Every dog owner has chuckled at the sight of Fido kicking and running in his sleep, supposedly chasing fantasy cats and running from the dog catcher. But do dogs really dream? According to renowned author, psychologist, and dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren, they do. In his book "How Dogs Think," Dr. Coren discusses numerous research studies done indicating that dogs dream much the same as humans.
While nearly any dog owner will insist that their dog dreams, until recently the only proof was the kicking, running, whining activities we often see our dogs engaged in while sleeping. Fascinating, interesting, and even amusing, there still wasn't proof. Until now.
Fido's Sleeping Brain
Recently, researchers have discovered several remarkable things that occur in Fido's brain while he sleeps. Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), researchers found that dogs, like humans, experience two stages of sleep. Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or NREM, is characterized by deep breathing, a lower core temperature, and a slow pattern of brain waves.
Rapid eye movement sleep, or REM, is characterized by jerky eye movements, increased heart rate, and an increased pattern of brain waves. During this stage, humans, and dogs, dream.
So what do dogs dream about? Much like humans, they dream what they know. Long believed to be the brain's system for storing and filing information, experts such as Dr. Ernest Hartmann believe that although dreams are initially caused by the increased activity and loose associations produced during REM sleep, the content of the dream is shaped by the emotions and experiences of the dreamer.
It follows, then, that Fido dreams about his favorite chew toy, his family of humans, and his fear of passing automobiles; all the things that make his world what it is. Do dogs have nightmares? Interestingly, Professorhouse.com says that while research indicates that dogs dream in much the same way that humans do, it also indicates that traumatized dogs dream less.
That isn't to say that Fido never has a bad dream. But, while he might dream about the scary cat next door, thankfully, he doesn't seem as likely to dream the sorts of post-traumatic stress dreams traumatized humans have.
It may be tempting to wake up a dog that appears to be in the throes of a nightmare, but Dr. James Glover says no. Just as humans do, dogs require several hours of sleep per day. Waking a dog in the middle of a nightmare not only interrupts her sleep, it may also lead to confusion. Worse, a frightened, confused dog may react with a quick nip to the hand of the offender.
If a pattern of nightmares is noted, or if there is some concern that the nightmare activity may actually be seizure activity, it's time for a trip to the veterinarian. Otherwise, let Fido enjoy the fantasy world of doggy dreamland uninterrupted.