D ear Old Trainer: Mitzi, my 4-year-old pug, and Jake, my 6-year-old golden, both seem to dream on a regular basis. They kick their legs and yip and flick their ears. Do dogs dream? And, if so, is it possible for dogs to have nightmares? Should I wake them up when they are kicking and barking?
Dear Dianne: We know dogs dream. Their brains are structured much like human brains. Researchers, using an electroencephalogram, have tested canine brain wave activity during sleep. Dogs exhibit striking similarities to humans in sleep patterns and brain wave activity.
Dogs experience REM (rapid eye movement) as they enter deep sleep, and their brains produce the same type of brain wave activity that occurs in humans when they dream. In addition, canine brain wave activity occurs in the same portion of their brain as the portion of the human brain that produces dreams.
You don’t need an EEG to know when your dogs are dreaming though. You can observe the REM yourself the next time Mitzi and Jake take a nap. Their breathing will become more regular and deeper for the 20 minutes or so it takes to enter deep sleep and dreams to begin.
When they do, their breathing becomes shallow and irregular. Look closely when they start yipping and kicking, and you will notice their eyes are moving behind their closed eyelids in the REM pattern. When you see that, they are dreaming.
I advise letting them continue to sleep and dream. Dogs need uninterrupted deep sleep just as much as humans do.
Dear Old Trainer: My husband and I watched “Wolves At Our Door” after you recommended it. We enjoyed the documentary and of course our dogs were in the living room with us. That night, our standard poodle George was sleeping on our bed and was dreaming. He let out a huge long howl, just like the wolves. And he did it twice. So we are definitely believers in the connection of dogs and wolves. He sounded just like they did. Amazing.
Thanks for all your good advice in your column, we read it faithfully and I often tell others to read it when they have an issue with their pets.
SUE AND HENRY
Dear Sue and Henry: I enjoyed that story so much I laughed out loud. We think our pets have evolved far from the wolf state, but they find ways to remind us how much of the wolf spirit remains.
The sound of wolves howling awakened buried memories in George. It was the last thing he heard before he went to bed, and we know – from EEG records – that both dogs and humans dream extensively of what happened that day.
It is the reason puppies dream more than adult dogs – they are processing all the interesting new things they learned that day.