Do Dogs Dream?

do dogs dream

Everything we know about canine sleep suggests that dogs dream. Just like us, our poochy pals go through cycles of dreamless sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where our dreams take place. I’m pretty sure my Labrador has them every afternoon, based on the noises she makes!

Dogs probably use dreams of their daily activities to process and consolidate new memories. It’s likely that see you in their dreams, and even have nightmares as well!

My Whippet dreams a lot. He twitches, jerks and occasionally even barks in his sleep. Across the world, researchers are studying all aspects of dogs’ sleep to find out if it can improve our understanding of the evolution and function of human sleep too. Which is just another remarkable way dogs contribute to our lives without even realising.

How Do You Know If A Dog Is Dreaming?

Doggy dreaming is often a silent process, accompanied by no visual signs. But sometimes you’ll see movements and hear sounds that suggest that your dog is dreaming. My dog will twitch his legs as though he is trying to chase an imaginary rabbit. He might give low barks or even growls. Other dogs will show signs that can be fascinating to observe, like shaking, mouthing and even if you look closely enough eye ticks under their closed lids.

What Do Dogs Dream About?

One of the things dogs dream about is their experience of the preceding day. In their dreams they relive events and activities they carried out.

Since dogs dream about everyday doggy things, their dreams almost certainly include their interactions with you. The visual cortex in rats’ brains was active at the same time as the parts of the brain reliving the day’s activities. Their physiology is very similar to our canine companions, so rats and dogs almost certainly see what they are dreaming.

do dogs dream

Variations In Canine Dreaming

We know a few more things about dogs’ dreams as well. Firstly, we know that Pointers dream for roughly six minutes at a time, and they dream on average twice in an 80 minute sleep cycle. Secondly, we know that small breeds of dog have shorter, more frequent, dreams than large breeds. We don’t know exactly why that is yet. But in other animals it appears that REM sleep interferes with signals in the body that enable temperature regulation. Since small animals lose body heat more quickly than large animals, they might come out of REM sleep more frequently to check they are still the right temperature.

A recent study in Hungary also found that dogs sleep more and dream more after an active day – no surprises there! And they found that they’re less likely to dream when they’re sleeping in an unfamiliar environment – possibly they sleep more lightly as a way of remaining “on guard”.

Why Do Dogs Twitch In Their Sleep?

Have you ever noticed your dog twitch or appear to have muscle spasms in their sleep? While they’re asleep a small area of the brain called the pons prevents dogs’ muscles from acting out the movements they make in their dreams. Sometimes though, the odd movement still gets through. This is especially common in puppies, when the pons is still underdeveloped, and in older dogs, when it starts to deteriorate.

Those twitches are reduced forms of the movements your dog is dreaming of themselves making. We know that dogs dream about things which have happened to them. So if your dog’s twitches look like he’s chasing hares in the park again, that’s probably exactly what he is dreaming about!

Why Do Dogs Bark In Their Sleep?

A small study at Murdoch University in Australia in 1993 found that about two thirds of dogs bark in their sleep, and half of those barked more than five times in eight hours overnight. Like moving about, our dogs’ brains usually suppress vocalizations while they are asleep. But occasionally the odd sound will slip out. If your dog is barking while sleeping, it’s as harmless as sleep talking in humans, and nothing to worry about.

Do Dogs Have Bad Dreams?

So far, all of the evidence suggests that dogs use dreams to process their memories and experiences in the same way we do. So it stands to reason that they probably fall victim to the occasional nightmare as well, especially if something upsetting has happened to them.

Fortunately, just like bad dreams can’t hurt us, rest assured they can’t hurt your dog either. In very rare cases, some dogs display abnormal dream enactment following contracting tetanus, which owners describe as like watching them have nightmares. If this is something you’re worried about, have a chat with your vet.

Should I Wake My Dog Having Nightmares?

We all know how disorientating it is to be woken from a vivid dream. Our eyes fly open and our hearts race while we try to work out where we are, what’s real, and what isn’t. It’s likely our dogs feel the same way. Dogs who are startled out of sleep and disorientated are more likely snap at someone in their space. Never disturb your sleeping dog if you can avoid it.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

Things to Remember

First, remember that the dream will end soon, and it can’t hurt them. If watching them is upsetting you, then take yourself out of the room for five minutes. When you return they will probably have woken themselves, or returned to quiet sleep. If you really can’t do nothing, stand at a distance from your pet, and softly call their name and talk to them until they come around.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Hi, We have a six year rescue dog who we have had for five years, she had a unhappy start and was very nervous when we got her. She is now a happy social dog who loves everybody. Unfortunately she does have really bad dreams and cries and howls quite loudly. I know I shouldn’t wake her but she sounds so distressed, I do stroke her and talk quietly to her, I feel by now she would have started to forget her bad experiences. Any suggestions?