Albert the scruffy terrier writes again! This column first appeared in The Middleburg Eccentric.
If you’ve lived with a dog, you know that we dream. It’s one of those things that all pet parents realize, but scientists have spent lots of time with sleeping animals monitoring patterns, studying brain activity, and assessing movement. After a tremendous amount of analysis, the scientific community has concluded that, yes, animals dream. No surprise there.
All of that research has uncovered some interesting things about the way dogs dream. For instance, our dreams are longest during REM (rapid eye movement) -- much like the dream patterns people have. However, while people dream about every 90 minutes, canine dreams occur differently depending on our size. Very large breeds dream at longer intervals and for longer durations than smaller breeds. Adult dogs spend about 10 to 12 percent of sleep time in REM, while puppies spend much more time in REM.
It also looks like we dream in much the same way our people do when it comes to the subjects of our dreams. In essence, we often dream about the things we do in our daily lives. Pointers might point; terriers might fetch balls; guard dogs might growl, etc.
Our dreams seem to be pretty innocuous most of the time. We often appear to be running, chasing bunnies, or making happy noises. Sometimes, however, we do have nightmares. We definitely look a little strange going through our dreaming motions, and it can be tempting to wake us up. But experts recommend letting our dreams play out, good or bad, rather than jolting us out of our sleep. Even the most mild mannered of us can be aggressive if startled out of a dream state. Additionally, deep, uninterrupted sleep is necessary for our heath. The old saying about letting sleeping dogs lie is absolutely true!
Dreaming is something we share with people, and people often feel a connection to us when they see us dreaming. Dogs are nearly 95% identical to humans genetically. Our brains are very much alike and our neurochemistry works in the same way. It stands to reason that our memories and reflexes aren’t far apart either. Seeing us dream is a reminder of that.
The good news is that scientific research on the dream patterns of animals reveals a potentially rich cognitive life. There is greater and greater clinical evidence that emotion rather than just instinct informs our actions. This is a step in the right direction. It’s a progression towards a world that understands what pet parents everywhere have always known: we have feelings and personalities. There’s a lot going on in our furry heads. If more people believe in the complexity of the animal mind, there’s a chance that more people will treat us with kindness and compassion.
To sleep, perchance to dream of a more humane world -- ay, there's the belly rub!