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Dog sleeping wrapped up in a blue blanket

The essentials

  • There isn’t yet definitive proof that dogs have dreams — However, many researchers and scientists are confident that dogs do dream, based on a series of studies and findings.
  • Your dog’s brain is similar to a human’s — Dogs have a brain similar to ours, albeit smaller and with less cognitive ability. Still, they process information similarly.
  • Sleep is vital for a dog’s overall health — Just like us, dogs need quality sleep for the best behavior and overall health. If you suspect any sleep issues with your pet, consult a veterinarian.

Dogs bark, yip, and kick in their sleep, leading many owners to wonder: do dogs dream? Science says yes. Dogs have brain waves similar to humans, and studies indicate that dogs sleep (and dream) often like humans do. Sleep is vital to your pup’s dreams and overall health, so it’s important for dog owners to be aware of any changes in your pet’s sleep habits, as this could be a sign of an underlying health issue.

Understanding your dog’s sleep cycles

There are two main sleep stages: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). NREM has three categories for people, but it’s simpler when studying sleep in dogs with just NREM and REM sleep. Researchers have studied how dogs take in, process, and store information and how deep sleep works for dogs.

NREM sleep in dogs

NREM stands for non-rapid eye movement, which both dogs and people experience. People have three types of non-REM sleep, but for dogs and many other mammals, this stage is simply one single part of sleep and is often called slow-wave sleep. Often, dogs wake up from REM sleep rather than enter an NREM sleep cycle before fully waking up.

REM sleep in dogs

REM sleep cycles for human beings are essential to our health, but its importance is often overlooked when it comes to our canine companions. Dogs experience the REM stage of sleep just as humans do and for this reason, they can experience abnormalities in their sleep cycle. While this can be caused by illness (such was the case in this study surrounding tetanus), for some dogs twitching, running, and other common signs of dreaming are normal behavior.

Tetanus vaccines are not part of a routine vaccine protocol in dogs. Since the most common cause for tetanus is due to wounds from something in the environment. It is important that parents are vigilant of their pets' environment . It is imperative that their dwelling place is free from sharp wires, glass, or wood that could be contaminated. When pets come in from outside, a quick exam should be performed to make sure they don't have any unusual cuts, scrapes or wounds that may need attention.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Scientific evidence of dogs dreaming

There isn’t yet conclusive evidence that dogs dream as humans do. But as scientists observe dogs as they sleep and study the part of the brain structure and waves, many have come to the conclusion that dogs do, in fact, dream. Below are some key points that support this theory.

  • Sleep cycles. Dogs and other animals with similar brain architecture experience similar sleep cycles, including NREM and REM sleep.
  • Communication. Dogs often attempt to run in their sleep and will sometimes have vocalizations other than snoring, like barking or whining.
  • Similar brains as humans. While there are significant differences between pup and human brains, there are also several similarities as evidenced by studies into dog brain activity.
  • Rapid eye movement. In both dreams and nightmares, humans and dogs both exhibit rapid eye movement, which is often an indicator of a dream state.

Are dog dreams similar to human dreams? 

Scientists believe that dogs dream about the same things humans do. People dream as a way to process emotions and information, and studies show that the same type of occurrence happens within dog brains.

What do dogs dream about? 

Dogs likely dream about their daily experiences or everyday activities, whether that means chasing their favorite ball, or learning new commands. Here are a few examples of vivid dreams your dog might have and what that might look like.

  • Going outside. Adventures outdoors are often a dog’s favorite thing. Watch for a wagging or thumping tail, twitching paws or legs, and vocalizations.
  • Chewing a bone. Dogs dreaming about chewing on a bone may bite or chew at the air and experience twitching in their front paws and legs as they attempt to maneuver the bone in their dream.
  • Chasing other animals. Dogs dreaming about chasing squirrels, rabbits, and other prey might run vigorously in their sleep, accompanied by different vocalizations like barking or howling.

How a dog’s age and size affect their dreams

Your dog’s age and size may play a role in how well they sleep, and often they dream in their daily lives.

Dreaming in puppies

Puppies spend less time in REM sleep, which means less time during which they may be dreaming. There have been fewer studies into puppies and their sleep patterns, but scientific research indicates that dogs younger than a year old have underdeveloped cognitive functions compared to adult dogs. This may impact puppy dreams, changing what they dream about and how they respond.

Dreaming in adult dogs

Adult dogs are often used to conduct studies surrounding dogs. While inconclusive, some links between dog size, breed, and sleep quality impact dreaming and behavior. Health conditions can also impact sleep and, thus, dreaming. Some dogs, like brachycephalic breeds, are prone to snoring. Other dogs may have trouble sleeping altogether, which can reduce REM sleep and dreams. Since they sleep so often, senior dogs are also likely to dream.

Much like with people, poor sleep habits in dogs can have a direct impact on behavior. This study from 2022 shows that dogs that don’t receive enough sleep or are woken up during their sleep cycle may exhibit worse behavior. Dogs who have trouble sleeping may also have a sleep disorder.

Understanding nightmares in dogs

Because dogs can dream, that means they can also have nightmares. The signs may be subtle, but there are some concerns to look for when your dog is having a nightmare.

  • Twitching. Even with ordinary dreams, dog paws, eyelids, and ears may flick or twitch. The same may apply to bad dreams or nightmares.
  • Stress. Look for a rigid, tense posture or jaws. Some dogs may shake or have sweaty paws during nightmares as well, which can be another sign of stress.
  • Vocalizations. Dogs having nightmares may growl, bark, whimper, or whine in their sleep. Knowing your dog’s vocalizations when they are awake is helpful.
  • Breathing. Heavy or rapid breathing can indicate a nightmare for dogs, along with panting.
  • Sudden consciousness. Dogs that wake up suddenly and are quite alert may have been startled out of a nightmare.

How to wake your dog up from a nightmare

While our first instinct as pet parents is to rouse our pets from nightmares as quickly as possible, waking a dog from a nightmare must be done carefully. Nightmares are scary for dogs, and, just like us, they may wake up scared and become reactive or aggressive before realizing they are no longer in the nightmare. Dogs can accidentally scratch or bite their owners when not woken up correctly.

To wake up a sleeping dog, you should softly call their name until they wake up and settle down. Once your dog knows where they are and who they are with, it’s safe to provide them with love and snuggles to reassure them that they are safe.

Frequently asked questions

Do dogs sleepwalk?

Dogs don’t sleepwalk like humans, but they may have active limbs. Dogs dreaming or having nightmares may appear to have a seizure or be in a trance.

Do dogs have dreams and nightmares?

Dogs can have dreams and nightmares due to their brain structure and sleep patterns. Dreams (and nightmares) might include vocalizations, twitching, and shaking.

What do dogs really dream about?

While no one knows what dogs dream about, researchers believe they dream about their experiences and owners. Dogs frequently twitch in their sleep as if chasing squirrels or rabbits. Or, dogs may attempt to chew a favorite toy or bone.