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Sleeping Paw-sitions: Discover the Hidden Meanings Behind How Your Dog Sleeps

When your dog sleeps, it reveals a lot about how it feels around you. Even when you’re not around, dog sleeping positions can reveal a lot about what your dog is feeling physically and emotionally, and how it feels about the immediate environment.   

Canines, as we know, are social animals. Their space and surroundings, including their humans, influence much of their dog behavior, even when they sleep.   

So, after an energetic roll in the grass, how does your dog prefer to nap? Do they lie on their side or on their backs? Do they collapse into a dead cockroach pose? Or are they all about the blankies and cuddling? Do they take on crazy cat like sleeping positions? What is your dog’s most common sleeping position?

Let’s find out what all of this may mean, and what you can learn about your pup’s state of mind while it is sleeping.

brown dog asleep on bed

13 Dog Sleeping Positions

1.   Back to Back

Sometimes, a dog will prefer to sleep with its back against another dog in its pack, or even against you. Strangely a dog lying with its back against you is a very affectionate, trusting, and loving position. Consider yourself one of the family if this occurs.   

two basset hounds asleep in wicker bed

There are several theories surrounding why a dog will lie with its back or bum towards you. Here are a few:  

  • Dogs just aren’t front-facers. Most dogs prefer not to sleep in such a way that something is in their face, so to speak. They may also simply prefer not to feel contained or restricted physically, especially from the front.
  • Avoiding eye contact. If your dog is relatively new to you or your home, they may prefer to avoid eye contact at least for a while. They may also not entirely be comfortable with a stranger, despite being somewhat reassured by your presence.
  • It is a protection pose. Facing outward, a dog may instinctively be positioning itself in such a way as to look out for danger. If it simply opens its eyes, it can scan for any danger approaching.
  • Trust. In that same vein, he trusts you and therefore doesn’t need to keep an eye on you. Just as he has your back, he trusts that you have his.

2.   Burrower

Some dogs have a natural tendency to dig and burrow. They even do this when it comes to finding a place and position to sleep. They will dive down into blankets, beds, their dog bed, sofa cushions—anything, really than can be gotten into.   Sometimes it may be because they are seeking warmth. Most times, though, the instinct is related to feeling safe and comfortable. Some breeds are natural burrowerslike Dachshunds.   

Sleeping Paw-sitions: Discover the Hidden Meanings Behind How Your Dog Sleeps 1

Burrowing also invites some opportunity for play, sometimes. Be aware though that some dogs may feel that you’re trying to threaten their safety and comfort, should you mess with their little dog forts.   

Good plush dog beds and waterproof dog blankets are always a great birthday gift idea for these types of dogs. Why not give them another for Christmas, too?

3.   Cuddler Bug

Many owners of large dogs might chuckle at the inclusion of this sleeping position. The cuddler bug is cute and adorable for dog owners because it usually involves their dogs climbing on top of them to curl up and sleep in a lap. Sometimes, that means even on top of a person lying down.   

dog curled up asleep with owner

When it’s a Great Dane or another large dog, it may not be exactly as pleasant. Nonetheless, it’s a position that you will appreciate, as it signifies a really strong bond between you and your dog. They love you, they trust you, and they want to be with you—as closely as possible. Also, you probably smell good and familiar plus your body heat can comfort your dog and result in its best sleep.  

Remember, there is comfort and safety in being together.

4.   The Donut Position

Like its namesake, the donut sleeping position is sweet. The name is taken from the round shape of the dog curling up in a circular position. Everything comes in close in this common position, into a tightly wound ball, in a sense.   

dog asleep curled up in bed

Legs are tucked in, the back is curled, and sometimes the nose even reaches the rear. You will find this position common in dogs that are trying to keep warm, or dogs that are not completely familiar with their environment. It is a protective sleeping pose, usually seen in dogs living on the street or outdoors. In this dog’s sleeping position its vital organs are protected.   

5.   Dead Cockroach

This pose is not as bizarre as it sounds, although the reference is somewhat hilarious and dark at the same time. In this position, you’ll see your dog dropped into a deep sleep, lying partly on its side, but with its belly facing half upward.   Its two legs are on the top side, and sometimes even all fours will be dangling as if reaching for the air or their back legs may be splayed. There is a practical reason for this pose, but it also requires a particular environment in order for it to appear. Dogs need to have a sense of security to enact this belly-up position.   

husky dog on side

Firstly, the dog is usually indicating that it’s hot, and is cooling down while in this pose. Bear in mind that dogs do not sweat from their bodies, so exposing the underside might allow for some breeze to cool a hot belly. Its paws are in the air to take advantage of the few sweat glands it does have on its paws.   

A dog needs to feel perfectly secure in its surroundings in order to be comfortable enough to fall into this sleeping pose. Genetic memory says that exposure of the belly in the wild is usually dangerous, allowing predators to attack it.

woman with sleepy beagle

A Note on Dogs, Heat, and Sweat Glands

A side note of interest. In the cold, a good fleecy dog sweater can be employed to help keep Fido comfy. Heat is a different problem to tackle. Dogs do not possess sweat glands in the same way humans do. They have two types specifically: merocrine and apocrine.   

Merocrine glands are found in the paw pads (the one mentioned above), and will release cooling “sweat” on hot days. There is no fur on a dog’s paw pads, which is why they function better here, as opposed to over the rest of the body.
Apocrine glands aren’t really sweat glands in a practical sense. They actually secrete hormones as opposed to cooling sweat.   

dog paws in the sand

When dogs need to cool off, their main method is panting. Panting opens the mouth and helps to evaporate fluid from the tongue. Panting also helps to expose the lungs and nasal passages for more “coverage”.   

Contrary to acting as a coat, dog fur actually acts as an insulator against heat, too. It may not guard against intense heat, but it does play a role in at least maintaining some degree of body temperature and its regulation.   

You might enjoy reading my articles on why does my dog sleep under my bed and why does my dog sleep at the foot of my bed?

Sleeping Paw-sitions: Discover the Hidden Meanings Behind How Your Dog Sleeps 2

Because of this, it’s not recommended you shave dogs with double-coats (like huskies, for example). It may impact their ability to insulate themselves against heat.  

Special care for Brachycephalic Breeds

Certain types of dogs need special care in extremely hot conditions, though. Brachycephalic breeds are breeds known for their flat faces and short noses. Boxers, pugs, and bulldogs are examples of these breeds. They cannot cool themselves as efficiently due to short muzzles—they, therefore, are prone to heatstroke.

Pug Dog

6.   The Lion Pose

If strains of “Mbube”, that famous song about the lion sleeping in the jungle tonight, have crept into your brain, it’s perfectly normal. If you can imagine a lion (or your cat) lying squarely on its belly, with its head resting calmly on its paws, you can see The Lion’s Pose.   

sleeping puppy how much do puppies sleep

The Sphinx in Egypt is said to be in a similar resting pose, although its head is upright of course. This is an interesting transitional pose. When cats do it, they are trying to relax (eyes closed) but remain alert in case something attracts their attention.   

A dog lies with its head on its front legs or paws for similar reasons. If it is suddenly required to act, it can spring into action immediately, simply by rising from its position. Typically, your dog will not be in a deep sleep in this pose. You might even observe ears twitching in response to noises, or eyes opening occasionally to check what you’re up to.

dog asleep on paws

7.   On Its Back

Much like the dead cockroach, the on-the-back pose is largely about releasing heat through the paws and lighter fur on its belly.   

black and white dog asleep on bed

Just like the cockroach, this vulnerable position is also only seen when the environment is super-trusted, and the dog feels completely safe. Still, seeing a large dog sleep on its back is always photo-worthy and this is one of the cutest dog sleeping positions.

dog asleep with paws askew

When dogs fall into a deep sleep in this position, they may also dream, moving the top of their paws and making odd sounds on its imaginary run.

8.   On Its Tummy

This is a more standard resting position, similar to the lion’s pose. Basically, it’s a simple way to catch some rest without necessarily committing to total sleep. If you find yourself relaxing casually, you may find your dog doing the same.   

brown dog asleep on stomach

A dog might also prefer to lie on its belly if it is hot. If you find the dog doing this on a tile surface, more than likely this is the case. Sometimes, falling asleep in this pose is accidental. Nonetheless, it means your pup is relaxed.

9.   Raised Head and Neck

You may have come across a dog that prefers to “sleep like a human” in the sense that they prefer to have their head resting upon a pillow. At the very least, their head may be raised against a sofa arm or piece of furniture. This, aside from perhaps seeming quite odd, has an interesting cause.   

jack russell dog sleeps with female child

It is theorized that a dog may prefer this method or pose if it has trouble breathing in a normal sleeping position. They may also simply feel much more comfortable.   

Still, it’s worth trying to observe whether your dog might have some breathing or movement discomfort. Look out for heavy or noisy breathing, or irregular breath. Some symptoms may also manifest in hampered movement or lack of desire to walk and exercise.   

dog and man asleep in bed

Sometimes, it could be a sinus issue, similar to when you have a cold. In extreme cases, some of the problems might even include heart disease. But there’s no need to panic, necessarily. If you spot any of the above symptoms, talk to your vet about a checkup.

10. Side Sleeper

When a dog lies on its side with its legs extended out to the one side, they seem very content to just grab a few minutes of calm rest. It might be considered a short nap on a couch if it were a human. Basically, it’s just taking a break while others in the room may be busy with something else.   

beige dog asleep on side

The dog feels safe and is in an easy mood. They will usually be in this position in a familiar environment—likely their own home or yard. Significantly, they are feeling safe enough to leave their vital soft belly exposed. In the wild, this would be potentially dangerous.   

black and white dog asleep on side on street

Some experts suggest that this is the most comfortable sleeping position for a dog, offering a good balance between cool, relaxed, and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

11. Spread Eagle on a Cold Surface

Similar to the superman (see below), this sees the dog stretching out on its belly with front legs out front and hind legs backward. We make the distinction here, though, because the pose may mean something different in adult dogs as opposed to puppies.   

pug asleep on tiles

From time to time, you may see an adult dog strike this pose. Usually, they will be feeling hot, and looking for a cool surface upon which to stretch. They will also usually be a little lethargic or sleepy.

12. The Superman Position

This hilarious name is used to describe a lying position that is similarly hilarious to look at. It is similar to the spread eagle. The dog lies flat on its belly, with its front paws stretched forward, and its hind legs stretched backward. Thought of in another way, this comfortable position might resemble a spatchcock chicken on a BBQ.   

black dog asleep paws

Most times, you’ll see puppies lie in this position, especially if they are awake and are looking for an energetic or exciting distraction, as opposed to sleepy or lethargic when it uses this position as an adult. Of course, while waiting, puppies sometimes just fall asleep.

13. Spooning

Yes, it’s true. Some dogs—especially larger ones—love to spoon with their humans. In this case, they will happily occupy the largest area of the bed, regardless of your comfort. It’s suggested that they learn this in puppyhood, as they curl up with the rest of their litter to keep warm, and for safety.   

black pug and ginger cat asleep

Spooners are typically just in love with you and want to make sure they spend every minute of the waking day and sleeping hours with you equally. Many of them also snore.

two dogs asleep dog sleeping positions

Dog Sleeping Positions and Age

Older dogs often adopt different sleeping positions compared to younger dogs, and this change is influenced by various age-related factors. As dogs age, their bodies undergo physical changes and they may experience health issues that can affect how they choose to sleep. These are some of the factors that pet parents should be aware of:

  1. Joint Pain and Arthritis: Many older dogs suffer from joint pain or arthritis, which can make certain sleeping positions uncomfortable. They may avoid curling up tightly or sleeping on hard surfaces. Instead, senior dogs often prefer a stretched-out position to relieve pressure on sore joints, or they might seek out softer, more supportive beds to cushion their bodies.
  2. Decreased Mobility: With age, dogs can lose some of their mobility due to muscle loss, joint issues, or other health problems. This decreased mobility can influence their sleeping position. They may find it difficult to climb onto high beds or sofas where they used to sleep, and might choose more accessible, easier-to-reach spots on the floor.
  3. Temperature Regulation: Older dogs may struggle with temperature regulation. They might seek out warmer spots in colder weather or cooler, well-ventilated areas when it’s hot. Their sleeping position may change as they try to find the most comfortable temperature – curling up to conserve heat or sprawling out to cool down.
  4. Health Issues: Certain health issues like respiratory problems, heart conditions, or weight gain can also influence how a senior dog sleeps. For instance, a dog with breathing difficulties might sleep with its head elevated, while an overweight dog might avoid positions that put pressure on its abdomen.
  5. Cognitive Changes: Cognitive changes, akin to dementia in humans, can affect older dogs. This might lead to restlessness and changes in sleeping patterns and positions. Your best friend may seem confused or less settled in their usual sleeping spot.

ge-related factors. As dogs age, their bodies undergo physical changes and they may experience health issues that can affect how they choose to sleep.

Last Word on Dog Sleep Positions

When your dog takes a nap or goes to sleep, does it have a favorite position? Hopefully, this little guide will help you understand what it’s feeling. It’s amazing how even in sleep, your dog’s body language can reveal so much.   

Most that you observe above might suggest a deep level of trust and security around you. Perhaps they also feel they need to be a little protective of their human. Either way, this knowledge should help you understand your pup just a little more. And that is always a good thing.

black and white sleeping puppies

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