What Do Dogs Dream About?

The Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi famously asked whether he dreamed of being a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuangzi. But what he really should have asked was, "Does my dog dream about being a butterfly?" (Zhuangzi had a dog, right?) After all, dogs are amazing animals that can learn to drive cars and pilot planes. Surely, their dreams are far more fascinating than those of a smart philosopher or dumb butterfly — except for that butterfly on Reading Rainbow, who could probably read.  

So what do dogs dream about anyway? It would be cute if they dreamed of being butterflies, but they probably don't. As it turns out, if you own a dog, he or she probably dreams of you. Clinical and evolutionary psychologist Dr. Deirdre Barrett told The Independent, "Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it's likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you." 

Once you've finished mopping up the bits of your heart that melted onto the floor, you'll probably notice that this sounds like a very human way of dreaming and a very specific description of said dreaming. Obviously, there's no canine Sigmund Freud to interpret the dogs' nocturnal visions and explain that when Fido dreams about biting the mailman, the mailman represents Fido's father. So where's the evidence?

Barrett acknowledged that experts can't say with absolute certainty that dogs dream at all, never mind what the specific content of their dreams would be. However, canines experience REM sleep, a phase of unconsciousness that corresponds with dreaming in humans. Dogs enter REM sleep after about 20 minutes of snoozing, per Live Science, and it lasts for two or three minutes. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, scientists actually tinkered with the animals' brains to get a sense of what might enter their heads when they enter REM sleep.

As it turns out, when you disable the part of a dog's brain that keeps them still when they sleep, they will act out dog-like behaviors in the REM stage. Psychologist Stanley Coren explained, "Pointers will point at dream birds, and Dobermans will chase dream burglars." And now you know that when you dream about your dog, your dog might be having sweet dreams about you.