Research shows that we dream of animals quite a bit. This is especially true of children, but we do that as adults as well. Each animal has special characteristics that can give you more information about what it represents in the dream (see the tip below for some suggestions on how to determine that). In the body of this post, I want to talk about what animals in general might represent as there are some different schools of thought on this.
Animals in Dreams as Instincts
I’m not a big fan of this outlook because it comes from the idea that animals are wild, unpredictable, and unintelligent. Therefore, talking about our “animal nature” usually refers to something bad, sinful, to be disgusted by and avoided.
Animals function differently than humans on a day-to-day basis, it’s true, but saying we have an animal nature doesn’t, in my eyes, necessarily mean something negative. Their instincts allow them to fit well into their environment. For example, a squirrel’s instincts allows it to gather food in preparation for a time when food won’t be available.
Still, animals do function mostly on instincts, so it’s not completely out there to see an animal in a dream as representing an instinct. It’s unfortunate that this concept has such negative connotations when it’s simply a part of nature (ours as well as of animals). For instance, our instinct to connect with those around us is what helps us band together to achieve things we couldn’t achieve otherwise.
When you see an animal in a dream as representing an instinct, I encourage you to accept that it exists without making a judgment on it. It has its function, which is why it’s appearing in your dream.
Determining exactly what an animal represents in a dream requires exploring personal associations and doing some research on the animal’s behavior. I recommend doing both because your assumptions about an animal may be cultural and limited. For example, we often associate dogs with the quality of loyalty, even though any pet can display loyalty.
When doing research, pay attention to the special characteristics the animal has and how that might relate to the dream context and the real-life situation of the dream. For instance, I once dreamt of a camel (certainly not a common symbol!). Upon doing some research, I discovered that the camel has the ability to store water for long periods of time, which explains why they do so well in a hot desert climate. Water can represent emotions, and in the case of the dream, I was seeing a tendency to store up emotions that needed to be released.
Animals in Dreams as Something Underdeveloped
This aspect of the animal as symbol is somewhat connected to the previous one about instincts. The idea is that the animal represents some characteristic or potential that hasn’t been developed. Perhaps it was “born” in childhood but was then suppressed because of an unfavorable environment. Therefore, it appears in a dream as an animal. Once you start developing it, it will turn into a child, then a teenager, and eventually an adult in your dreams.
I won’t say that this developmental process turns out so neat and tidy in every situation, but I have found that this can be true. It depends on the animal’s characteristics and how they apply to the real-life situation that the dream is guiding you on. The important thing here is not to see the animal as “other” but as part of yourself. You are the animal.
For example, I often dream of cats. One cat characteristic is being an effective and efficient hunter. Have you ever watched a cat sitting upright on a window sill? It will gaze out into the distance as if looking at the view. What it really has its eye on is prey. It can’t help it. It can spot a juicy bird in a tree that our human eyes miss, and it has a burning desire to get it. This has nothing to do with hunger. It’s the thrill of the chase that the cat loves.
In this context, I see cats as representing ambition and the instinct to achieve a goal. We humans have it too. We get bored when things are bumping along in the same way. We always want more. When I’m starting to work on achieving a goal, I often dream of cats because they represent the latent ambition within me, discouraged by abusive parents who were uncomfortable with anything but a passive daughter who served their needs. Often I find that as I fulfill this ambition, I dream of children, then teens, then young people of college age, and finally of adults.
Animals in Dreams as Guides
There are those, particularly in the alternative spirituality scene, who see animals in dreams as guides. This perhaps has something to do with the rising interest in Native American culture where animals are understood to have powerful, healing energy. They can be spirit guides.
I hesitate to talk about animal guides in dreams in the same way Native Americans talk about animal spirit guides because I believe we need to respect the context of a cultural worldview. Not being Native American, I don’t wish to steal a concept that fits into a worldview that I wasn’t taught and don’t live by. However, we can still speak of animals as guides or teachers in a dream.
Animals can guide us through their behavior. Remember, an animal can adapt readily to its environment, so the animal’s behavior can represent adapting to whatever environment we find ourselves in in the real-life situation the dream is guiding us on.
For instance, let’s say you had one of many run-ins with a difficult person at work. That same night, you dream you’re walking your dog and a neighbor comes towards you walking his dog. The neighbor’s dog growls and lunges at your dog while your dog calmly keeps its distance. Your dog’s behavior may be guiding you on how to deal with this difficult person–stay aloof from his actions because they’re not about you.
They can also guide us based on how we interact with them. For instance, I recently dreamt of a dog who made signs of viciously attacking a man who was entering my apartment, and I calmed it down. The man represented a part of me who could re-assess a situation from a more objective, rational point of view. My reaction to the dog’s behavior was guiding me on how I needed to calm down any resistance I felt to rejecting this re-assessment.
The outlook you have to what animals in your dreams represent has something to do with your outlook on animals. If, for instance, you believe that animals don’t have the intellectual ability to make choices then it might make more sense to you to see them as instincts. But also take the context of the dream and the real-life situation into consideration. The animal just might be showing you in the process of developing some suppressed potential or giving you some guidance on a situation.