By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best – a dog insurance and cat insurance agency.
This question was sent to me by a fellow dog owner, “My family gets the biggest kick out of watching our six-year-old Lab, Barnaby, sleep. Not only does he snore — loudly — but also his outstretched paws move and he twitches all over. Sometimes he yelps or whimpers, but his eyes stay closed. Watching and listening to him when he is sleeping makes us wonder if dogs dream and, if so, what do they dream about?”
Compared with us, dogs are regular Rip Van Winkles. They sleep at least twelve hours a day and rarely suffer from insomnia. At night, they seem to nod off before you even have time to set your snooze alarm. Not all dogs snore like Barnaby, but it is fairly common for dogs to twitch their paws and make noises when they are asleep.
Some dogs move their legs as if they were in full stride, perhaps chasing a rabbit. Look closely at Barnaby and you might also notice the twitching of his eyelids and whiskers, indicating that he has fallen into the deep sleep stage. But dogs don’t stay in that deep slumber for long. Most of the time, they sleep lightly and are aware of their surroundings.
Sleep experts report that dogs do indeed dream. The big mystery is their topics of choice when they drift off into dreamland. We can only guess that they dream about activities like trips to the dog park, chowing down on their favorite treat, or finally catching a speedy, elusive squirrel.
Some scientists speculate that dogs may dream primarily of smells. That holds merit. After all, we dream visually because sight is our dominant sense. Dogs rely on their noses more than their eyes. They smell objects before they look, hear, touch or taste them. It may be a long time before we figure out a way to identify our dogs’ dreams, but it is a strong bet that since much of a dog’s brain is associated with scents, it is a dream filled with lots of canine-welcoming smells.
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This article has been adapted from its original version in Arden’s book, The Dog Behavior Answer Book.