If your dog is anything like mine, you two can be minding your own business watching a good movie when all of a sudden, it sounds like your dog is running laps through the house. Except when you check on him, he’s asleep, but his legs are furiously moving, and he whimpers and whines the whole time. Can you relate? Have you ever wondered if all the running your dog does in its sleep is normal? Then there is the age old question… do dogs dream? We’re bringing you some answers as Harvard and MIT experts weigh in.
Since we can’t communicate with animals in the same manner as we do with humans, anything we know about animal dreams is theoretical.
The closest we’ve gotten to confirm that animals dream is from two gorillas Koko and Michael, who knew sign language and communicated with their handlers. Observations from researcher Penny Patterson, who worked with them in the ’80s, shared that upon awakening, Koko would sign about adventures and people and places she had not seen recently. And sadly, Michael was known to sign about nightmares from encounters with poachers in the wild. (he had been captured by poachers that killed his family before being rescued)
Due to the inability to communicate with animals about their dreams, there is still much unknown about animal dreams. However, most researchers agree that dogs, like most mammals, have a sleep structure that closely mimics that of a human. Animals aren’t much different from us when it comes to most aspects of sleep.
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Neuroscientist, Matt Wilson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained to PetMD that dogs experience REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the stage of sleep when we dream. Both humans and dogs have high levels of brain activity during this stage of sleep, which suggests that dogs dream as we do. Dogs also have a similar physiological brain structure as humans do, called the Pons Varolli. In humans, this paralyzes our major muscles during sleep, which prevents us from acting out our dreams. We see the same in dogs, cats, and other animals. “Increasingly, we’re seeing that sleep and its functions, and very likely dreams, are something that are probably quite ubiquitous,” Wilson notes of studies of a variety of species of animals. Wilson conducted studies with rats while they slept after running mazes and concluded that “the animal was quite literally seeing what it was replaying from memory. For me, that constitutes the necessary ingredients for referring to this as the equivalent of dreaming in animals.”
The answer to this has had the internet in tears, so pass the tissues – you will need them. This will melt your pup-loving heart!
In a conversation with People Magazine, Dr. Deirdre Barrett, a professor, and a Clinical and Evolutionary Psychologist at Harvard Medical School, shared her experience from years of study on the subject of dreams. “Humans dream about the same things they’re interested in by day, though more visually and less logically,” Barrett says. “There’s no reason to think animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing or annoying you.”
This statement has gone viral on the internet. Owners have been beside themselves in tears over the fact that their doggo might be dreaming of their face while they are sleeping. Barrett also confirms that dogs act out their dreams while they are asleep.
Although a specific study of dogs has not been conducted, Matt Wilson of MIT and other researchers believe that much like human dreams, a dog’s dreams are connected to activities from its day like playing fetch with their human or chasing the neighborhood cat.
Dogs move a bit more in their sleep than some other animals do. Some things that may seem odd to you are perfectly normal when your dog is in a REM sleep cycle.
Dogs may flop around, paddle their paws, have leg twitches, whimper, snarl and make noises. Their movements during sleep can be quite vigorous and sometimes dramatic. Although it might appear odd or even humorous at times, this is all normal behavior for a dog in a state of deep, restorative sleep.
Waking up your dog while they are in a deep REM cycle will not cause harm, but it may startle your dog. If your dog is anxious or aggressive when disturbed, it’s probably best to let them be. You know the adage, “let sleeping dogs lie.” This is an appropriate application of that saying.
If you think your dog is having a nightmare and want to wake them out of it, try to call your dog’s name. If they are dreaming, most of the time, just calling their name to wake them will bring them out of their dreamy state. Otherwise, if you want to comfort them but want to avoid waking them abruptly, you can gently pat them or put your hand on them to let them know you are there.
If you think your dog is moving too much or are worried about your pet’s well-being, talk to your veterinarian to see if it is genuinely a cause for concern.
If you watch a scary movie before bed, you will have nightmares…or you will at least check under your bed multiple times before you can settle into a deep sleep. Similarly, when it comes to giving ourselves, our kids, and our dogs a better night’s sleep, Dr. Barrett advises, “The best way to give ourselves or our children better dreams is to have happy daytime experiences and to get plenty of sleep in a safe and comfortable environment. It’s a good bet this is also best for pets’ dreams.”
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your dog is dreaming about while he’s snoozing? Does your dog have any odd movements while they dream? What do you think your pup could be dreaming about?
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