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Can dogs dream? The science of canine sleep.

health science sleep Feb 15, 2023
Pawsome University
Can dogs dream? The science of canine sleep.

Sawing logs, catching some z’s, whatever you call it, sleep plays a huge role in your dog’s health and behavior.

But do you ever find yourself wondering; Do dogs dream? Is my dog sleeping too much? Am I missing warning signs? 


According to the National Sleep Foundation, in a 24-hour cycle the average adult dog will sleep approx. 12-14 hours. As for puppies, they like to expend energy through exploration, play, and growth. More energy spent, means more rest required - and rest they do. Puppies will sleep on average 18-20 hours in a 24 hour cycle. ¹ In fact, puppies have entirely different sleeping habits than their full grown counterparts. A study published to the MDPI Animals Open Access Journal tracked the sleeping habits of 2,332 sixteen week old puppies. The study found that puppies sleep longer during the day and less at night compared to a sample of 1,091 one year old dogs.² This study will be added upon as the puppies grow, with the goal to find any correlation between sleeping habits, and behavior while awake. Those results should be worth the wait!



What if my dog sleeps more than what is deemed normal? 

There are so many variables with dogs, so sleep expectations need to be flexible. Giant breeds like Newfies or Mastiffs expend a ton of energy just staying alive and walking to the food bowl, so it's expected they will sleep more often than, say, a Jack Russell Terrier. Geriatric dogs are also over indulgers in sleep, and there's nothing wrong with that. YOU know your dog best, and if it's normal for your dog, then it's normal! Get to know your dog’s sleeping habits and keep an eye out for a dramatic change. 



What if I think my dog is sleeping too much? 

A little extra sleep after a long day of play, or while recovering from a medical procedure like a spay/neuter is to be expected. But continued excessive sleep could be a sign of an underlying medical issue. If you're concerned your dog may be sleeping too much we recommend making an appointment to see your dog’s Veterinarian. Up until the Vet appointment, do your best to document the following;  

  • Track your dog’s sleep in 24 hour cycles.
  • Monitor and document your dog’s behavior while awake. Are they lethargic?  Irritable? Acting differently? 
  • Monitor and document their appetite and water intake. Are they refusing to save any water for the fishes? Is an otherwise glutton suddenly leaving food in the food bowl?
  • This is all super helpful info you can provide to your Vet to help narrow down the cause, if any, of your dog’s excess sleeping.  




And how about not enough sleep?

Anecdotally, for us, the biggest indicator of insufficient rest is undesirable behavior. We had not encountered this issue until recently and for good reason. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced dog owners to be home with their dogs at unprecedented intervals, seriously disrupting some dogs’ routines and sleeping habits. Some owners are blissfully unaware of their dog’s daily sleep requirements and are overexercising and overstimulating their dogs day in and day out. Other dogs have a fear of missing out and want to relish every waking moment with their best friend. We’ve been seeing this inadequacy surface as aggression towards housemates, and an increase in general anxiety or even a novel onset of general anxiety.  


The good news is this inadequate sleep is a rare occurrence and most dog’s don't miss a moment to indulge in the counting of sheep. And sleep just seems to come easy for dogs, who have an almost supernatural ability to enter REM in 10-20 minutes³; humans take upwards of 90 minutes before entering this state of deep sleep.⁴ This is likely an evolutionary advantage that allows them to go from 0-100 on a dime, barking at the mailman, then just as quickly drifting back to sleep no worse for the wear. 


Although it only lasts a few minutes, dog’s can be very active during REM sleep. The tell-tale sign of REM is in its name, Rapid Eye Movement. Have you ever noticed your dog's eyes darting left-right-up-down mid-sleep? Or maybe your dog is like our Oaklee, and vocalizes while kicking their legs. Like in humans, dogs have a part of their brain stem known as the Pons, latin for bridge, which is responsible for paralyzing the body to prevent movement during sleep. Excess movement during sleep is seen often in puppies who’s Pons may not be fully developed, and in older dogs, who’s Pons may not function as well as it once did. Many dogs will also adopt an irregular breathing pattern for the short time they spend in REM as they act out their dreams. Yes, dogs dream!

The subject of their dreams is mostly up for debate, but there is enough science to strongly suggest dogs dream about waking activities. In an interview with Life Science: Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the author of "Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know"  confirms


"What we've basically found is that dogs dream doggy things...so, pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars. The dream pattern in dogs seems to be very similar to the dream pattern in humans."⁶


Want more great dog info? Check out the Pawsome University Podcast, the podcast for dog people!