Do you ever watch them when they’re asleep? Sometimes their little noses start twitching. Then their ears move slightly. And then they might emit sounds -- sometimes it’s a muffled bark, other times it’s more of a yelp or a whine. After that their paws might start moving. Do you ever wonder what your pets dream about?
As a dog-walking volunteer at the shelter, I used to say that dogs benefitted from their time with us volunteers because they got a quality social interaction with a human, a little exercise, and something new to dream about. I love the idea that the homeless dogs and cats in the shelter can escape in their dreams to wide-open green meadows. Do they dream about running around to their hearts' content? Do they dream about sitting in the sun while their bellies are being rubbed?
I enjoy watching and listening to our family dogs when they're asleep. The two terriers often have their eyes open. And that’s pretty freaky. You see their eyes darting back and forth in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. But I wonder whether dog dreams are as visual as human dreams. Or are their dreams more focused on smell, taste, sound, and touch?
Kaldi, our brown lab mix, is the family’s noisiest dreamer. She has convinced me that dog dreams are a lot like people dreams -- a weird mix of the fleeting impressions from our daily lives. Some of her dreams are clearly good: her paws move so fast that she seems to be running effortlessly down a trail, hot on the trail of a rabbit or some other varmint. Some of her dreams seem more serious: just now she was barking in a scolding way and then pawing in the air at something. Was she digging a hole? Has she cornered that rabbit? Sometimes Kaldi cries in her sleep. I am tempted to wake her up and tell her it’s alright; she’s been safe with us since we adopted her nine years ago. Could she be remembering some conflict from her early life, when she was a young pup running loose and getting into trouble? They say that dogs don’t have long memories, but how far back can the subconscious, sleeping mind reach?
Dogs watch us all the time. They are familiar with all our habits, expressions, and inclinations. But how often do we really pay attention to our canine (or feline) best friends?