By Karen A. Soukiasian
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 dog.
Did you know the dog sleep position your pup chooses can influence how well your dog sleeps? And that his dog sleep position also can give you insight into your dog’s personality.
The average dog sleeps 12-13 hours per day. It may not seem that way, but puppies snooze even more!
Companion 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.
Most dogs are skillful at catching a few winks whenever they can. Although they seem to be able to fall asleep quickly, that form of napping is similar to Stage 1 sleep, where they are barely sleeping.
Poor rest dog sleep position
The most natural dog sleep position is curling up. That’s a favorite dog sleep position for dogs kept outdoors. You will find them curled up in a ball, with their paws under their bodies and their tails wrapped around their faces. It is the least vulnerable and least restful dog sleep position.
The dogs are conserving body heat and protecting limbs, face, throat and vital organs. This dog sleep position gives them the advantage of being able to get on their feet immediately. The dog’s muscles are tense 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 dog and wolf packs. This dog sleep position provides the dog with awareness upon awakening 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 like to 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 are indicating 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 dog sleep position. Find a dog crate the fits your dog’s size and temperament to ensure he gets a good night’s sleep.
Restful dog sleep position
Dogs that sleep on their sides are comfortable in their surroundings and are in a restful sleep position.
“Super dog” sleepers choose to sleep stretched out on their stomachs. They look like they are flying. Dogs in this position are in a restful sleep, but ready to go as soon as they hear you move!
Finally, we have what looks the “dead roach” position where dogs favor sleeping on their backs with their legs in the air.
Only confident, secure indoor dogs choose this position because sleeping on their backs is the most vulnerable position for a dog. It’s also the most comfortable and most restful position.
Plus, it’s your dog’s way of cooling down quickly. Indoor dogs that have expended lots of energy and/or 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 message of vulnerability and submission.
Dog sleep stages
It appears dogs follow similar stages of sleep 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.
Do dogs dream?
At Stage 5, the dog’s eyes roll under the lids and they slowly ease into those dreams we find so amusing. They whimper, growl, make lapping and eating sounds and motions, whine, bark, and/or appear to be chasing something! Some dogs will cycle their legs as if they are running. Others even wag their tails.
Most indoor dogs who snuggle into their beds spend up to 12% of their sleeping time in REM.
Puppies spend a higher percentage of time in REM, and most experts think that during this stage, puppies process and merge what they are learning every day 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 be a sign of health problems such as hypothyroidism, pain, chills and gastrointestinal discomfort, for most dogs it’s perfectly normal behavior.
Dogs that have suffered trauma and puppies removed from their moms too soon may also shake in their sleep.
If you observe your dog shaking while sleeping, calmly call their name and gently pet or touch them, to reassure them that everything is OK. Do not shout or shake them awake!
It’s unclear whether dogs have nightmares, but given the fact 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.
Because dogs are pack animals, they naturally like to sleep touching their family members. So don’t be surprised if your dog wants to sleep between your legs, or with his back pressed against yours. Even 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, and some will sleep with their back to you, facing away so he can alert to any potential dangers.
Other dogs prefer having their own space. Some like to sleep in their crates, others prefer to sleep in a bed of their own whether it’s a flat circle, has edges for resting their head or a sleeping bag that creates a safe, cozy spot.
Comfort equals healthier, more and deeper sleep. Whatever dog sleep position your pup prefers, make sure their 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.
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