As we watch our dogs sleep, it’s hard to believe that they can’t dream. While there is no scientific evidence stating that they do dream, they certainly seem to exhibit several behaviors that make it seem as they do. Many dogs will be in a deep sleep and then suddenly begin wagging their tails, whining, growling, running, and sometimes even barking. We usually joke about them chasing a car or snagging a postal carrier, but the question still remains: Do dogs dream?
Research on Animals and Dreaming
A pair of researchers from MIT wanted to know if rats could dream and what the relationship was between memory, sleep, and dreams. To find out, Matthew Wilson and Kenway Louie took a few laboratory rats and trained them to run along a circular track in order to gain their rewards in the form of treats. The researchers discovered that the brains of the rats demonstrated a distinctive firing pattern of neurons. Later, after the rats had fallen asleep, the researchers again monitored their brain activity to discover that their brains once again had the same firing patterns as they had when they had been running.
In another study, University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash investigated whether or not zebra finches could dream. Zebra finches are not born with an automatic ability to sing their songs; they have to learn to sing as they age. The researchers knew that when the birds were awake their neurons would fire in a distinct pattern just after singing particular notes. Researchers have actually been able to match certain notes with certain firing patterns. The researchers in this study proved how they could piece together an entire song just from piecing together the neuron patterns from their brains.
After the birds from the study had fallen asleep, the researchers monitored their brain activity. Dave and Margoliash found that the pattern in which the neurons fired was not random, but instead seemed to be elicited in a pattern. After piecing together the pattern, the researchers were able to recreate the entire song as though it was done from the sleeping birds’ minds. The assumption was that the birds were dreaming.
So, Can Dogs Dream?
So, if humans and rats and zebra finches can cream, they why can’t dogs? Unless there is something uniquely special about rats, zebra finches, and humans, it is reasonable to assume that dogs are capable of dreaming as well.
We already know that the hippocampus (the part of the brain that collects and stores memories) is pretty much wired in the same manner in all mammals. As Professor Wilson of healthday.com said, “If you compared a hippocampus in a rat to a dog; in a cat to a human, they contain all of the same pieces.” Wilson believes that dreams in all animals, including humans, are simply a replaying of past events in the mind.
The world already knows that people do the majority of their dreaming during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Now, we also know that dogs can also experience REM sleep. Researchers already studied this proving that dogs had exhibited the same characteristics during REM sleep cycles as humans do. While in REM, humans (and dogs) breathe in an irregular and shallow manner with twitching muscles and rapid eye movements behind the closed eyelids. It is during a dog’s REM sleep cycle that researchers have noticed the behaviors that look like dreaming (whining, growling, running) occur.
Goldman, J. (2014, April 25). What Do Animals Dream About? [Web]. In BBC. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140425-what-do-animals-dream-about
Nancy. (2015). Do Dogs Dream? [Web]. In Pet Health Network. Retrieved from: http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-behavior/do-dogs-dream
Wilkerson, R. (2003). The Evolution of REM Dreaming: New Research Includes All Animals. [Web]. In Improverse. Retrieved from: http://www.improverse.com/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2003_jan_evolution.htm