If you’ve been tucking your dog into bed, you might’ve seen them twitch around, or their eyes dart around under their lids, or like they’re about to run…and you might’ve asked yourself: is my dog dreaming? And if yes, what do dogs dream about?

Let’s admit, it’s both pretty endearing and also fascinating thinking of our furry friends in a happy doggy dreamland. So in this post, we’re going to dive into the world of canine dreams – what dogs dream about and how they’re not so different from us humans after all. Let’s dive right in.

So…what do dogs dream about?

Your dog most likely dreams about what they’ve been up to all day, adventures they want to be on…and you! Based on their behavior, experiences, and instincts, here’s why these themes make the most sense1:

What they’ve been up to all day

Ever watched your napping dog move their paws or tail while asleep – as if they’re on a walk or running? They’re most likely dreaming about what they’ve been up to all day – chasing balls, playing fetch, or just bounding around your backyard. If your dog is more on the sociable side, they might be dreaming about playing with other dogs…or spending time with their loved ones. Meaning you.

The people they love most

A woman cuddles her dog by a sunlit window.

Yes, you guessed it: your dog likely dreams about you and your special moments together.2 Besides the zoomies, dogs might dream about the people they love most. Meaning with you. So whether that’s walkies, cuddles, or playtime, you can bet your dog’s dreaming of enjoying them together with you. 

Dogs also tend to be attuned to your emotions. They can sense your mood, respond to social cues, and show tremendous empathy. Because of this, they also have the ability to remember experiences, places, and people. So they’re most likely dreaming about you, your face, scent, and the places you’ve explored together. It’s how they strengthen their bond with you, their parent.

So take it from us and give your buddy some extra cuddle time today. You know they’ll be happily dreaming of it later.

Adventures they’d like to be on

Your dog has definitely chased a squirrel or two in their dreams – even if your buddy prefers spending time indoors! So their dreams might be full of the thrill of the chase or other exciting adventures. You’ll see this in the way they twitch and mimic running while fast asleep.

Besides dreams, your dog’s sleeping position says a lot about how they relate to you and their environment. For example, did you know that when a dog sleeps on their side, it shows they’re comfortable in their environment and trust you?

Why it’s so important your dog gets a good night’s rest

Just like humans, dogs need sleep to recharge their batteries – both physical and mental. But what exactly happens during a dog’s sleep cycle? And why is it so important for their health and wellbeing?

A puppy sleeps on a soft blanket

Dogs actually go through different stages of sleep, just like us. The two most important are non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM sleep.

Non-REM sleep

When your dog is just about falling asleep, they’re entering non-REM sleep. Here, their brainwave patterns are slow and steady. During this stage, your dog’s body relaxes – and their breathing and heart rate stabilize.

Non-REM sleep is essential for helping your dog recover from a day of playtime and fun. It also helps your dog grow and strengthen their immune system by helping produce cytokines3, which fight off infection and stress.

REM sleep

In the second stage, your dog is now experiencing REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where they’re most likely to dream.

During REM sleep, your dog’s brain is highly active. You might even see their eyes moving quickly back and forth or their paws twitching or mimicking movement. In this stage, your dog’s memories and experiences are consolidating. Which is why REM sleep is essential for helping your dog process and regulate their emotions and give their brains a rest.

It’s one reason your dog might sleep so much – because they spend less time than us in REM sleep. This means that dreaming is actually a natural and essential part of your dog’s sleep cycle.

Quality sleep is essential for your dog’s health and wellbeing. Without it, your dog might be more vulnerable to illness and disease, as well as memory loss, decreased attention, and difficulty learning new behaviors.

So give your dog an extra cuddle before sleeptime today – they’ll be dreaming of it for nights to come.

How changes in your dog’s sleep patterns might indicate a problem

Much like humans, a recurring pattern of disrupted sleep can indicate that your dog might not be doing too well, health-wise. In some cases, it might mean a medical problem – like an infection or sickness. So even though your dog might seem happy and healthy, they might be at risk of developing worse health problems with disturbed sleep.

But how can you keep track of how much quality sleep your dog’s getting? Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features are one way. With regular sleep tracking, you can identify changes in your dog’s snooze time – whether they’re sleeping more or less than usual, and how many times they were disturbed while asleep. So you can catch dips and spikes early on – and get your dog to a vet in case you notice something wrong.

Here’s a story from one of Tractive’s pet parents, who noticed how a change in her dog’s sleep patterns indicated a health problem:

When I looked at Ruby’s Wellness profile, the data showed that her activity level was low and that she hadn’t slept well. I was concerned and watched her carefully.

Early the next morning, she had blood in her urine and was lethargic. We visited the emergency veterinarian, and Ruby was diagnosed with a UTI.

She received antibiotics and pain medication and is feeling much better. Her tracker data made me aware that she was not acting normally and that something could be wrong with her.

I love her tracker, and I will always have one for any dog I ever own.

packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

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Do dogs’ dreams make sense from a scientific viewpoint?

Do dogs dream – in a verified, scientific sense? The science definitely backs it up. Evidence strongly suggests that dogs experience similar sleep and dream stages, just like humans. In fact, dog brains are built quite like human brains. So like we’ve covered, our brainwaves and brain activity tend to be quite similar during sleep.3

Here are a couple of the most recent findings on dogs and their ability to dream.

Dogs’ experience REM sleep – just like us

A woman taking a nap with her dog.

Humans aren’t the only ones capable of dreaming. Studies using electroencephalograms (EEGs) have monitored dog’s brains during sleep. They’ve found that dogs also exhibit rapid and irregular eye movements, muscle twitches, and increased brain activity – just like humans during REM sleep. From these findings, researchers have concluded that it’s definitely possible that dogs can dream.4

Dogs show dream-like behaviors while asleep

You might’ve observed your dog twitching, kicking, or even softly barking or growling while fast asleep. These movements, or dream-like behaviors, are akin to the actions they’d perform while awake. Like playing fetch in your yard or showing its dog park peers who’s boss. So just like you might dream about familiar activities or scenarios from your life, your dog might be reenacting experiences from their waking lives in their dreams.

Your dog’s ability to dream can depend on their size, age & build

  • Smaller dogs and puppies tend to dream faster and more often – but with shorter dreams on average.
  • On the other hand, larger dogs tend to have longer dreams as well as longer non-dream time.
  • Older dogs and puppies are also more likely to dream than middle-aged dogs.5
A puppy, fast asleep, dreaming of their adventures from the day.

Other ways that dogs and humans sleep & dream alike

Here are a couple of similarities between humans and dogs when it comes to sleep, dreams, and how our brains work:

  • Dogs tend to sleep better after exercise – just like us. 
  • Similarly, they’re more likely to get a longer, more peaceful sleep when on their own beds than elsewhere. (Also like us!)
  • And unfortunately, like us, dogs can also have nightmares6 – about fighting with other dogs, thunderstorms, or loud, scary noises like fireworks.

Can dogs have nightmares?

Much like humans, dogs can also have nightmares related to negative emotions or past traumatic events.7 If they’re whimpering or showing signs of distress while asleep, they might be having a bad dream. You might notice this in a newly-adopted dog or if your dog has just gone through a stressful or frightening experience. And with your Tractive sleep tracker, you can catch on to your dog’s sleep disturbances early on.

dog sleeping in the background smartphone with tractive gps app sleep monitoring in the foreground

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In some cases, your dog’s nightmares might be temporary. But make sure to check in with your local vet if they’re especially agitated at night or struggling to settle down for sleep.

How can I make sleep time easier for my dog?

You can create a comforting bedtime routine which helps your dog feel more secure. Dogs are creatures of habit – so regular sleep time can have a positive impact on their health and well being. For example, you could go for a long walk with your dog after your evening meal together. Start winding down for the day by slowly switching off the lights and electronics at home. Make sure they’re in a quiet, dark environment during sleep time – and leave them with a blanket that smells like you.

In case your dog is having difficulties falling asleep, we cover some ways you can get your dog to sleep through the night.

How can I soothe my dog when they have nightmares?

It might be heart-wrenching watching your dog thrash around or whimper in their sleep – but in these cases, it’s better to let them continue to sleep. Your dog firstly needs all the rest they can get to stay healthy. More importantly, waking them up might cause them to panic and bark out of instinct – or even scratch or bite you by accident.

Instead, rather than waking them up physically, try and call your dog’s name softly. Give them plenty of cuddles if they come to you after. Your dog will sleep much better as a result of it – and their dreams might turn to you instead.

Nurture your dog’s dreams & long-term wellbeing

Now the next time you see your buddy wagging their tail or woofing softly while asleep, remember that they’re on their own little adventure in doggy dreamland. A place where they can relive their happiest moments with the ones they love the most. And with a little help from a dedicated pet tracker like the Tractive GPS, you can stay on top of your dog’s health and wellbeing – including how well they’re sleeping.

Here’s a quick, fun video from Dr. Lindsay Butzer (DVM) explaining the science behind dog dreams and what your dog might be dreaming about: