the end, it is safe to conclude that dogs do dream just like we do. The only difference is that while we might have memories of our last holiday destination or a past conversation, dogs are more likely to dream about their daily experiences such as barking at someone they don’t like or chasing a ball in the park.
What Dogs Dream About?
But, there is no way for us to determine exactly what our furry friends are dreaming about. Nevertheless, scientists say that dog owners might be able to guess what their companions are dreaming about.
It is all about observation. Watch while your dog sleeps, particularly during REM sleep, which lasts for 2-3 minutes. During his REM cycle, you might notice your dog making sounds or see your dog twitching in sleep. Determine if there are any similarities between his actions and his daily routine and activities.
Many dog owners say that their dogs do a lot of running in their sleep. Their lips move, and their paws are always twitching. It can be anything. The dog might be playing with other doggy friends, chasing something, catching a frisbee or a tennis ball in an open field, or even chasing an intruder.
There are even reports that dogs do have nightmares. One down owner told a Harvard psychologist that he suspected his dog was having a nightmare about bath time. Long story short, there’s no reason to concern if you see a dog twitching, so let them rest!
Can Dogs Have a Bad Dream?
While we can’t really know what is going on inside the minds of our pets, it does seem like they can have bad dreams. Some dogs might whimper or whine in their sleep, or even appear agitated. Dogs may also bark during a dream when they are scared. Fearful responses such as this indicate that the dog might be dreaming about something unpleasant.
Dog Twitching in Sleep – What does it mean?
In conclusion, observing your dog’s sleep patterns can provide an intriguing glimpse into their subconscious mind. From dreaming dogs enacting their daily activities to older dogs twitching during their REM cycle, these behaviors are a normal part of a dog’s sleep routine.
Similar to humans, dogs also have short wave sleep and non-rapid eye movement stages where their brains are at rest. In adult dogs, increased movements and noises during sleep could indicate vivid dreaming.
As the saying goes, “let sleeping dogs lie,” – it’s best not to disturb your pet while they are in this state as it’s vital for their mental and physical health. When it comes to senior dogs, their brain stem might not be able to inhibit movements during the REM stage as effectively as in younger dogs, leading to more visible sleep twitching.
Thus, next time you see a sleeping dog twitching, rest assured, it’s a completely normal part of their sleep cycle.