Watching your dog sleep can be comforting and sometimes comical, but the dog sleep position your pup uses also tells you a lot about him.
Several of your dog’s sleep behaviors are similar to humans, while others are inherent and all dogs.
Dog sleep positions meaning
Did you know your pup’s sleeping position can influence how well your dog sleeps? And that understanding what position your dog chooses can give you insight into your dog’s personality.
The average adult dog needs 12-13 hours of sleep per day. It may not seem that way, but puppies snooze even more!
Adult dogs kept indoors sleep longer and deeper than working dogs or dogs kept outdoors. Because their situation is more precarious, outdoor dogs rarely relax enough to reach a healthy, deep, restful sleep. Instead, they rely on catching an extra nap here or there. To help an outdoor dog get good rest, consider providing him with a high-quality outdoor dog bed.
Most dogs are skillful at catching a few winks whenever they can. Although they seem to fall asleep quickly, that form of napping is similar to Stage 1 sleep, where they are barely sleeping.
Poor rest sleep position
The most common position is curling up. That’s a favorite position for dogs kept outdoors or suffering separation anxiety.
You often will find a dog curled up in a ball. The dog sleeps with paws tucked under their bodies and their tails wrapped around their faces. By covering their faces, dogs are protecting their eyes and throat. Although it is the least vulnerable sleep position, it also is the least restful way for dogs to sleep.
Although the position lets dogs conserve body heat and protect limbs, face, throat, and vital organs, dogs remain tense. This position gives them the advantage of getting on their feet immediately. The dog’s muscles are tight and ready to spring into action. Dogs that sleep in this position rarely relax enough to drift into the REM stage.
Curling is the normal sleeping position for wild dogs and wolf packs. Upon awakening, this position gives the dog awareness because their senses are heightened to movements, sounds, and scents. They conserve space in the den while protecting their offspring and sharing body heat. Even most domesticated puppies inherently curl up together or around their mother.
Some dogs sleep on their stomachs, almost like they are in a “down” position. This allows them to jump up at the slightest perceived threat or react quickly if they think they are missing out on what you are doing.
Dogs that sleep on their backs with their paws “protecting” their chests indicate they prefer not to be bothered. Use caution when suddenly awakening any dog sleeping in this position!
If your dog’s crate is too small, that may keep him from being able to get into his favorite sleep position. Find a dog crate that fits your dog’s size and temperament to ensure he gets a good night’s sleep.
Restful sleep position
If your dog lies on its side, that means he’s comfortable in his surroundings and is in a restful sleep position.
“Super dog” sleepers choose to sleep sprawled out on their stomachs. They look like they are flying, also called the superman position. Dogs in this position are in restful sleep but ready to go as soon as they hear you move!
Finally, we have what looks like the “dead roach” position with the dog sleeping on their backs with its legs extended in the air.
Only confident, secure indoor dogs choose this position because sleeping on their backs is the most vulnerable dog position. It’s also the most comfortable and most restful position. Puppies are more likely to sleep on their backs with the rest of their litter. They feel safe and secure.
Plus, it’s your dog’s way of cooling down quickly. Indoor dogs that have expended lots of energy and are over-heated often sleep on their backs.
Researchers have not observed dogs or wolves in the wild sleeping on their backs. Dogs kept outdoors will not sleep in this position either because it sends a vulnerability and submission message.
Dog sleep stages
It appears dogs follow similar sleep stages and sleeping habits as humans.
Dogs in Stage 1 are barely sleeping. This is the stage where most outdoor dogs, wild dogs, and working dogs sleep.
As they enter Stage 2, their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperatures gradually lower.
When dogs transition between light and deep sleep, they’re in Stage 3.
At Stage 4, they enter the slow-wave stage, where dogs usually are oblivious to their surroundings. If awakened suddenly, they often appear confused.
Stage 5 is where the fun begins! This is the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep. Dogs relax their bodies, but their brains remain active.
You can help ensure your dog gets a good night’s sleep by giving him CBD oil. CBD helps dogs relax and helps ease any pain that may keep your dog from sleeping.
Do dogs dream?
At Stage 5, the dog’s eyes roll under the lids, slowly easing into those dreams we find amusing. They whimper, growl, make lapping and eating sounds and motions, whine, bark, and appear to be chasing something! Some dogs will cycle their legs as if they are running. Others even wag their tails.
Most indoor dogs snuggle into their beds and spend up to 12% of their sleeping time in REM.
Puppies spend more time in REM, and most experts think that during this stage, puppies process and merge what they are learning daily into the behaviors they will follow.
Interestingly, smaller dogs tend to dream more than their larger cousins.
Some dogs shake while they sleep. While shaking can signify health problems such as hypothyroidism, pain, chills, and gastrointestinal discomfort, it’s normal behavior for most dogs.
Dogs that have suffered trauma and puppies removed from their moms too soon may shake in their sleep.
If you observe your dog shaking while sleeping, calmly call his name and gently pet or touch him to reassure the dog that everything is OK. Do not shout or shake them awake!
It’s unclear whether dogs have nightmares, but given that many rescues and dogs that have suffered severe physical and emotional trauma shake in their sleep, a little assurance goes a long way.
Should your dog sleep with you?
Nearly half of Americans’ dogs sleep in bed with their owners. And they tend to use several typical dog sleeping positions with owners. You may wonder why my dog sleeps on me, why does my dog sleep between my legs, why does my dog sleep touching me, or why my dog sleeps on me and not my husband? Or why does my dog sleep on my pillow? Why does my dog sleep at my feet? Why does my dog sleep on top of me, or more annoyingly, why does my dog sleep on my head?
The answer is simple. Because dogs are pack animals, they naturally like to sleep while touching family members. Don’t be surprised if your dog wants to sleep between your legs or with his back pressed against yours. If your dog doesn’t touch you while sleeping, he’ll likely want to sleep on your side of the bed so he can soak up your scent.
Some dogs will sleep curled up in a ball next to you, and some will sleep with their back to you, facing away so they can alert you to any potential dangers. That’s also why some dogs sleep at the foot of the bed or position themselves so they face the door. Your dog takes protecting you seriously and knows you are at your most vulnerable while sleeping.
Other dogs prefer having their own space. Some like to sleep in their crates, and others prefer to sleep in a bed of their own, whether it’s a flat circle with edges for resting their head or a sleeping bag that creates a safe, cozy spot. Invest in a comfortable bed or blanket to ensure your dog gets a good night’s sleep.
Best dogs to sleep with
Any breed can be an excellent companion to sleep with. It all depends on how much space you both need.
How your dog sleeps with you will determine how much rest you both get. Sleeping with dogs provides plenty of benefits for dog owners.
Not only does it reduce stress, but it also makes you feel safer. A study from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, shows women feel safer and sleep better with dogs in their beds. The research shows women feel more secure and sleep better with a dog than with a man. The study shows both men and cats were more likely to disrupt a woman’s sleep.
Should you pet a sleeping dog? Petting dogs when they are sleeping can disrupt their sleep. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid touching a sleeping dog unless the dog is whimpering or shaking. In that instance, a gentle pat can help soothe the dog. If you are petting a dog and the dog falls asleep, it’s up to you whether you stop or continue stroking it.
Understanding the meaning of dog sleeping positions can help your dog get a better night’s sleep. But remember, comfort equals healthier more, and deeper sleep. Whatever sleep position your pup prefers, ensure his sleeping accommodations are safe and comfortable.
As your dog ages, you may need to consider investing in an orthopedic bed to ensure he gets the support he needs.
Remember, a well-rested dog is usually healthier and happier.
Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.