We do know that dogs experience a type of sleep phase known as ‘rapid eye movement’ sleep (REM), and that REM is also a stage of humans sleep, which is associated with dreaming. Human and dog brains are also not dissimilar in structure, and extrapolating from what we know of humans REM sleep, this may also be when dogs dream too.
In my opinion, dogs definitely do dream. And I think if you’ve had a dog in your life many of you would agree. My boy, Red has had many a sleep where from being still and calm with slow, deep breathing, suddenly a leg or two or four will shake, even seem to paddle, and he lets out an occasional yelp. His breathing becomes irregular and faster than it was, on close inspection I can also see his eyes are rapidly moving underneath his incompletely closed eyelids indicating he’s in REM sleep. Then all goes back to calm again. This is where I think he is dreaming, and these signs of legs twitching or vocalising mid sleep are the indicators of it.
Apparently a lot of the dreaming we do at night is associated with the activities that we had on that day, or replaying our memories. I adopted Red when he was a two year old after a terrible car accident that left his carers decide they could no longer care for him. It’s a horrible thought that his dreams could be re-living past trauma or fearing abandonment – I like to think he’s dreaming about his favourite things- running through the sand and chasing the ball into the ocean, or rounding up his old mate Lily.
The honest truth here is that we cannot know for sure if our dogs dream – or what it’s about, because frankly, we can’t ask them! However I’d be more surprised if it was proved they didn’t rather than they did.