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Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours


Dog sleep positions - how many have you seen your dog do? The way dogs sleep says a lot about them.  They can’t talk but that doesn’t stop them from communicating with us.  Your dog's sleeping positions can tell you a lot about them. 

There are multiple sleeping positions as well as behaviours they exhibit. Some are sweet, some are comical and some are just strange.  But all of them have a meaning and purpose.  

It’s important to note that dogs spend half their lives sleeping and their surroundings impacts when and how they sleep. As well as the quality of their sleep. 

For example, working dogs and dogs that live outdoors tend to sleep in shorter intervals and rarely fall into healthy deep sleep. This is because they feel vulnerable and always ready to jump to attention.  Whilst indoor dogs, in a safe and trusted environment can have healthy, restful, deep sleeping patterns.

Dog sleep positions and what they mean

Here are the seven common dog sleeping positions and the meaning behind each of them.

1. Sleep Position - The Curl Up

Dog curled up - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

This is a common position that sees your dog curled up into a tight ball where their nose meets their tail. 

An instinctive trait that dates back to wolves fending for themselves in the wild.  Curling up in a tight ball allows them to protect their face and vital organs. It keeps them warm in cold weather and it allows them to spring into action quickly if they need to defend themselves from predators.  

Domestic dogs, free from predators (and in most cases warm and safe in their environment) will sometimes still sleep this way.  It could be because they are cold or feeling stressed and anxious.  Most common for dogs in a new environment or dogs kept outdoors.

2. Sleep Position - The Superman

Dog superman - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

This position is referred to as the superman. Due to your dog laying flat on their belly, front legs stretched out in front of them and their back legs stretched out behind. They look like they are about to take off!

This position does allow your dog to get on their feet quickly. Mostly puppies and high-energy, playful dogs will nap in this position. As a result, they are ready to play, missing no opportunity!  Napping in this position means they are not in a deep sleep, simply a light sleep/rest position. 

Sleeping in this position also allows your dog to cool off in a warmer environment.  There is less fur on their bellies, so when they feel too warm, they cool themselves off by laying on cooler surfaces in the superman position. 

3. Sleep Position - The Side Sleeper

Dog side sleeping - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

The side sleeping position is the best resting sleep position for dogs. They stretch their legs out and extend their body making it a healthy position for dogs with joint issues.  It’s comfortable and allows them to fall into a deep restful sleep. 

Sleeping in this position means your dog is feeling safe in their environment and extremely trusting of their surroundings. Because unlike the curled-up position, they are exposing all their vital organs.  This shows the strength of the bond and trust they have with you and their environment.

In this position, you can observe their reactions to dreams, the twitching of paws and legs moving in a running motion.

4. The Belly-Up

Dog belly up - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

Belly up with paws in the air is one of the cutest sleeping positions.  They look crazy but rest assured this is a very comfortable and stress-free position for them.

Like the side sleeper, this position shows a great deal of trust in their environment.  Dogs will sleep in the belly-up position when they feel safe and secure, exposing their vital organs without a care in the world.

This is also a way dogs keep cool in warmer conditions. Dogs sweat through their paws and retain heat in their belly. Sleeping belly-up allows them to keep cool.

5. Sleep Position - The Lion's Pose

Dog sleeping - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

Ever noticed your dog sleeping with its face resting on its paws?  This is commonly known as the lion’s pose.  Dogs tend to sleep in a lion’s pose when they feel a little anxious or feel they need to react quickly.  Typically, they do not fall into a deep sleep in this position.

There is a slight variation in this position. For example, their body may be slightly positioned to the side with their back legs also on the side.  Their front paws remain near their face. 

6. Sleep Position - The Cuddler aka Back-to-Back

Dog cuddled - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

This is the sweetest of all dog sleep positions.  If your dog is a cuddler, it means it wants to sleep on you, against you, or back-to-back with another pet in the home.  

They do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it’s their way of showing love and affection toward you.  It could also have a touch of separation anxiety associated with that.  The closer they are to you, the safer they feel and the stronger the bond.  Cuddling with your pet has proven health benefits for you and your pet. It reduces stress by increasing the hormone called oxytocin.

Secondly, it could be their way of staying warm.  When puppies are young, they can’t regulate their body heat on their own, therefore they sleep against or on top of each other to stay warm. This practical sleeping pattern can carry into their adulthood. It works!

7. Sleep Position - The Burrower

Dog under blanket - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

If your dog likes sleeping under blankets, pillows, clothes, and anything alike, it means they are searching for protection and security.

This is a sleep position for dogs who are generally anxious and are looking for ways to settle themselves into a calm and comfortable position. 

Sleep Behaviour Meanings

In addition to these dog sleep positions, you may have noticed some behaviours such as odd body movements and sounds whilst they sleep.  These behaviours can tell you a lot about the quality of your dog’s sleep.  

Let’s look at the most common and normal sleeping behaviours.

Barking or squeaking – Dogs can react to what happens in their dreams which is normal.  Sometimes they bark or squeak. 

Circling and digging – Have you noticed your dog circle and dig prior to settling down to sleep?  This goes back to their ancestors - wolves, would do exactly that to clear leaves and create a comfortable sleeping spot.

Dreaming — Research shows that like us, dogs can dream.  Although we don’t know the extent of their dreaming, we do believe they dream about their day’s events. 

Running – This is by far the cutest of all sleeping behaviours!  When your dog is side sleeping you may notice their legs move in unison like they are running.  This is generally a response to a dream.  

Snoring – This "not-so" cute behaviour is common for sleeping dogs. It’s common for dogs to snore. More common in dogs with breathing difficulties and shorter noses such as pugs and bulldogs.  

Twitching – Twitching during sleep is normal and nothing to worry about. This usually occurs when your dog is dreaming or moving between sleep stages

Average Sleeping Times for Dogs

Dog yawning - Dog Sleep Positions And Behaviours by PetWell

The amount of sleep dogs need depends on their age and size. This is not an exact science, but a general guide.

Puppies sleep 18-20 hours per day.  Sleep for rapidly growing puppies is an important part of their development. 

Adult dogs sleep 10 to 12 hours per day.  This does depend on size and breed. Some breeds will sleep longer, up to 18 hrs such as Great Danes and Bulldogs. Working dogs such as Kelpies and Cattle Dogs that are high energy will l sleep less. 

Ageing dogs can sleep up to 20 hours a day.  Like us, the older dogs are, the less energy they have. 

Read more about Understanding Common Dog Behavioural Issues

In Summary

Your dog’s sleep positions and sleeping patterns all have meaning.  Understanding these patterns helps us provide a suitable environment that supports their sleep.

For example, if your dog is a belly-up sleeper, try and create a cool sleeping spot for them. Give the burrower more blankets. And consider allowing your outdoor dog inside to improve the quality of their sleep and therefore their health.

Important Note:  If you notice a change in your dog’s sleeping position see your vet immediately as it could be due to an injury or your dog may be experiencing pain.

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