Do dogs dream? And if so, what do they dream about?
For as long as we've had canine companions, we've wondered about what's going on in our furry friends' heads. Go to YouTube, and you'll find hundreds of videos of dreaming dogs; their eyes are closed, but their legs kick back and forth while their tails wag. Surely, that's definitive proof that dogs dream, right?
Well, yes. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, told Live Science that dogs go through the same basic sleep stages as their human owners. That means that they go through rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage where dreams occur.
"Dogs do dream," Coren said, noting that the size of the dog matters; smaller dogs have more frequent dreams, while larger dogs have longer dreams on average. As dogs sleep more than humans, they likely dream more.
But what are dogs picturing, if anything, while they sleep?
Researchers have also looked into whether dogs have imaginations—whether they're able to visualize dreams in the same ways as humans.
To do this, scientists look at animals that have sleep disorders. Normally, the body paralyzes its muscles during REM sleep, which prevents injuries during dreaming. Occasionally, however, the part of the brain tasked with this paralysis is disabled. In humans, that results in sleepwalking and similar disorders.
By looking at these dogs, scientists have found that dogs and humans act out their dreams in a remarkably similar manner.
"What we've basically found is that dogs dream doggy things," Coren told Live Science. "So, pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars. The dream pattern in dogs seems to be very similar to the dream pattern in humans."
In other words, dogs will dream about what's most important to them...and that brings us to the most touching theory you'll read today.
Harvard psychologist Dr. Deirdre Barrett believes that dog dreams are fairly predictable.
"Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it's likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell, and of pleasing or annoying you," Barrett said to People.
We know that humans dream about the things that they interact with each day, and there's no compelling biological reason that dogs (or cats, for that matter) would be any different.
And since research has shown that dogs receive a boost of the feel-good chemical oxytocin when gazing into their owners' eyes, we know that dogs love us (in as much as animals can truly "love," although we'll save that discussion for another article).
Therefore, it stands to reason that canines dream about their owners, along with squirrels, toys, and other things that are, well, important to dogs.
If you're a dog owner, that's incredibly touching news. The best way that we can improve their dreams is to give them a happy, comfortable environment—and if you see your dog having a bad dream, go ahead and wake him up.