How is it that dogs can go to sleep ANYWHERE? I’m so jealous. The other night as I was unable to get to sleep, tossing/turning and generally mulling over the events of a super hectic day when I was startled to hear Sam growling in his sleep. Sure I was technically awake but kind of groggy and in my addled state at nearly 1:00 AM, the growling seemed to signal something nefarious like someone wandering around the backyard. It momentarily jarred me out of my stupor and envy and made me wonder if he was ok or was there in fact an intruder. I peered over at his bed and there he was, simply laying on his side twitching and making alternating growling and whimpering sounds. Whoa, what’s going on here? Is he ok? Could my dog be dreaming?
Apparently there is scientific evidence that confirms that dogs do in fact, dream. How is that possible, you ask? Research says our human and canine brains are pretty similar on a structural level and show the same electrical sequences. EEGs show that dogs enter deep sleep complete with REM (rapid eye movement) and irregular breathing where the dream sequence takes place. Though no one seems to know why, smaller dogs tend to dream more than their larger cousins do. A toy poodle might experience a new dream every 10 minutes, whereas a Golden Retriever might only dream once every 90 minutes or so.
In humans, there’s a part of the brainstem known as the pons that keeps humans from acting out their dreams. When researchers deactivated this part in dogs, evidence suggests they dream about common dog activities. They observed that they began to move around, despite the fact that electrical recordings of their brains indicated the dogs were still fast asleep and they only started the movement when the brain entered that stage of sleep associated with dreaming. And during the course of a dream episode the dogs actually began to execute the actions that they were performing in their dreams, i.e. digging, chasing cats, flushing out birds, etc. Matthew Wilson of MIT determined much of the dreaming that humans do at night is associated with the activities that were engaged in that day. Cognitive scientists trying to understand sleep and dreams hypothesize that sensory memories replay themselves during early REM sleep. Thus it makes sense then that dogs would do the same when they’re in a dream state.
Of course you don’t need lab equipment designed to measure electrical pulses in your dog’s brain to determine when your dog is dreaming. Jut watch him when he begins to doze off. As sleep becomes deeper, breathing will become more regular and in about 20 minutes an average-sized dog his first dream should begin. Breathing will then become shallow and irregular at that time and could be accompanied by twitches, and the eye movement we recognize in humans. That eye movement is the dog is actually ‘looking’ at the dream images as if they were real images of the world in his brain and characteristic the dreaming sleep state. When humans wake during this rapid eye movement or REM sleep phase, they nearly always say they were dreaming (Stanley Coren 2010).
Bottom line is that dreaming in dogs is perfectly normal, natural and healthy. Much like with humans, it is the brain’s way of decluttering events of the day that have made lasting impressions. So the next time Fido starts wildly kicking in his sleep, think about what he did earlier in the days. Chances are good it’ll be the same kind of activities he engaged in during the day and much the same way your dreams manifest themselves. My only question is whether Sam’s growls or groans directed at the mail lady or is he trying to express himself toward some female pooch he’s currently crushing on? Is that dog a cad or what?! 😉
Live, love, bark! <3