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Have you ever wondered what your dog dreams about or why their paws and legs twitch when sleeping? And why do we find our pet’s sleeping lives so interesting?
CNN reported that this interest in animal dreams goes back to ancient times. Philosopher David M. Peña-Guzmán and author of “When Animals Dream: The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness,” which comes out later this year, said that there are “references to the dreams of animals in the work of people like Aristotle and a couple of other Greek philosophers.” In his book, he proposes that the ability to dream means that an animal experiences consciousness.
CNN spoke to experts about the topic. Neuroscientist Marcos Frank, a professor at Washington State University who studies the function of sleep in animals, said,
“I’ve seen it in my own dogs. They’re running, they’ll whimper, they’ll bark, and they’ll wake themselves up like they don’t know where they are.”
Involuntary muscle jerks are scientifically referred to as myoclonus which is common in both dogs and humans. It is most common during REM sleep. Eyes often flicker too during this cycle. Dogs get much more REM sleep than humans and account for 12 percent of their overall life. REM sleep has been associated with vivid dreaming in humans and scientists believe that this could happen to dogs as well.
“From dogs to humans, most mammals exhibit the same basic states of sleep,” Frank said. “We can’t say conclusively that dogs are having experiences like we do when we dream, but it’s hard not to imagine they are.”
Author of “Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do.”, Marc Bekoff told CNN that when dogs sleep it’s likely that they’re reliving an experience. Bekoff is also a professor of emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology and has spent countless hours doing field research to watch wolves and coyotes sleep. He says that they do the same things that we see domesticated dogs do while they sleep.
REM sleep is also considered to be important in consolidating memories. There has been some evidence that this could be a parallel in dogs as well. A 2001 study watched brain waves in sleeping rats and found that they would often replay the events of the day. Another study in 2017 found that dogs might use their naps to reinforce memories that were established while they were awake. The study followed dogs learning new voice commands. They found that the animals that slept instead of playing after the lesson could perform the tasks better than the ones who played.
While we know a lot about animal sleep behaviors, there’s still so much we don’t know. What we do know is that dog sleep can be very similar to human sleep; they just look much cuter while they’re doing it!
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