Dream interpretation is both a revelatory gift given by God and a God given skill that can be learned and developed. This unique characteristic of interpretation can be seen in the life of Daniel who both clearly had a gift for interpreting dreams and also received angelic instruction in how to do so. With this in mind, there are principles that can be studied and practiced in order to increase our capacity to understand both our dreams and the dreams of others.
When it comes to understanding the meaning of a dream, one of the most important aspects of the process involves learning how to determine the meaning of the individual symbols. At the heart of dream interpretation is the concept of listening to Holy Spirit in order to identify the most important symbol in the dream and then hearing His voice as He provides the interpreter with the meaning of that symbol. This will often make coming to an understanding of the other symbols much easier and this process creates the basis for interpreting the dream as a whole.
Rather than creating a dictionary filled with precise definitions for the symbols that we encounter, it is more appropriate to develop a more comprehensive list of possible meanings for each symbol. If you have ever seen or read any of the various dream symbol "dictionaries" that are available, then you know they can be quite lengthy (similar to an actual dictionary). If we were to expand this same concept to include ALL possible meanings of a symbol, then the resulting length of any such document would be overwhelming. Thus, a comprehensive dream symbol "dictionary" would be overwhelmingly long and practically impossible to produce.
Instead of thinking of symbol meanings as something that can be defined, it is more helpful when any given symbol is encountered in a dream to ask a few simple questions: "What is the core nature of this symbol?", "What are the key characteristics of this symbol?" and "What are the qualities that this symbol embodies?" When this approach is used a dream symbol "dictionary" becomes a useful tool instead of a final answer and we remain much more open to hearing the voice of Holy Spirit as He directs us to a specific meaning related to a specific dream for a specific person at a specific time. Through this process, the interpretation becomes much less of a generic answer and much more of a clear prophetic word.
Consider an example related to the meaning of a dog in a dream. Dogs are often defined in dream symbol dictionaries as a person who is evil (Psalm 22:16) or an ungrateful individual (Matthew7:6), both of which are valid Bible based, but only two possible interpretations among many. Some "dictionaries" will go further and suggest that a dog represents faithfulness/loyalty or perhaps even viciousness. These "definitions" begin to touch the surface of the nature/characteristic/quality assessment that is so important. However, would be difficult if not impossible for any recorded list of definitions to include all the possible meanings of a dog, much less to cover the same information for every different breed of dog. When specific colors, temperament, size, and other distinguishing features are included there is no possible way for a dictionary to fully define all the possible symbol meanings.
On the other hand, when presented with a specific symbol from a specific dream, we can ask ourselves the Characteristic/Quality/Nature questions and get very specific answers. Consider the possible meanings of this symbol: incredibly large (size of a automobile), friendly, blue basset hound. Somehow the "dictionary" definition of a dog as a dream symbol seems limited in this context. Now ask yourself the CQN questions. The size of the dog now becomes important as does its friendly personality. Recognizing that the color blue can related to the ideas of revelation or depression (as well as several other possibilities) helps define possible meanings. Basset hounds are scent dogs (possibly relating to discernment) that hunt small game. They are very smart, but extremely difficult to train. They need very little exercise, but have the potential to gain to much weight and the list of characteristics, qualities and nature could continue on for some time. Suddenly, it is possible that instead of the dog in this dream relating to an ungrateful or evil person, it relates to a significant and prophetic gift of discernment that God is bringing, but that will take a great deal of effort to learn to use properly.
Once the interpreter has compiled a list of including possible characteristics, qualities and natures of the symbol (or more likely even before the list is complete), Holy Spirit can point out the specific things that He chose that specific symbol for. This process restores the importance of listening to Holy Spirit instead of searching for a "single" meaning in a dictionary or even assuming that the symbol will mean the same thing it did the last time the interpreter encountered it.