Our subconscious minds are steeped in mystery even after centuries of consideration from our most prestigious analytical minds. Some renowned physiologists believe that our dreams are the perfect window to our subconscious minds. Personally, I don’t remember many of my dreams. If I do get a glimpse of my slumber induced mirages, they often represent activities or thoughts that are foreign to my experiences. They represent time periods and activities thrown together that were not at all related to each other in reality. We have no real way of knowing if dogs’ dreams follow this criterion that appears to be common among humans. We do, however, have more insight into the dream life of a dog than we once did.
Researchers from MIT have concluded that dog’s dream patterns are very similar to humans. They dream about their day and their memories. Studies have shown that smaller dogs have shorter dreams and more of them than their larger counterparts. A Dachshund for instance might have four or five one minute dreams during their REM cycle while Saint Bernards would more likely have one four minute dream during the first half hour of their sleep, when dreams are more common.
It has been reported that dogs typically make similar movements, during their dreams, as when they are awake and pursuing their quintessential activities; a Pointer might point, and a Labrador Retriever might appear to be chasing a tennis ball. Makes me wonder if my babies dream about perpetually full food bowls, and soft, warm blankets fresh from the dryer.
The point has been made after much study that puppies and older dogs dream less than a middle aged adult dog. One theory is that their brains are not as active when they are awake and therefore are less prolific in their sleep cycles. I haven’t cared for nearly as many puppies as I have adult dogs, but it seems to me that puppies’ minds are always in gear working out how to tear up the new toy, or to engage their siblings in yet another wrestling match. Perhaps their minds are not fully engaged and they are acting more out of instinct than processed thought. While I have witnessed my senior babies having dreams, it is rare and less dramatic as my bird dog mix that actively hunts everyday. She often runs and whines in her sleep like she is just one tiny step behind the prey that she seeks.
There is also verification that dogs have nightmares about things that worry them. One researcher relayed a story he was told during an interview about a dog that hated baths. The dog apparently ran and hid between his owners legs before and after each bath. This commotion was not part of this dog’s regular “non-bath days” routine. It was noted that after a particularly restless sleep this dog was startled awake and quickly ran to hide between his owner’s knees, thus convincing the owner that the dog had just had a nightmare about being bathed.
My instinct when one of my babies appears to be distressed during an obvious nightmare is to wake them. While this has never proven detrimental to me, it is worth consideration that children should not wake their dog if that dog is in any way prone to protective or fear aggression. Just as we can at times need a beat or two after being startled awake from a horrid dream, before we are fully aware that we are not in any type of peril, a dog that tends to strike out in a situation with perceived danger when awake, might also require a degree of caution after a disquieting dream.
I was often told as a child when my dog was mimicking a running motion during a dream that he was “Chasing rabbits”. I have owned very few dogs that ever had the opportunity to actually chase a rabbit, so perhaps our babies also feign activities during their sleep that are on their wish lists.
It will soon be nineteen years since Rick and I first began this journey with The Promised Land Dachshund Sanctuary. No babies have ever been more exposed in all those years to my helicopter mothering skills than Trooper. I watched over him as if my eyes on him would magically make him safe and healthy. When Trooper slept he often grumbled and pawed at his blankets. Rick and I felt certain that he was chasing mountain lions and we never woke him fearing the mountain lion might escape. 🙂
Now I know for certain that Trooper was also engaging the obstacles to make his most grandiose dream come true. He has most assuredly won that battle. My proof is directly outside my kitchen window in the form of strong, brick walls that are the culmination of tremendous efforts by all that loved him. “Trooper’s Dream”, the new home for PLDS is no longer just a dream. It is is real, and it is coming soon to make a difference in the lives of senior and special needs Dachshunds in TX and LA.