The answer is yes! Take a look at what we know about canine sleep patterns, why dogs dream — and what they dream about!
On occasion, you’ve probably noticed your dog yipping or quivering in his sleep, as if he’s chasing a squirrel. You most likely assumed he was dreaming. But was he? Do dogs really dream, and how can we know for sure? This article focuses on the phenomenon of canine dreams, and why they’re so important to your dog’s well-being.
HOW DO WE KNOW DOGS DREAM?
“Yes, dogs dream!” affirms Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a world-renowned animal behaviorist, and founder of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies. “When your dog goes to sleep, he seems out cold for a while. He’s in a deep sleep, but then at a certain point, he starts to twitch and move his paws as if moving through molasses. He’s held in check because his paws aren’t on the ground. There might also be vocalization.”
But how do we know the dog is actually dreaming? “First of all, the dog’s brain is structurally similar to ours,” explains Dr. Dodman. “Canine brain proportions are different — for example, they have a larger olfactory lobe for smelling, and their cerebral lobe for thinking is smaller — but the brain structure is almost identical to a human’s.” Studies indicate that canine brain wave patterns are also similar to ours, and that dogs go through the same stages of sleep that we do.
Both dogs and humans experience rapid eye movement sleep cycles (REM) and non-REM sleep cycles (deep sleep). Your dog has a shorter sleep cycle than you do — only 45 minutes compared to your 70 to 120 minutes. Dogs go through the REM and non-REM sleep cycle twice, with each REM or dreaming cycle lasting around six minutes.
DREAMING IS IMPORTANT TO WELL-BEING
Dreaming is actually an important process, not just for humans, but for animals as well.
When we sleep, all the information we take in during the day gets consolidated or organized. A purging of unnecessary memories also occurs during sleep. The same process happens in dogs, which means your canine companion needs deep sleep not just to rest his mind, but to experience the health benefits of dreaming. For example, studies show that dreaming enhances your dog’s ability to learn, and to remember what he’s learned.
Just as we dream about human activities, research indicates that dogs dream about canine activities — whether it’s chasing the aforementioned squirrel, playing with another dog, or defending their territory against an intruder. You can see signs of what your dog might be dreaming about when you watch him sleep — he might whine or growl, bare his teeth, move his limbs, and his eyes will move beneath the lids, as if he’s looking around him.
HOW TO HELP YOUR DOG SLEEP BETTER
Because dreaming depends on good sleep patterns, it’s important to ensure that your dog has healthy sleep habits. If they have difficulty sleeping, try some of these suggestions to help:
Be sure your dog gets enough exercise
There’s an old saying: “A tired dog is a good dog.” A better one might be: “A tired dog is a happy dog.” A well-exercised dog is physically and mentally healthier, better adjusted and calmer. Active dogs sleep more soundly.
Create a bedtime routine for your dog
Just as you do better when you have a regular bedtime routine, so does your dog. Dogs need to learn that nighttime is when they should calm down.
You might walk your dog before bed, but not as briskly as in the morning. After they’ve done their business, it’s time to settle down for the night. It’s easiest when you and your dog have the same sleep schedule.
Ensure a comfortable environment
Dogs sleep best at home. Unfamiliar places and noises distract or upset them. Provide a comfortable place for your dog to sleep. They may want to sleep with you, which is fine, but be sure everyone can sleep soundly in this situation. If your dog interrupts your slumber, it might be best for them to have their own bed.
Like us, dogs dream. Also like us, they dream in color, and most likely about what they did during the day. You might not be able to determine exactly what your dog is dreaming about, but if he looks happy when he’s sleeping then it may have something to do with his favorite human — you!
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