9 Dog Sleeping Positions And Their Meaning: All About Dog Sleep Behavior

10 September 2021

Dogs, like us, can sometimes have funny sleeping behavior. Learn all about the most common dog sleeping positions and how dogs sleep in general in this article.

small white and brown dog sleeping on a blanket

Curled in a ball, stretched out, or belly up, dogs often sleep in odd positions. The position your dog chooses for sleeping may be related to the room temperature, their activity level, and how much they trust you. But who doesn’t love a dog happily snoozing in a semi-contorted pose or snuggled against your feet? Let’s explore the mysteries of dog sleeping positions and doggie snoozing!

Dog sleeping basics

How many hours a day do dogs sleep?

Being a dog is a lot of work. You have to go for walks, fetch sticks, and be alert for subtle changes in your people. As a result, dogs need about 10-14 hours of sleep per day. This includes nighttime sleep plus a few daytime naps. Not surprisingly, puppies need more sleep – up to 20 hours of sleep are needed per day for healthy growth and development. Senior dogs may require more sleep as they age. Larger dog breeds such as the Mastiff or the Newfoundland also tend to sleep more than 14 hours per day.

small dog sleeping on orange dog bed

Dogs in a quiet home may sleep more, while dogs in active environments will sleep less. However, dogs can adapt their sleeping behavior to their surroundings so that they can be awake when there is something to do, and asleep the rest of the time.

Some indoor dogs may sleep too much because they are bored. Help your dog develop healthy sleep patterns by providing plenty of stimulation during the day in the form of toys, companionship, walks, and playtime. 

If your dog sleeps more than normal, this could be a symptom of disease. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is sleeping too much.

How can I find out how much my dog sleeps?

Using a GPS and activity tracker for dogs ($49) you can find out exactly how much your dog sleeps per day, how much physical activity they’re getting, etc. to keep your dog in tip-top shape. Not to mention, you’ll be able to locate your dog anytime, from your smartphone.

Yes, I want to track my dog

Why do dogs sleep so much?

Some pet parents wonder why their dogs seem to sleep so much. While humans sleep about a third of the day, dogs sleep half of the day or even more. The reason why? Their biology. Dogs are simply built to sleep this much – they sleep differently than us humans. Watch the video to learn more:

Sleeping patterns in dogs

Dogs follow distinct sleeping patterns which are similar to those of people. When dogs first fall asleep, they enter the quiet stage of sleep, where breathing slows, blood pressure drops, and the heart rate decreases. In the active stage of sleep, dogs move their eyes rapidly under closed eyelids. This is known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Humans also undergo REM sleep, and studies on people show that this is when dreams occur. 

Do dogs dream?

Dogs may start barking, whining, or jerk their legs during REM sleep, and researchers believe that when dogs behave like this, they may be dreaming, perhaps about finally catching that pesky neighborhood squirrel.  This may happen a few times each night as your dog cycles through the stages of sleep.

Common dog sleeping positions

The side sleeper

A dog sleeping on its side with legs extended is getting some serious deep sleep.  When you find your dog in this sleeping position, leave it alone to get a prolonged period of restorative rest. You might notice that your dog chooses to sleep in a dog bed or on your bed for this deep sleep, and usually choses a spot away from the busiest areas of your home. Side sleeping conveys that your dog feels comfortable in its environment and trusts you. 

dog's sleep behaviors

The lion’s pose

When your dog sleeps with its head resting on top if its front paws, a position known as lion’s pose, it’s just taking minute to doze off. Your snoozing dog is ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice from this sleeping position. You may observe that your dog nods off in lion’s pose while sitting at your feet or near the front door, where it can be close to any potential action while sneaking in a short nap.

The donut sleeping position

Curled into a tight little ball, a dog in the donut sleeping position has all of its limbs tucked close to the body and may rest its nose on its hind legs. The tail may be draped over the body like a fluffy scarf. Dogs sometimes choose the donut position to conserve body heat, so you may see your dog in this position more often in cold weather. 

Some dogs choose the donut position for sleeping if they feel vulnerable or anxious. They are keeping their vital organs covered up, rather than exposing their stomach. This sleeping position is a remnant of your dog’s wild ancestor’s need to protect themselves from predators at all times, but especially when sleeping. 

Dogs who are getting used to a new home or other big life changes may sleep in the donut position as they adjust to their new circumstances. The donut sleeping position offers a feeling of safety and comfort.

Sleeping under the covers

Are you the owner of an “undercover” sleeper? This sleeping position may just be a matter of preference. If your dog burrows under the covers, it can signal a need to feel companionship while sleeping. Going under the covers is more common in cold weather, when even us humans want to stay snuggled up as much as we can. 

Back-to-back sleeping position

If your dog sleeps back-to-back with you or another dog, they are exhibiting trusting behavior and intimacy. Back-to-back sleeping may echo dogs’ ancestral pack behavior, when entire families slept piled together in dens. Or it may remind your dog of its first weeks of life, when it lay tumbled in an adorable furry heap with its littermates. 

If you are the only family member that your dog chooses to sleep against, this means you are the lucky one whom the dog trusts the most! Be glad that your dog places so much trust in you and treasure the bond that you have. 

The Superman sleeping position

Sprawled on the ground with front legs pointed forward, back legs pointing behind, and tummy pressed to the floor, your sleeping dog may remind you of Superman in flight. When in the Superman position, your dog is probably worn out from a day of very active play. But don’t be fooled by this lazy-looking posture – just like the real Superman, your dog is ready to spring into action in the blink of an eye if a family member needs him. No costume change is required for this furry Superman!

Dog sleeping on back: bell-up sleeping position

Why does your dog sleep on its back with its legs in the air? Dogs who sleep belly-up with legs pointed to the sky are either very hot or very trusting (or both). By exposing the tummy, which has less fur, the dog may be able to cool off quickly. But baring the belly allows the vital organs to be exposed and makes the dog feel more vulnerable. So if your dog sleeps in this extremely cute position, definitely take a picture of it and know that your dog is super comfortable around you.

The belly-up pose can also be a seasonal sleeping position for your dog. You’ll notice it more often in hot weather.

The snuggle-bug

If your dog immediately leaps onto your lap whenever you sit down or cuddles up against you you on the sofa, you’ve got a snuggle-bug. These cuddlers are affectionate, loving, and maybe a little needy. If you have a very large dog, cuddling with your snuggle-bug can be a challenge, but you can enjoy knowing that you have won your furry friend’s trust and devotion.

two dogs sleeping next to each other

Sleeping with the head elevated

Some dogs prefer to sleep with their head and neck raised above the level of the body. This could signal that your dog has difficulty breathing properly and could have heart disease or other conditions.

Pay close attention to a dog that sleeps with its head and neck elevated. Watch for noisy or rapid breathing, or an inability to participate in normal exercise. Contact your veterinarian and report any symptoms you’ve noticed.

Dog sleeping behaviors

Circling and digging before sleep

Getting ready for a snooze is serious business for dogs. They will walk in circles, paw at the ground, or dig before lying down. These dog behaviors harken back to dogs’ ancestral nesting activities.

Your dog’s wild ancestors slept outdoors, with no fluffy dog bed for comfort. Walking in circles probably helped to flatten tall grasses and vegetation in their selected sleeping spot. Pawing might move aside sticks and small rocks to smooth out the nest. In hot weather, your dog’s ancestors might have scooped out a shallow hole to reveal cool, damp soil to sleep upon. 

Of course, walking in circles and pawing an indoor dog mattress will not make the bed flatter or smoother, but this dog behavior satisfies an instinct in your dog. So even though your dog doesn’t need to make a sleeping nest, these powerful ancestral behaviors are still present in your dog. 

Dog twitching in sleep

Deep sleep is associated with a dog twitching or “running” in its sleep. Some dogs may wag their tail or softly bark or whimper while in deep sleep mode. This is common dog behavior and may be associated with dreaming. 

Dog seizures while sleeping

Seizures often happen when a dog is asleep but are much different and far rarer than simple twitching or dreaming behavior. During a seizure, the dog will fall on its side, stiffen, drool, urinate, defecate, and move all four legs. Seizures in dogs last just a minute or two, but can be frightening for you and disorienting for your dog. It can help to make a video of the seizure and show it to the veterinarian to confirm what happened. This neurological disorder can be treated with medication, so contact your veterinarian right away.

Where should your dog sleep?

human with dog sleeping in bed

Should your dog sleep in its own bed or in your bed?

It doesn’t really matter where your dog sleeps, as long as you and your dog are able to get a good night’s rest. If you and your dog enjoy sleeping in the same bedroom, that’s fine, as long as you and your furry friend can get enough deep sleep every night. 

Some humans prefer to have the dog in their bed. Others get better rest when the dog is on the floor in a dog bed. Decide what’s best for you and gently enforce boundaries to keep you and your dog as comfortable as possible. Discover the pros and cons of a dog sleeping in bed.

The size of your dog will definitely play a role in deciding on the floor versus your bed. You’ll want to be able to physically move your dog if it should venture to an off-limits area of your bed, such as your pillow. If your dog snores, that could be a deal breaker for joining you in the bed. 

Dogs often chose to sleep at the foot of your bed, rather than at the top. This may be because there is a little more room to stretch out and get comfy. Your dog will almost always find a way to sleep with part of its body pressed against you for a feeling of safety. 

Adding a set of steps can help a very small or elderly dog get into and out of your bed safely and easily.

A dog that is not yet housebroken should not be invited to sleep in your bed, for obvious reasons. 

What if I don’t want my dog to sleep in my room?

Sometimes dogs wake in the night, which can disturb your sleep. If you are not a sound sleeper, you will be happier if your dog sleeps in a different room. 

Options include using a gate to keep your dog in another bedroom on a dog bed, or having your dog sleep in a crate elsewhere in your home.

Don’t feel guilty about keeping your dog out of your room at night. Your dog can snooze during the day to catch up on sleep, but you probably can’t.  Prioritize your healthy sleep and you’ll have more energy to play and bond with your dog during the day.

Should my dog sleep outside?

It’s true that some dogs have thick fur and are adapted for the cold. Others can manage the heat well. But no dog breed should have to withstand extreme heat or cold all night long, even the most hardy outdoor dogs. It’s not only the temperature that can cause a problem – your dog could be subjected to visits from nocturnal wildlife, bright lights, and other hazards. All pet owners should plan on an indoor sleeping location for their dog. 

Sleep disorders in dogs

Sleep apnea

Dogs can suffer from sleep apnea, which can be life-threatening if untreated. Sleep apnea is most common in obese or flat-faced dogs and is characterized by loud snoring and frequent waking during the night due to reduced air flow. 

Insomnia

Chronic pain, itchiness, or frequent urination can prevent your dog from sleeping. In these cases, the underlying cause of the insomnia can be treated and your dog’s sleep will improve. 

If your dog is bored or inactive during the day, they may simply not be tired at night, resulting in insomnia. Try to include some vigorous play or a long walk in the evening to tire out your pooch. 

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a nervous system sleep disorder that causes your dog to suddenly drop to the floor and fall asleep at random times.  The dog will wake up suddenly if there’s a loud nose or if you pet the dog. Medication prescribed by your veterinarian can help to manage narcolepsy in your dog. 

See your veterinarian to diagnose your dog’s sleeping issues and to find solutions that address the problem. 

5 dog sleeping facts

  1. Dogs experience different stages of sleep (REM & NREM), just like we do.
  2. Most dogs sleep at least half of their life – 12 to 14 hours a day.
  3. As the saying goes, it’s probably a good idea to let sleeping dogs lie. 60% of all dog bites happen to children when they try to wake a dog in a deep sleep2.
  4. Most dogs walk around in a circle before lying down (they are displaying an ancestral tendency, which is basically a way to get comfortable and feel safe).
  5. Puppies and older dogs dream more than middle-aged dogs.

You and your dog deserve a good night’s sleep

No matter how, when, or where your dog sleeps, make sure that the dog’s needs mesh with those of you and your family. Don’t sacrifice your healthy sleep for your dog’s. Only when you and your dog are well rested can you enjoy playing and bonding with your furry friend.

Never lose my dog again

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