Do pets daydream?
Daydream: Pleasant thoughts about your life or future that you have when you’re awake, such as a reverie, a fantasy, a muse, a pleasant wish or scheme unlikely to be fulfilled
Pets daydream in the same ways we do and derive the same pleasure from it. Subjects include idealized views of their world, pleasant reviews of their day, wishes to act in ways their bodies don’t allow, as well as pure fantasy.
When talking with them for this article, I found some pets were familiar with the term and some weren’t. One dog asks, is it “like when you have your head full of ideas you can’t have?” He shows about 10 different ideas of activities he’s like to do/choices in his head all at once, jumbled together. Another says “I have them in my head all the time. They make me laugh, or sad… They’re all my own, my own making. The things I did, dig in dirt, the playing I did in the yard, the cars I saw, the kids… It’s all mine, all my own. I make them up in my head.”
Even the black squirrel visiting the bird feeder today has daydreams, though he says he doesn’t have much time for that. At the end of the day when he’s up in a tree resting, he thinks back on his day. “What I did today, is that a daydream?” Those thoughts aren’t always pleasant, sometimes he reflects on scary events that occurred such as being chased. I read him the definition and he realizes that yes, “There IS a pleasant scheme I have, a master plan…” He thinks of it often through the year. It involves nuts, hoarding for fall. “I dream of putting them away” – having a giant hoard of nuts, shown as a large pile about 10’ tall and wide. He dreams of adding yet one more to the pile and is filled with delight.
During winter he daydreams of “taking my walk in the spring air”, slowly wandering on grass, feeling the warm sunshine. There’s no rush as in the winter to do food runs and return to shelter quickly. Another favorite fantasy is sharing food with the larger gray squirrels who normally chase him away. He envisions many squirrels of different types all together, feeding, cooperating, and being friendly to each other.
There were some common daydream themes among the pets. A favorite mentioned by many cats is an obvious one – finding more mice! The wish they were easy to find whenever they wanted. One describes fantasizing of having about 6 mice all within arm’s reach. He can easily reach out and touch them all to ‘play’ with them and they never run away.
Another theme is of being in different places outdoors, farther than the cat is allowed to go. One cat imagines herself in a neighbor’s yard, then instantly pops over to another yard on the next street and so on. “My head moves all around”, her thoughts move her to the various locations and she imagines the space so vividly she feels like she’s actually there.
Other daydreams the cats described:
- “I dream we’ll all be happy and wise. I dream I’ll be big and strong. I dream someone will be there to help me” whenever he wants to be let in or out or when he wants a friend to hang out with.
- Wistful thoughts of her person accompanying her on lazy walks in the garden. “I like to have a super-companion (tall person, guardian) to look out and look around” while she explores.
- “I see something I want and make a space story about it.” By that she means she comes across a small curious item, then thinks about it being in a place that looks like outer space but is actually in her mind. “I put it in my mind. So it’s there always. Then I take my walk” with the new item stored in her mind and “I play with it, I carry it”, mentally incorporating the item in her activities.
- “I play the piano with my toes” just like her people do, her short cat legs and toes extending as long as a person’s. “I like to hear music.” Her family let her play piano once but they laughed at how bad it sounded. In her mind now “I move my fingers on the keys and it all sounds beautiful.”
The dogs I spoke with had equally diverse daydreams:
- “Pie.” Without a doubt this is his all-time favorite. Second best is being fed people food off the table. (He has a naughty history of stealing entire pies and plates of cookies from the table.)
- “Playing in the sun and water” like in a kiddie pool. This dog hasn’t yet been given the opportunity to do this but he’s hopeful it will happen one day.
- A city dog daydreams of “Pleasant things like on the ocean, beach, deserted. There’s no one around to walk me”, meaning no one needs to walk him on a leash, he can go alone unimpeded.
- One playful pup has a recurring fantasy of what he calls “Pound cake” – shown as a soccer-size ball with cake in the middle. “I could eat the whole thing! First I would kick it with my toes, then I’d lick it. It would roll in circles, I’d hold it” (between his front legs) “and I’d EAT it!”
- A guard dog shows a waterfall in the woods, there’s a kid hiking along the stream. In his daydream “I’m the waterfall! I’m living inside the water. I’m the boy’s guardian protector.” This dream has a deeper meaning of desiring to help the child by watching and monitoring him to keep him safe without being seen.
- Despite all his courage the guard dog still has insecurities. In a recurring daydream “I’m walking along alone” on the sidewalk at home and two people come up along either side of him and energetically lift him up. He dreams they reach down to touch his shoulders then lift his body with their light touch, lifting him a few feet off the sidewalk, making him feel weightless and loved and secure.
For one very creative dog daydreams are “My virtual world.” She has quite a few recent favorites:
- “I talk like a person. That’s cool, to be able to do that.”
- “I’m a monster-eater”, she can make all the scary things disappear so her kids have nothing to fear. Such as “snakes – I turn them into ropes.”
- “A balloon that flies high across the sky. I can move my arms and make it move.” Picture a hot air balloon, the dog is in the basket flapping her arms like a bird to move and steer the balloon. “I can see my house and all things dear to me”. She can go places she can’t go when walking. She has some favorite places she visits repeatedly in her daydreams, such as across the street then land and explore the woods beyond. She thinks to herself “Let’s walk a while. I like it here, I haven’t been here in a while.”
- “Soccer. I’m my own team. We play in pairs, a dog and a kid. I’m the lead, I begin. Then we race. My kid likes it when I move and leap a lot”, upright on her hind legs, using her dog legs just like a professional soccer player. The dog loves it that in these dream the kid is impressed with her skill at the game.
The dogs’ favorite daydreams were of “Dog food and naps.” They must get tired and hungry with all that virtual exploring!