What Do Dogs Dream About?

Dog owners can testify to watching their four-legged friend become drowsy and finally fall asleep, with the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggesting dogs can spend about half their day or more in a state of rest.

But these tranquil nap times are sometimes punctuated by periods when the pet appears to mimic their masters and start to 'dream'.

This can involve dogs beginning to breathe irregularly, waving their legs in the air and occasionally emitting an energetic growl all while supposedly fast asleep.

But what does this behavior mean and does it suggest pups really do dream?
If so, what do dogs dream about? Newsweek asked the experts.

Do Dogs Dream When They Sleep?

Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer at the American Kennel Club (AKC) believes it is impossible to say for certain what is occurring in a canine's minds while they slumber.

He told Newsweek: "There is no way to know accurately but we suspect that dogs dream about everyday occurrences and interactions, whether it is with animals or people."

However, Zazie Todd, author of book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, states experts can actually make a good educated guess about what canines are conscious of while in their basket at night.

She told Newsweek: "We can't ask dogs what they dream about, so we don't really know what their dreams are like. [But] we can get some clues from what we know about sleep and dreams in other species.

"In people, most dreams happen during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and it is probably the same for dogs.

"During REM sleep, our muscles are paralyzed so that we can't move. In the 60s, a French scientist called Michel Jouvet did an experiment to see what would happen when they removed a part of the cat's brain to stop that paralysis from happening.

"In sleep, the cat acted as if they were stalking and catching a mouse. So based on that, we would guess that dogs dream about things that happen in their everyday life.

"Maybe they dream about us, going for walks, playing with a ball and so on. But of course, we don't actually know!"

Do dogs dream when they sleep
Dogs also have periods of Rapid Eye Movement when asleep, just like humans. Rhys Leonard/Getty Images

What Do Dogs Dream About?

The science suggests that "little is actually known about what is going on in dogs' heads", there appears to be a surprising similarity between the structure of human brains and that of our furry companions—despite the size difference.

A 2020 U.S. National Library of Medicine study (NIH) reports similar cycles of electrical activity during sleep cycles.

Such similarity has led researchers to speculate dogs dreams are much like ours, in that they are processing events such as faces and language from the day.

A 1977 report published in NIH studying the electrical activity of dog brains discovered the animals sent on average 12 percent of every 24 hours in REM sleep.

And dogs also spent 23 percent of their time in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, called slow-wave sleep.

Humans dream in both REM and non-REM sleep, but the dreams that most people occur during the former stage, while the adventures of the unconscious are at their most vivid and surreal.

As a result, scientists are relatively confident animals from rats and cats to dogs are capable of enjoying quite complex dreams, and they can remember and replay long sequences of events in their minds while asleep.

This can involve anything from a time spent joyfully chasing squirrels to meeting one of their canine crushes in the local park.

sleepy Jack Russel terrier puppy
The similarity of dogs' brains to humans means the content of their dreams are likely similar to ours. undefined undefined/Getty Images

Why Is My Dog Twitching In His Sleep?

Watching your dog apparently happily dreaming, with a wagging tail and pattering paws can be a sweet sight.

However, as human dreams are sometimes unpleasant experiences, it is not unreasonable to infer dogs can also have nightmares.

However, Fanna Easter, a self-described "Positive Pooch" Behavior and Training expert, states while doggy nightmares can be hard to watch, owners should always refrain from the temptation to wake their dog up.

She told Newsweek: "From a behavior standpoint, we don't know what is exactly going on when dogs sleep, but refrain from waking them up. Some dogs will startle, which can be scary for them."

Fortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests while it is common for dogs to react subconsciously to bad dreams by twitching uncomfortably, they are more often than not surprise themselves awake in the process.

Beagle tired sleeping on couch
Beagle tired sleeping on couch. We can infer that dogs can have nightmares too. Przemysław Iciak/Getty Images