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Do Dogs Dream? The Implications for Dog Owners
If you have a dog in your family, you've probably pondered whether or not your dog dreams. Our dog, a 10 pound chihuahua/dachshund mix (a "chiweenie") seems to dream all the time. Now, in full disclosure, we're not strapping electrodes to her head to see what's really going on in her lemon-sized brain. But we do know that after a stimulating day, there are lots of noises - seemingly good and bad - coming from her dog bed at night.
Her noises range from whimpers, both soft and loud, to muffled barks that sound like a "whoop" if a human were to imitate it. Is she re-playing the day's events, imagining she had played things differently with that bullying dog at the park? Have the day's events inspired a truly imagined event where she's defeating a big dog to protect her puppies?
Whatever is going on, she's definitely not sleeping soundly. Something is causing her to make those noises and it's not a lump in her dog bed. If we wake her while she's making her dreaming noises, her reaction is just like a human who had been awoken from an absorbing dream - wait, what's going on, is there an emergency? She's instantly at alert, confused about her surroundings as if awaking from a different dream state.
I believe our dog dreams. And if that's true, it continually makes me re-evaluate how I treat her and her place in our family. Because if she does dream, it makes me believe that she can imagine things differently than how they actually are. And if that's the case, it follows that she has opinions. She can see how things are compared to how she would like them to be. Not in a genetic behavior kind of way, like she would rather have food than be hungry, but rather in a preferential sort of way, based on want instead of need.
The implications of dreaming in dogs fits squarely within my philosophy about owning a dog in general. I've always felt that my dog was an equal member of our family in the same way that a toddler would be. Therefore, I gravitate to the positive reinforcement method of training as opposed to the pack leader mentality. While I think that boundaries and rules are just as important with dogs as they would be when raising a small child, I have never been comfortable with the "dominance" concept put forth by so many dog trainers. Because if our dogs dream, and they do have personal preferences and feelings about their lives, constantly telling your dog they're beneath you would be detrimental to their emotional well-being. And a happy dog behaves better than a beaten-down, vengeful dog.
As I write, my dog is napping on the couch. I say napping because there is no chance she's sleeping deeply enough to dream. I know that if I were to go show her a few toys, she would choose one over the others. She has preferences, she has desires, she has dreams. Of an ideal life. And after being abandoned by her owner to the city pound (likely after being used as a breeding dog) and being shuttled between multiple fosters, I think she deserves to have the life she's dreamed of with our family.