Cat people, you can show yourselves out. This one’s for the pup-lovers.
Let’s be real, who among us isn’t obsessed with their dog? They are endlessly entertaining, be it watching them chase their friends, snapping a few pics for the gram, or discovering their little personality quirks. Even getting trampled on by giant mastiffs that think they are toy poodles isn’t the worst fate we could imagine.
But one of the most interesting things to observe are their sleeping patterns, they can be so similar to their human counterparts, but we often have no idea what’s going on as they slumber. Sometimes they look so pure and sweet, snoozing away and sprawled out across their cozy beds—not a sound could disturb them. Other times, it can be a little concerning to see their eyes roll into the back of their heads, eyelids and legs twitching with a little whimpering here and there. It begs the question—what exactly goes on inside their furry little heads while they sleep?
Dogs are known to sleep for about half their day (Jealous!) which means there’s lots of time for dreams of peanut butter treats and excursions to the park. Just like humans, dogs experience Rapid Eye Movement sleep—one of the four cycles we hit each night. REM is true to its name, it’s characterized by your eyes moving, well, rapidly as you dream. You may also notice more movement throughout your body in this phase, and your brain becomes intensely active.
You’ll begin to notice that after about 20 minutes of snoozing, your pup might twitch or whimper, almost as if they are chasing after something unseen. This is a sign that your dog has fallen into REM and is beginning to dream.
While no one knows for sure why we dream, we mostly attribute it to processing our day-to-day experiences, and some studies have shown that people who were interrupted just as they started to dream had increased emotional distress during their waking hours. Breaking down our emotions and thoughts at night might be the reason we have sometimes confusing or even just boring dreams that stick with us, and it stands to reason that dogs experience a similar process while they sleep.
Now that we know dogs do dream, what exactly do they dream about?
Quite similarly to us, dogs dream about the things they do on a daily basis. Whether it be chasing their own tails or playing around outside and exploring, your pup is probably reliving their activities and processing their routines—their dreams are likely made up of snippets of their day and life experiences. So if you notice that your pup’s legs are twitching about on the floor while you catchup on Netflix, he’s probably dreaming about running around in his happy place.
Sometimes dreams can even be based on the breed or size of the dog. In fact, it’s known that smaller breeds like Chihuahuas have more frequent but shorter dreams while larger breeds, like Mastiffs, have longer dreams, but less of them. When it comes to the actual content of the dream, breed can have an impact depending on the type of dog. For example, your Dachsund is more likely to dream about hunting badgers while a Pug might be reliving her favorite day rolling in the grass.
But how do we know that’s what they dreamt about? Well, scientists put the theory to the test when they realized that the pons, part of the brain stem, was responsible for suppressing movement while we sleep. So they figured that disabling the pons, just temporarily, in dogs while they slept would allow them to act out their dreams. We know they chase and run and play, just like they do when they’re awake.
Next time you see your pup passed out and someone wonders what in the world they’re thinking about, now you’ll know exactly what to tell them—the usual.
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