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Finally, after being stuck inside all day the sun came out and I headed off to the park. I arrived and started running around when suddenly I notice Candice rounding the corner. As I approached her my heart was racing as it was quite some time since we had been together. Suddenly, I was attacked, had the wind knocked out of me and I passed out. When I came to I was under a bright light, being resuscitated by my veterinarian and his technician. I was then startled by a loud noise which was the sound of an alarm clock where I awoke at the foot of my family’s bed… I thought to myself, wow, what a dream!
Many a human have wondered whether dog’s dream. In order to answer this question a dream should first be defined as a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep. There is a phase of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep where dreams are most likely to occur. This is the time of sleep where the brain is most active and electroencephalographic (EEG) tracings most resemble wakefulness. There are many neurobiological theories that support that dreams are necessary to help optimize brain function by recycling the data processes that occurred during wakefulness and help produce memory consolidation. This is proposed to be accomplished by repetitive neural activity of brain cells during REM sleep.
When we compare the brain function of dogs and humans we recognize several similarities. Like people, when awake a dog’s brain is capable of processing information and responding to the present based on what they have learned in life which is stored in their memory. This is quite evident when we recognize that many dogs get excited when they are asked to go to the park or that they howl to a particular tune that they recognize on television. Both of these behaviors are examples of habits that dog’s develop due to what is stored in their memories. Dogs like humans are capable of having abnormal brain electrical activity known as seizures. They also have brains that can manifest a variety of behavioral disorders such as anxiety, phobias and aggression just like when people develop psychological disturbances.
So in answer to the question “Do Dog’s Dream”, it should be quite clear, why wouldn’t they? As discussed above, there are many similarities in brain function relative to what is normal and what is seen in disease when compared to people. Additionally, when a dog sleeps they clearly manifest a REM phase which has similar EEG patterns recognized in people. These facts would support that dreaming is a relatively primitive brain function and that not only does dreaming occur in dogs but also in many other mammalian species because of their brains respective cognitive functional capacity.
If one cannot accept the above rationale explaining why dogs do dream. Perhaps you will acknowledge the proverb “let sleeping dogs lie”. While this proverb did not originate because of the notion that a dog was dreaming and should not be awoken but rather it means to let a person or matter stay at rest if at rest instead of risking creating a disturbance by bringing the matter up again or arousing the person. To be taken more literally, if you were to awaken a sleeping dog it could be startled enough to bite you.
No matter what may be your reason the next time you encounter your dog sleeping you may want to think twice about waking up your canine companion, and furthermore, if they happen to be dreaming why not just “let a sleeping dog lie”.
–Richard Joseph, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology) Animal Specialty Center, Yonkers
October 1, 2016