Do Dogs Dream In Color?


If you are like most dog parents, you have probably found yourself wishing you could read your furry friend’s mind.

This desire to glimpse into the mind of pups is perhaps strongest when they are fast asleep.

Being curios about a dog’s dream world is understandable given that dogs sleep much more than us mortals, with dogs averaging 12-14 hours of sleep daily. 

You might find your dog twitching, barking softly, serenely or rapidly breathing, moving her paws, whimpering with open or closed eyes, and wonder – what is going on inside my dog’s mysterious mind? Is she dreaming? Is he having a nightmare?

And most fascinatingly, is the dream in color?

Stay tuned friends, in this blog we will draw upon available research to delve into the heart of these questions. 

Do dogs dream?

We can’t answer whether dogs dream in color without first addressing whether dogs dream at all.

Unfortunately, there is no way for us to get a firsthand account of whether dogs dream, as we can’t ask our furry, four-legged love to tell us about his dream after breakfast.

However, studies tell us that like humans, dogs dream too.

In fact, human beings aren’t the only species that dream. Researchers have found that rats, cats, birds, and other creatures appear to dream as well.

But I digress… Back to dogs!

Like humans, dogs cycle between different stages in their sleep.

Researchers have discovered the parallels between human and canine sleep patterns by observing dogs’ brain waves as they slumber.

The first sleep stage experienced by dogs is slow-wave sleep, in which brain waves are slow and even (picture rolling hills).

This is the earliest sleep stage and it’s at this delicate juncture that your pup might be easily awakened.

The next stage is called REM sleep, which might sound familiar because you also experience it on a nightly basis!

During the REM stage, your dog descends into the throes of deep sleep.

By this stage, muscles relax, eye movement begins, and brain activity markedly increases which hints that your dog might have entered the threshold of dreamland.

If your dog sleeps with her eyes open, you will notice her eyes dart back and forth during the REM phase. 

Humans dream when they are in the REM stage, and researchers believe that dogs similarly dream at this point, as the electrical activity in the brains of canines and people largely mirror one another during this sleep stage. 

Despite the parallels in nighttime electrical activity between people and dogs, our furry companions have significantly shorter sleep cycles than we do.

Though humans have about four to six 90-minute sleep cycles, dogs experience about 15-20 cycles lasting 45 minutes.

Dog researcher Dr. Stanley Coren discovered that bigger dogs have longer sleep cycles, whereas smaller dogs have shorter cycles.

This means bigger dogs might have fewer dreams that last longer, while smaller pups tend to have shorter, yet more frequent dreams. 

What do dogs dream about?

Mid-sleep, you might encounter your fur baby twitch, growl, or engage in any other behaviors that might clue you into what they are dreaming about.

Pups’ dreams are brimming with things they experience in everyday life…including you!

Considering you are a key figure in your little wolf’s world, it is only natural that you would appear in his dreamland.

A dog might dream of other fragments of his reality, such as going on walks, heeding commands for treats, interacting with other animals, and so on.

Even if it seems your doggie is having a nightmare, be sure not to wake him.

The Veterinary Center of America estimates that 60% of dog bites in children occur when a child awakens a sleeping dog. 

So, if you notice your doggy’s eyes dart back and forth while his legs move, perhaps your dog is dreaming of chasing a nearby squirrel. Since your dog can’t describe the dream to you, let your imagination soar! And remember, the same way dreams help us process all we have experienced the previous day, dreams serve a similar function in dogs.  

Do dogs perceive color?

The myth that dogs behold the world solely in black and white hails from Will Judy, a previous publisher of Dog Week magazine in the early to mid-20th century. However, studies from the recent decades have illuminated that dogs do perceive color, although to a lesser extent than their human counterparts.   

A little bit about the biology of sight: the retina, the thin tissue that hugs the inner surface of the back of the eye, possesses rods (which help us see in the dark), and cones (which help us perceive color). It turns out dogs have more rods, which presumably would make your furry friend better at catching movement during the night. This makes sense when we think about how evolutionarily, dogs were nocturnal hunters who sought out prey in the darkness. As such, their eyes developed to see in low-light environments.  

While dogs have more rods, people have more cones, which allows us to see more colors than our tail-wagging buddies. Each type of cone perceives a different light wavelength, and studies find that dogs might be missing cones registering red and green. Luckily for dogs, it seems they do possess cones that register yellow and blue. In this way, much of the world might appear grayish to dogs, except for gentle bursts of muted blue and yellow hues. 

Fun fact, did you know that birds possess more cones than us human beings, meaning that they can see many more colors than we can? That’s right, even though we humans can perceive more colors than dogs, the birds humble us with their ability to see ultraviolet wavelengths invisible to the human eye. Now, where were we? Back to humankind’s best friends, dogs!   

Do dogs dream in color?

Now that we have settled that dogs do in fact dream and perceive certain colors, we may wonder about the hues of doggie dreamland. Is the green in your pup’s dream as vibrant as the grass he enjoys during the daytime? Or do your dog’s dreams look like a black and white Charlie Chaplain film? Well, it appears that the answer lies somewhere in between. That is, because in real life dogs can see certain colors, this is also true of their dreams. 

As dogs’ visual fields are limited to blue, yellow, and grey, this means that their dreams are also limited to these colorful constraints. Put simply, your doggie dreams in grey, yellow, and blue. The yellow and blue that appear in your pup’s dream are most likely not as rich as the yellow and blue that you appreciate daily. This is because not only do dogs see fewer colors than people, but the colors they see are not as striking.  

While human beings developed to rely mostly on visual cues to learn about their environment, dogs primarily depend on their sense of smell to assess their surroundings. In fact, the part of a canine’s brain that analyzes odors is nearly 40 larger than the comparable part of a human brain. In this way, though your dog’s dream might not be punctuated by bright colors, it might include memories of all sorts of intense smells.   

If you could peer into your dog’s dream, you might find landscapes of grey tones with occasional color in the form of a soft yellow tennis ball or a navy-blue water bowl. If you wish to see a physical example of the differences in visual fields between dogs and humans check out the website Dog Vision. Not only will you find a human versus dog color spectrum to see how a dog would view a rainbow. In addition, from there you can upload a picture and the website will show you what the image most likely would look like to your pooch. Groovy, right! 

What does this mean for you?

 Today, we have journeyed into the inner workings of your pup’s nighttime world, learning that dogs dream partially in color. Blue, yellow, and grey color, to be precise.  

More than being a fascinating nugget of information, this knowledge may serve you going forward. Knowing that the way we perceive the world is vastly different from our canine companions inspires us to marvel at how differently we experience the world from our fur baby. And yet, understanding the similarity between our sleep patterns and those of our lovable pet allows us to appreciate the ways that we are akin to our animal brothers and sisters. 

On a practical level, understanding your belly rub-loving pal’s reality better can help you make informed decisions. For example, instead of buying your dog a red toy, opt for the bright blue squeaky toy. Instead of playing fetch with a green ball, opt for a yellow ball. This will allow your pup to see the object more clearly, not to mention add a bit of vibrancy into your doggie’s visual field.