People are always saying about a dreaming dog, “Chasing squirrels!”
But they’re wrong.
I know this because research has shown that dog sleep (and brain structure) is similar to ours. If dogs only dreamt about chasing squirrels, it would mean I was spending every REM session tunneling through warm cinnamon rolls and German chocolate cupcakes like the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Unfortunately, I don’t only dream of bakeries – just sometimes, and usually I’m being good and not eating anything (yes, I wake up screaming, You Idiot!).
Dreams are mental workouts. Sure, dogs’ lives aren’t as complicated as ours, but there’s no reason to think they’re so simplistic, either. Surely even house whippets have something on their minds besides high-speed chases.
C-Biscuit has a peculiar way of dreaming in which she seems to be playing two roles. She alternates between a high-pitched whimper and then a low growl. Maybe she’s showing the effects of having been an only dog for a year before we got Picchu and Sesame.
Researchers at MIT determined that rats taught to run through a maze during the day then dreamed about it at night. So there might be some squirrel chasing in dog dreams, just as I do get ahold of a nocturnal Krispy Kreme now and then.
But aren’t dreams usually symbolic? Nothing like a bakery visit or squirrel chase. The other night, I dreamed I was on my way to my sister’s wedding but didn’t have any shoes on. …could the whippets have anxiety dreams about being the only dogs in Central Park not wearing winter boots?
This work raises questions about long-held assumptions about animals’ thought processes. Only a handful of species — among them chimps and dolphins — were thought to have any ability at all to recall and evaluate detailed sequences of events after they occurred. Matthew Wilson of MIT’s Institute for Learning and Memory points out that ‘this work demonstrates that animals are capable of re-evaluating their experiences when they are not in the midst of them.’ – MIT research on rat dreams published in Neuron Dec. 19, 2001
An ABC News reporter quipped about the rat dream research, “Some rats can’t ever escape the rat race, even when sound asleep.”
We seem determined to make light of animal dreams even though, let’s face it, don’t dogs seem more highly evolved than we are? Unlike everyone else in the animal kingdom (except house cats), they have figured out how to get everything they need without working for it. While we, complex schemers and dreamers that we are, can only dream on.