Do dogs daydream like we do? Until recently, we would have to say we could never know. Now, with new advancements in canine cognition research, we can understand what dogs might be thinking when at rest. When humans are told to do nothing while in an fMRI scanner, there is activation in brain regions termed the Default Mode Network. Based on the brain regions associated with this network, some scientists believe this network is related to envisioning the future, autobiographical memory, and other self-referential processing (the internal mentation hypothesis). Is this what dogs think about, too?
In order to better understand the Default Mode Network in dogs, researchers from Auburn University trained dogs to enter an fMRI scanner so they could look at their brains while “daydreaming”, or while at rest. The researchers found localized & unconnected activation of two brain regions: the anterior cingulate and the posterior cingulate. In humans and monkeys, the activation of these regions would be connected, forming the Default Mode Network. It is this connection that allows for higher-order cognitions about the self that humans might typically associate with “daydreaming”.
So – do dogs daydream? Not in the same way we do, but they are engaging in cognitive processes when at rest. This means that your dog likely does have “thoughts” as they rest, but these thoughts are much different from our own, and unrelated to things like planning for the future or thinking in depth about the past. The sentinel hypothesis of the Default Mode Network describes the network as playing a role in monitoring the external environment – this may be just what is going on when a dog daydreams.
Source: Kyathanahally, S. P., Jia, H., Pustovyy, O. M., Waggoner, P., Beyers, R., Schumacher, J. … Deshpande, G. (2015). Anterior-posterior dissociation of the default mode network in dogs. Brain Structure and Function, 220, 1063-1076. DOI 10.1007/s00429-013-0700-x
Thanks to @duncanpnw and @topaz_da_spaz for the photo! Find them on Instagram.