Do Dogs Dream?

Photo Credit: Recompose on Flicker CC license, Whether or not dogs dream isn’t known with scientific certainty, but it sure is difficult to imagine that they don’t. We’ve all watched our dogs demonstrate behaviors in their sleep that resemble what they do in a fully awake state. Paddling legs, whining, growling, wagging tails, chomping jowls, and twitching noses inspire us to wonder what our dogs are dreaming about.

What we know about dogs and dreams

While our knowledge on this topic is very limited, the following known information helps us believe that dogs do indeed experience dreams.

  • Professors of neuroscience, Matthew Wilson, and Kenway Louie, study the relationships between memory, sleep, and dreams. They’ve learned that when rats are trained to run along a circular track for food rewards, their brains create a distinctive firing pattern of neurons (brain cells). The researchers also conducted brain monitoring while the rats were sleeping. Low and behold, the same signature brain activity pattern associated with running occurs whether rats are awake or asleep. In fact, the memories play at approximately the same speed during sleep as when the rats are awake.

Can we take the information that is known about dreaming in rats and humans and apply it to dogs? Wilson believes that we can. He has stated, “My guess is — unless there is something special about rats and humans — that cats and dogs are doing exactly the same thing.”

  • It is known that the hippocampus, the portion of the brain that collects and stores memories, is wired much the same way in all mammals. According to Professor Wilson, “If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces.” He believes that as dogs sleep, images of past events replay in their minds, much the same way people recall experiences while dreaming.
  • It is known that in people most dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Dogs also experience periods of REM sleep, during which their breathing becomes more irregular and shallow. There may be muscle twitching during REM and, when one looks closely, rapid eye movements behind closed eyelids can often be observed. It is during REM sleep that behaviors thought to be associated with dreaming (legs paddling, twitching, vocalizing, etc.) are most commonly observed.

What we want to believe about dog dreams

When we observe our dogs as they sleep, it’s just about impossible to imagine that they are not dreaming. Just like the rats studied by Wilson and Louie, it is tempting to believe that our four-legged best buddies are reenacting their recent experiences; playing at the dog park, sniffing in the woods, chewing on a treasured bone, and chasing squirrels.

Sigmund Freud theorized that dreaming is a “safety valve” for our unconscious desires. Perhaps he is correct, and, when our dogs sleep, they dream about catching the neighbor’s pesky cat, continuous belly rubs in conjunction with unlimited dog treats, and stealing the Thanksgiving Day turkey from the dining room table.

What do you think your dog dreams about?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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8 Comments on “Do Dogs Dream?

  1. That a fascinating topic, Dr. Nancy. I do believe that my dogs had shown signs of dreaming – muffled noises, twitching, etc. I hope that our dogs do dream and have experienced the peacefulness of happy ones. Thanks for always raising the bar of issues affecting our beloved dog children.

  2. Interesting article. I have always wondered that and thought that they were dreaming when I would see my dog’s paws moving back and forth in his sleep.

  3. My girl, a service dog, dreams. Right now she’s in the room with me, sleeping and breathing deeply. I can hear her as I just got hearing aids. She tells me about other sounds.

    Dream? Oh yes. She wags her tail some tho most often I’m aware of closed mouth woofs. Not much sound. In all of 8 years together, she’s actually barked twice. Makes sense she’d dream quietly. Maybe she’s thinking of her friend the guide dog, maybe of running with another graduate from the same school, perhaps visiting with a neighbor.

  4. I have not studied Freud and Jung enough to know what they said about bad dreams/nightmares. I am wondering if Wilson and Louie have looked at this kind of dream, or has anyone else? Do I add to my worry list that when we occasionally go away and leave our dogs at home with a sitter, do they have nightmares? And do the nightmares revisit our boys’ sorrows after we after we return?

  5. Of course dogs dream! Mine dream of hunting; my retriever mix dreams of chasing balls, and since all my dogs are rescues, they also sometimes have nightmares. If the nightmares go on for more than a few seconds, I wake them up, and they are so happy to see me! I know they have dreams of abandonment, even though all have been safe with me for years (Dog forbid I have to use the bathroom at the dog park; they all line up at the fence and watch worriedly for my return). One of my boys I rescued along with his sister when they were about 5; she was adopted immediately, but her new family already had a boy and did not want another. Sometimes he dreams of losing her; then I have to wake him and hold him and tell him she is just as loved as he is in her home, and that she still lives in his heart.

  6. Oh gosh I am POSITIVE my dog dreams! Very frequently and loudly, and some scare me so much I have to gently wake her. Some of them I think she is dreaming and maybe experiencing pain , her vocalizations are obviously indicative of pain. Some she is happy, she wags her tail and smiles, makes happy sounds. When I first adopted her, I didn’t have much info about her life prior as she was a rescue. I would have sworn she was having a seizure, it was so similar and she even made noises most people make during a seizure. I had to wake her, which of course told me it was not a seizure, so now I’m fairly comfortable with her nocturnal behavior!
    But I guess I question, if it’s NOT a dream, then what is it?

  7. While I was reading this article, my 2-year-old dog was whimpering, wagging his tail and making suckling motions with his mouth and tongue. Dreaming of being back with mom and his siblings?

  8. I think dreams are a way of sorting life experiences for storage in the brain and re-experiencing positive events. So, I think my dogs dream about herding sheep, sniffing things, smells, running agility, chasing the cat, and me as The High Priestess of Liver and Cheese. Since we train a lot, I think categorizing training associations (linking behavior to rewards) for later retrieval are part of dreams.

    If I am feeling sentimental and sappy, my dogs are dreaming of hearts and flowers and all the showers of love, atttention, and affection. But I suspect my cherubic little demons are more hedonistic than that 😀

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