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Puppy Dreams

 

I had a writing teacher once who said we should never write about dreams, or menstruation, or school, or coming of age, or drugs or…he had a long list. But the dreams were verboten because, he said, your dreams will only be interesting to you and no one else. I hope that’s not true.

At the simplest level, things you see during the day can show up in your dreams; a character on a TV show, a wheat field, a cow, a striped shirt. And maybe it’s significant and maybe it’s not. It’s just something you noticed that day. This happens when you write fiction too. You need a location or a character and, consciously or unconsciously, you grab from details you saw that day, a hat someone wore on the subway, a dog in a pet store window, a car, a smell, a song, a sound.

But we also dream about the things that trouble us, things from the past or the present or a jumble of the two. Our old stories get reset in new locations, or new stories get stuck in the labyrinth of the old places. I tend to have a lot of bad dreams set at the house I grew up in, and an inordinate amount of dreams about serial killers, but the most upsetting dreams I have are about puppies.

Puppy!

Doberman Puppy!

Poodles puppies.

Poodle puppies!

I started to do dreamwork for therapy when I was still in college. My book of Genesis at my Orthodox Jewish high school had one or two lines from the actual book on each page, with paragraphs from different commentators picking apart each word and offering every possible interpretation and interpolation one could think of. So that’s what I did with my dreams. I wrote down everything I could remember, as soon as I woke up, and later, I’d copy the dream into a special notebook, and write down my general impressions, and then do a line by line exegesis. One dream could take up ten pages of college ruled paper.

But with these puppy dreams, no matter how much work I put into the interpretations, the dreams stuck with me. I could put aside a serial killer, a flood, a crashing airplane, a car flying off the side of a bridge, but squashed puppies haunted me, not only for the rest of the day, but for weeks, and months.

Sometimes the puppies in my dreams were as small as mice, and hairless and pink, and sometimes they were barely formed and looked like pieces of raw chicken cutlet, or balls of play-doh. The puppies seemed to represent the deepest, most real and identifiably ME parts of me. As if I were made of puppies, as if I am a stringing together of puppies inside rather than the usual human organs.

Sleeping puppies.

Sleeping puppies.

There was the dream when the puppies surrounded me in a circle and I kept tripping over them and squashing them by accident until I couldn’t move in any direction. There was the dream when the lead puppy of a pack pointed a tiny machine gun at me and told me it was all my fault, without specifying what “it” was.

When my Doberman Pinscher, Delilah, gave birth to her first set of puppies, I was seven or eight years old and there to watch their birth, early in the morning, with the sun streaming in through the kitchen windows. Each puppy came out in it’s own sac and Delilah carefully licked them free and set them on their feet to wobble about and figure out how to walk on solid ground.

Delilah, ready to feed the puppies.

Delilah, ready to feed the puppies.

I loved those puppies. I brought a handful of them to school for show and tell, and put another handful in a basket to carry up to my room. I got used to the overriding smell of puppy poop mixed with newsprint and sawdust, from their puppy box in the basement. We had two sets of puppies for seven or eight weeks each, and I guess that gave them time to imprint on me.

I often have trouble remembering how small and vulnerable I was as a child, especially because I was tall for my age, but thinking about those puppies reminds me what vulnerability really is. Even the wiliest of the puppies was in no position to truly protect herself. She could try. She could fight. She could put everything she had into saving herself. But if someone wanted to squash her, she’d be squashed.

For some reason, maybe especially in America, adults want to imagine that children are the superheroes they pretend to be. Children can call 911, climb out of burning buildings, save the dog, if only they would apply themselves.

I remember a dream where I am standing in a living room, in front of a bay window, at night. There are cages full of the tiniest puppies I’ve ever seen, but they have no newspaper or mats in the cages and I’m worried that they are going to fall through the slats of metal. I’m there to save these puppies. I am planning to take the cages with me to a better place, though I can’t picture that place in the dream. As I pick up the first cage, it’s too unwieldy and I lose my grip on the cage. This is when the dream goes into slow motion and I watch as the puppies are torn apart as they fall through the sharp metal bars of the cage to their deaths. I went there to save them, and I killed them instead.

The dreams are so dark that I feel like a terrible person, hopeless, and useless, until I wake up, because my real dogs are barking at me to take them out to poop.

Which is an incredible relief.

My puppies.

My puppies.

I wonder what they dream about?

I wonder what they dream about.

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

120 responses »

  1. Oh my gosh, Rachel! I’m afraid to go to sleep tonight! I don’t remember my dreams well at all, once I wake up. However, one recurring dream is something (don’t ask me what b/c I have no idea) is happening and I want to scream but I can’t. The sound just won’t come out. Instead some weird noise comes out (not in my dream) and my husband has to shake me awake. And then I go back to sleep, not to remember a thing in the morning. Which is weirder: remembering or not remembering? Not sure.

    Reply
    • I had to practice remembering the details, or else I would be stuck with these strange feelings of foreboding and I didn’t know where they were coming from. I also noticed, though, that even if I forgot the dream, it would come back as soon as I put my head back on the pillow the next night.

      Reply
  2. Love it! I had nightmares about our two when we were planning to move abroad, Rachel, I was so worried for their safety! They were chasing little mice down by the river and got sucked into the muddy sides and I couldn’t help them…. Horrible! The other morning, Red was barking frantically in her sleep and when she woke herself up, she leapt up onto the bed and snuggled in close under my arm and hid her nose…. Something bad had happened in her dream and she needed my safety. So, it’s good that she knows I will always do my best to keep her from harm!

    Reply
    • Butterfly definitely relies on me to save her from monsters, in her dreams and mine. I don’t know how I’d manage being away from her, I’d be so worried all the time. Just a tiny bit neurotic over here.

      Reply
  3. (sniffs gently, licks face) It will be all right. We dogs love you…puppies and all. I hope you have sweet dreams of wagging tails, instead.

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  4. Hi Rachel,
    I have had dreams where I suddenly remember I have a horse, or fish, and so I have not been feeding them. Usually I get there before the horse has expired but she is emaciated. Animal dreams may represent parts of ourselves (archetypes) involving our natural energies. What puppies mean to you, only you can really say.Cute and playful and loving and creative…do you sometimes have a tendency to project these qualities into your puppies instead of owning them too?
    Linda

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  5. You must be a remarkably sensitive person who takes great care not to hurt anything, or anyone. I think dogs dream about chasing bunnies.

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  6. Letting puppies fall through the cracks isn’t a dream-it’s a nightmare.

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  7. Those dreams sound intense! Sending sweet dreams your way!

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  8. They are dreaming of squirrels, long walks and unconditional love.

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  9. I sleep best when I don’t dream . Lately I have been dreaming of the days when I lived with my ex. Those were terrible days with physical and mental abuse. For years and years. I tried everything to get away from him but he always found me.With the help of my son I managed to leave the state and disappeared. I was free at last! I am so happy with my life now I don’t understand why I am having these dreams from the past. my ex can’t hurt me anymore as he ended up having a stroke and has to have help caring for himself. I am taking some new medicine which I know some medicine can make you have some crazy dreams. I just wish it wasn’t dreams from the life I escaped from. My other bad dreams are of all the animals I can’t help from getting abused, tortured (fur industry and puppy mills)or killed in shelters for no good reason.

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  10. I’m sure you’ll agree that one of the most joyous experiences in life is waking up and discovering it was all a dream

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  11. I think your puppies dream nice cozy dreams about their human mom always being there to keep them safe :)

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  12. Beautifully written as usual but so sad. Wishing you sweet dreams in the future.

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  13. I so hope I have vivid dreams tonight that i remember when I wake.

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  14. Now the image of a puppy with a tiny machine gun will go with me to my grave! Ah, sweet dreams!

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  15. This is such a personal piece, Rachel, and upsetting for you to write. We dogs know you love us in a very special way so in your dreams we represent the most precious things in your life (ideas, people, whatever). Were typify vulnerability and the limits of human power. Pip and the Dickens Dogs

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  16. My dreams could be made into movies they are so clear – when I tell them, people laugh, so I don’t think your lecturer knew anything about story telling…

    http://frankiekay.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/i-had-a-dream/

    I also wonder what animals are dreaming about, cos sometimes its loud enough to wake me!

    Reply
  17. You always write such interesting posts. Thank you.

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  18. I rarely dream about animals. However, just a few days ago I heard through the grapevine about a local woman who admitted to having killed the kittens from her cat’s litter, and in a most violent fashion, too. This is a nightmare that is real. I have been wanting to blog about it, but I don’t know what words to use. So yes, I empathize with your dreams about harming puppies.

    Reply
  19. I wish that this bad dream never comes back to you, maybe such dreams can happen because we love our furkids so much and are always afraid that something could happen to them?

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  20. Lovely post. I dream about dogs past and present, and often wonder what they’d make of each other if they’d ever met. But then again, you never know, maybe they have and are waiting for me to join them when my time comes. I intend to have a pocketful of doggy treats.

    Reply
    • I’ve always thought that when Cricket first came home she relied heavily on my previous dog, Dina, for advice on how to manage in our home. Dina had left so many smells behind, and Cricket found every one.

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  21. I think everyone who loves and cares about animals has nightmares about them suffering. Funnily enough, I had one last night – I’d found two starving greyhounds on the street and one of them was so thin its stomach had disappeared altogether.
    Re the do’s and don’ts of writing, I reckon there are far too many don’ts these days – and too many don’ts can stifle creativity. Some of the best ideas pop up in dreams.

    Reply
    • When that teacher was listing all of the don’ts, I wanted to run around the room and cover the ears of my classmates. It’s a destructive thing to say to writers, especially beginners.

      Reply
  22. deutschtrailer

    Very nice puppys,big thanks….❤❤❤

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  23. When I’m watching my furry kids twitching the good sleep they do and making those noises, I wonder what they’re dreaming. Love this post.

    Reply
  24. Sometimes I wonder where in the heck my dreams come from. The one of yours sounds more like a dream of being helpless. Thank goodness we all know that is not the case!

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  25. I have a dream almost every night. I sometimes have very weird dreams that just do not make sense. I dream a lot about my family who passed away. I believe my dreams are speaking to me; guiding me in the right direction.

    For example I recently had a dream about my son who passed away seven years ago. He had spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk. In this dream he was in a room with his friends and I was sating goodbye to him. He lifted his arms to hug me. In the dream I started crying and was immediately awakened by my alarm clock that plays music from my IPOD.

    To begin with, my son was unable to hug me, I was crying because he never could hug me and I woke up hearing the song from Animal Kingdom, Circle of Friends by Sir Elton a John which was his favorite song.

    Interpretation: I believe my son is in heaven with a normal functioning body and he is my guardian angel. He is very proud of my life now and he supports me 100% with my life and the decision I made to tell his story in a book.

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  26. These two sentences could be the start of an entire novel. Or maybe an autobiography. They completely grabbed me with the trueness of children’s vulnerability.

    “For some reason, maybe especially in America, adults want to imagine that children are the superheroes they pretend to be. Children can call 911, climb out of burning buildings, save the dog, if only they would apply themselves.”

    Reply
    • I’m so glad that jumped out at you, because it really bothers me. It’s as if children only deserve the help they need if they stop being so needy. It makes my brain hurt.

      Reply
  27. ok glad I am sleeping with mowithoutpaws tonight

    Reply
  28. There was a band called What Dogs Dream About years ago… I don’t think they made it very big or very far but I absolutely loved their name. One of our dogs, UB, has excursions and adventures of some sort when he dreams, usually every night. Not sure if they are happy or scary situations given the sounds he makes. I prefer to think they’re happy, romping in the tall grasses kinds of dreams. Your writing prof years ago was off base. Writing about any situation brings clarity to it, even if its potentially upsetting. It sounds like you have and have always had a deep love and connection to the pups you have cared for. That is a wonderful thing despite what your subconscious does with it.

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  29. Oh, Rachel! I feel so bad for you, I cannot imagine how hard those dreams are to have. For me, when I have a disturbing dream it, or at least the mood, can stay with me for such a long time… if it were about puppies and being unable to save them? I don’t know what I would do!
    Dreams fascinate me, they always have. They fascinate a lot of people, which is why we are always trying to interpret them. Those who say that nobody is interested but the dreamer, in my opinion are wrong!
    I only wish I had happier dreams, or that I remembered them at least. I only remember the strange and dark ones!
    Hugs, Carrie and Pups x

    Reply
  30. “…he said, your dreams will only be interesting to you and no one else.” If it was true, then no one would write a blog and no one would follow one. Perhaps, he thinks differently now in the age of social media.

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  31. I recently saw a documentary on the human brain. What do I remember? Dreams are neurons,neurons, and more neurons organizing you thoughts and memories. Dreams have no value nor meaning. I am going with this idea. My therapist of 8 years would disagree. But I am sticking with it. Dreams have no meaning. Puppies dream of mom and food, don’t you think?

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  32. Your dreams are really horrible, even to read. I couldn’t stand killing puppies in a dream, where I can change nothing. I hope these nightmares will end soon!

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  33. It’s scary to have dreams where things go badly wrong.
    On another note, it’s quite something to watch a dog dreaming…or I should say, its movements while asleep. I’m sure that our Chicki is often in hot pursuit of ??

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  34. In dreams, litters of puppies represent your ideas that are yet to be manifested. If you were squashing them (or better yet, trying to save them!) – don’t worry! Ideas are pretty darn resilient.

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  35. You’re right — too many adults don’t realize how fragile children are.

    I was at a week-long music workshop last month. I was scheduled to leave Saturday morning, but woke up Friday morning having had a nightmare that my Iggy had disappeared for a year, and then the horrible people that took him brought him back, and they had cropped (and butchered) his floppy ears.

    I headed home from the workshop a day early, and when I walked in I gave him as big a hug as he would tolerate.

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    • I have so many dreams about losing my dogs and it’s an incredible relief to wake up to Butterfly barking, or Cricket scratching my arm to take her out at five o’clock in the morning. Was it the music that made the dream so vivid? Or just the week away from home?

      Reply
      • Maybe the week away. It was the first (and so far only) nightmare I’ve had about him.

        Here’s hoping I don’t have any more. :)

  36. I think your girls are dreaming of walks with their mommy! <3

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  37. I have often wondered if dogs dream and what they dream about. Interesting…

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  38. Now if you could just somehow take control of those dreams so that you are saving puppies your nights would probably be a lot more restful. I often think my dog Isabelle is either dreaming that she is chasing something or something is chasing her because she will start kicking her legs around and make a sort of muffled barking sound. Sometimes she sounds happy, but other times she sounds scared, so that’s when she needs a good cuddle until she settles down or wakes up.

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    • I’ve never been able to figure out how to take control of dreams and change them. It seems like a super power to me. I’m pretty sure Cricket can do that. She’d never let her dreams be anything but want she wants them to be.

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      • Me either. It sure would be nice though to make the dream be what you want it to. I sometimes have dreams where it would be so easy to do whatever needs doing except I can’t move or speak or anything so whatever it is just happens and I can’t stop it.

  39. extraordinarily literary style…a real treat…:-)

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  40. I have crazy vivid dreams, but dogs are never a part of them. Whuch us a little weird because Jack sleeps with me and all of our other dogs always slept in our room. I am sorry that you have nightmares about puppies, give a squeeze to Cricket and Butterfly, they will make you feel better. :)

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  41. Rachel, I wish I could hug you. I have no idea what those dreams “mean” but I am sorry that you have to suffer them.

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  42. You write so well, I love reading your posts, even when it’s about something kind of dark and scary.

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  43. They ought to know about it by now: I just tweeted it again :)

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  44. Barbaraburgess

    Thanks for liking my blog Rachel. I too have had dreams about dogs and other animals. Sometimes these have been most unpleasant. Other times I am able to sort the dreams out and put it altogether as something I saw on t.v. or something I did that day. As you say, all jumbled up. My younger daughter went to a psychology workshop and part was about sleep and dreaming. The chap believed that dreaming was our way for our sleeping mind to stay busy and alert. It is like our mind playing while we sleep. This may help. I recall as a child I had the most dreadful nightmares about wolves wearing red cloaks. Then I recalled, later in life about the childhood story of Little Red Riding Hood. Just the right story to give a child nightmares at bed time!

    Reply
    • Dreaming is a fascinating process! It’s such a mix of memory and insight and word games and incidental details and who knows what other connections. And those fairy tales for children – oy!

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  45. First off, didn´t you drop out of that class. What kind of teacher is that? And second, never heard about the term “dreamwork”, wouldn´t it be nice if they paid you just for dreaming. You wake up and you tell some random story about a dream you had and there goes your check.
    And finally you are an animal hatter, what´s happening with all those puppies being stepped on? ;)

    A cool interesting story.

    Reply
    • Hmm. Actually, I stayed in the class and tried to argue my point. I have never been paid for dreamwork, but it has, nonetheless, been an enormous amount of work. And, as for your third point, nanny nanny poo poo!

      Reply
  46. Beautifully written…I love analyzing dreams maybe to a fault so to hear yours is fascinating. I would agree with you that is sounds like the puppies represent a sense of vulnerability in yourself but it must be hard and kind of stressful to have those dreams on a regular basis. I’m glad you never listened to your teacher who had a whole list of what not to write about because honestly everything he listed can be the most interesting things about people.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I always figure that dreams repeat themselves because I haven’t learned everything they’ve been trying to tell me. I must be very stubborn. I think when my teacher told me what not to write about, I took it as a challenge to try each one of those things out for myself.

      Reply
  47. Madeline Pettet

    Such a dream must mean you care extremely passionately for dogs! Lovely to meet someone like that these days :)

    Reply

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