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What Do Dogs Dream About? Experts Reveal if Pet Parents Appear, How to Wake a Sleeping Pup, and More

Get science-backed answers to your dog dream questions, learn how to wake your dreaming dog, and more

If you’ve ever watched your dog sleeping peacefully, or even witnessed them making odd barks and movements in their sleep, you’ve likely wondered if they are dreaming and if so, what could they possibly be dreaming about. While scientists have performed plenty of research on dogs’ sleep cycles and concluded that, yes, pups definitely have the capacity to dream, there are still a lot of questions, even among experts, about what. While we’d certainly have more solid answers if our dogs could could talk, keep scrolling to learn what experts have discovered about what dogs dream about and if their pet parents appear in their dreams.

The science behind dog dreams and what they dream about

One thing that has been proven through professional research is that dogs do have dreams when they sleep. As explained by Ashly Smith DVM, Regional Medical Director for Small Door Veterinary, dogs experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep just as humans do. This is the stage of sleep associated with dreaming, when the brain becomes highly active while the body mostly stays still due to muscle paralysis. 

Frequency of dreams varies between individual dogs. Experts say that while most dogs experience multiple dream cycles daily, factors such as breed, size, age, activity, overall health, sleep length and quality may impact how often a dog dreams. Dr. Smith says one school of thought is that younger dogs, for example, might dream more frequently than older dogs due to the heightened brain activity they experience as they grow and develop. 

Small, tan dog sleeping on a cushion
Kohei Hara/Getty

Related: Can Dogs Understand Human Language? What the Science Says About “Dognition”

What do dogs dream about? 

You guessed it: there’s no way to know for sure what dogs dream about because they can’t tell us. You’ve also probably wondered whether your dog dreams about you (and maybe even hoped they do), and experts do think it’s highly likely that pet parents appear in their furry friends’ dreams. 

“It’s impossible to know for sure what your doggo is experiencing in dreamland, but given that dreams are a way of processing their daily experiences, it’s likely that pet parents figure prominently in them, as well as the other people, animals and places they interacted with recently,” says Rebecca Greenstein, DVM Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover. “Guarding breeds and hunting breeds may also be predisposed to dreaming about what they’re bred to do (and love to do!)”

It’s also likely that dog dreams are not as complex as those of humans since their brains function differently. “Our dreams can be complex narratives woven with emotions, memories, and even symbolism,” says Adam Guest, co-founder and chief operations officer of Australia-based pet food brand Raw & Fresh. “Dogs, on the other hand, probably dream about the things that fill their waking hours — the thrill of the chase, the joy of a good belly rub or the excitement of dinner time.” 

Can dogs have nightmares?

Experts believe that dogs can have nightmares, for example, but those are probably not manifestations of deep fears or insecurities like a human’s might be. According to Dr. Smith, signs of distress during dreaming such as increased frequency or intensity of movements or fearful vocalizations may suggest an unpleasant dream. 

“One common misconception about dog dreams is that they’re always pleasant experiences,” she says. “While many dog dreams may involve reliving enjoyable activities, dogs can also experience nightmares or dreams related to stressful or negative events.”

How to tell when your dog is dreaming 

Fluttering eyes, quivering lips, twitching paws, leg movements, whimpering or other sounds are all indicators that a dog is mid-dream. 

“Dogs may exhibit movements like twitching, paw paddling or vocalizations that resemble behaviors they engage in while awake,” says Dr. Smith. “This suggests they may be reenacting experiences or processing memories from their daily activities.”

Related: Vets Reveal What All That Twitching While Dogs Sleep Really Means

Check out this video of an adorable cocker spaniel having what seems like a lovely dream!

Can you wake up your dog when they’re dreaming? 

Usually, there’s no immediate need to wake a dog just because they’re dreaming, but if they seem like they’re in distress or a position where they might accidentally hurt themselves in their sleep, you can wake them as long as you do so carefully. For humans, whether we’re dreaming or just in a very deep sleep, it can be jarring and potentially even frightening to be woken abruptly. The best way to interrupt sleep is softly and gently, and the same goes for dogs.

“It’s essential not to wake a dog abruptly during a nightmare, as it can startle or disorient them,” Dr. Smith cautions. “Instead, gently rouse them by calling their name softly or softly stroking their fur to provide reassurance.”

Dr. Greenstein suggests waking a dreaming dog from a safe distance, gently calling their name, walking more heavily nearby or even leaving a treat near their snout. 

How to tell if your dog is dreaming or is sick

Especially if it’s the first time you see a dog dreaming, it can be nerve-wracking when physical signs of dreaming start to resemble concerning health scenarios like a potential seizure.  

“Distinguishing between dreaming and signs of illness, injury or seizures requires careful observation,” says Dr. Smith. “If a dog’s sleep patterns change suddenly, or if they exhibit unusual behaviors like excessive twitching or convulsions during sleep, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian for proper evaluation.”

Click through for more interesting and fun facts about dogs!

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