Personal Narrative

The dreams of dogs

Image (1) Ronan+Squirrel.jpg for post 19923Have you ever wondered what it must be like being a dog?

My apartment here in West Seattle is a new six-story complex, which means it has elevators. Ronan MacScottie hasn’t had much experience with this mode of transportation – the first time he encountered one I had to physically drag him on, and he didn’t like the odd motion that he was feeling, but not seeing, at all. He’s getting used to it, but still, have you pondered how odd it must be for our animal friends?

You step into a small room. The door closes behind you. You feel the room moving. Then the door opens…and what’s outside is completely different.

You have to wonder how we’d take that kind of weirdness if something proportionally inexplicable happened to us. There are scores of TV shows and movies that pose these kinds of questions – everything from the gothic to alien invasions – but it’s hard to imagine that we’d actually acclimate to a totally new reality quite as adeptly as our slick, beautiful media stars do.

This got me thinking even more about the dog’s life. If you have a pup, then you know that dog’s dream. Every once in a while Ronan will start yipping in his sleep. Sometimes his legs shake as if he’s trying to run. I’m not sure what he’s dreaming about – probably chasing squirrels – but there’s definitely something exciting happening for him.

Then he wakes up. One second he’s chasing a squirrel, the next he’s in the living room. No transitions, no segues, just a quick shift in his reality. Animals, of course, lack the intellectual capability to parse the concept of dream, so I imagine that for them the things that happen as they sleep are just as real as the things that happen when they’re awake.

They move effortlessly between worlds, between realities, and I guess I feel like they’re lucky. Sometimes I have dreams that are unusually lucid. Dreams that shake me, dreams that anger me. Dreams that I’m still upset over hours later. Lately this is happening more than ever. When I lie down, I never know if some horror is on the way, some projection of the frustrations of my life tainting me in my sleep. Or perhaps worse, some manifestation of my hopes and aspirations. Which is worse – the nightmare or waking to have the sweetest moment of the week so far yanked away from you?

If Ronan catches that squirrel in his dreams – something that has never happened when he was awake – perhaps it’s real for him. In his mind, maybe he knows what it is to catch that squirrel, and because of this he’s less frustrated by the ways in which his body has slowed down through the years. He doesn’t get depressed when he sees a squirrel outside that he can’t catch – he’ll get him next time he dozes off.

Of course, I don’t really know. But I do wonder. And sometimes I really envy my dog.

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6 replies »

  1. Simon went from a house to an 18th Floor condo (fortunately back to a house again). The condo had a fleet of grocery carts that people would use to haul stuff to their condos. Imagine being trapped in a small moving box that is invaded by a tall box with wheels, trapping you behind it. A barking dog sounds very loud in an elevator.

  2. How beautifully written! I happen to be in the middle of reading several excellent fiction novels which describe life from a dog’s point of view, so this fit right in. I have witnessed my cats and my dog very clearly dreaming (my dog would nurse in her sleep as a puppy – talk about adorable). Once, one of my cats was meowing and twitching in his sleep, then yowled and sprang to his feet, looking around for whatever he’d been fighting/running from in his dream. After a confused several seconds, he either realized he’d had a nightmare, or simply accepted that his reality had suddenly changed and there was no longer any danger. A few strokes down his back and scratches under the chin, and he settled right back down again. Which is a long-winded way to say I fully support the idea that animals dream 🙂

    What they make of it, I’m not sure. They say that even human brains can’t actually distinguish between what you imagine, what you dream and what you actually experience; you’ll get the same chemical reactions from the brain in all those scenarios. If human brains are still confused about dreams verses reality, it would make sense that animals would feel that even more so.

    Fascinating article, it’s given me a lot to think about, thank you! 🙂

  3. Now you have me wondering if my squirrels, Bit and Boo, dream about being chased by dogs …