Puppy fast asleep.

Dog Sleeping Positions & What They Mean

Written By Olivia De Santos | Canine Coach, Professional Writer & Video Content Creator.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | Double B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 10th January 2024

Have you ever watched your dog sleep? It seems like a yoga routine sometimes! Several poses with legs to the side, tucked underneath or akimbo.

We often watch our dogs forego the best dog beds for a unique looking position on the hard floor. Go figure. 

Ever wondered what these dog sleeping positions mean? Let’s talk about them!


9 Dog Sleeping Positions & What They Mean

Dogs sleep way more than humans.

“Most adult dogs seem to need between eight and 13.5 hours of sleep every day, with an average of just under 11 hours.” - Tom Ryan, Sleep Foundation (1)

11 hours - doesn’t that sound blissful! But not all sleep is created equally. Your dog’s sleeping position can let you know which sleep mode your dog is in.

Can your dog’s sleeping position tell you about their personality? I guess it depends on how you define personality. Your dog will rarely sleep in one sleeping position consistently throughout the month, week, or even the same day.

However, some dog sleeping positions signal anxiety and some signal more relaxation. So if your dog sleeps in an anxious position more often, you could conclude that they are naturally more anxious. That said, sleeping positions are affected by mood, temperature, environment and sleeping surface. (2)

Let’s dive into each of the common sleeping positions dogs have and what they mean.

1. The Side Sleeper

Labrador puppy sleeping on her side.

The Side Sleeper is likely the most common way that dogs sleep deeply. They lie on their side with their legs extended in front of their body. It’s an extremely comfortable and relaxing sleep pose, that allows your dog to be fully supported by the surface beneath them. That surface could be raised like a sofa or on the floor in a dog bed or crate.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

Your dog is relaxed and calm in their surroundings. They will likely sleep deeply in this pose without much attention or alertness to their environment. When your dog reaches deep sleep, their muscles may twitch and spasm. (3) They may even “run” in their sleep which indicates that your dog is dreaming.

Related: How To Help Your Dog Sleep.

What do dogs dream about? No one truly knows but researchers have found that dogs have similar brain waves when they dream as humans. That suggests that they’re likely dreaming about doggy things they encounter in their day to day. (4)

The Side Sleeper will love pretty much any type of dog bed. But for a luxury sleep, try memory foam dog beds.

2. The Doughnut

The Doughnut is also a common sleeping position for dogs. It’s when your dog curls up into a perfect ring. Their nose tucks close to their tailbone in a seeming “self-hug” shape. This position is slightly more attentive than the side sleeping position, but your dog can sleep deeply in this position too.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

There’s evidence to suggest that most dogs in rescue shelters sleep in the doughnut position. This is because it feels protective and safe. It makes them feel less vulnerable. It also helps dogs regulate their body temperature. I often see my dog sleeping in this position if he is cold. Once the heating is on again, he reverts to his side sleeping position.

If your dog loves to sleep in a doughnut position, an orthopedic dog bed or warming dog bed will be great for them.

3. The Lion Pose

Akita Inu Puppy Sleeping in the Lion's pose.

The Lion pose is also known as the sphinx pose. It’s when your dog dozes on all fours with their front paws in front of them. They rest their heads on their front paws. You tend to see this pose in outdoor environments.

Related: Why Won't My Dog Sleep In Their Bed?

What does this sleeping position tell you?

The keyword is dozing! Your dog is still awake but they are just resting their eyes. They are likely to be in the lion pose if they are on watch and want to remain alert. They can spring to life at any time. If your dog is in this position often when sleeping around you, it could suggest that they aren’t entirely comfortable in their surroundings. New rescue dogs use this sleeping position regularly until they feel more settled.

4. The Superman

American Cocker Spaniel sleeping in the superman position.

Is it okay to have favourites? This is my favourite sleeping position - particularly for puppies! Your dog will have their paws outstretched in front and behind them as if they are soaring through the air like Superman. 

You see this pose more with sleeping puppies and small dogs. There’s likely a physiological reason why medium and large dogs can’t sleep in this position comfortably.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

It depends on their age. Puppies may expend a lot of energy and drop into a nap quickly. This pose, therefore, signifies complete exhaustion. If your adult dog sleeps in this position, it could be tiredness or it could be alertness. Your dog can still spring to attention at a moment’s notice.

Another possibility is airflow and the cooling effect of having their belly in full contact with the ground. So it could signify that your pup is feeling hot and is trying to cool down.

The Superman sleepers out there will love elevated dog beds, orthopedic dog beds or large dog beds to sprawl out.

5. The Cuddler

australian shepherd cuddling a cat.

Don’t we all love a cuddle with our dogs? The Cuddler in theory could be any sleeping position combined with leaning against you.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

Our dogs love to sleep against us because they trust us. They like the safety and security of knowing you’re there to protect them as they sleep. It’s likely your dog will cuddle against you while sleeping in a side sleeper position or rest their head on your lap (we’ll discuss that one shortly!) It’s a supportive, loving position that helps you bond.

If you want to give your dog the sensation of being cuddled when you’re not around, try heated dog beds.

6. The Belly Up

Bulldog sleeping belly up.

Possibly the most photographed sleeping position of all - The Belly Up! This is when your dog lies on their back with their legs splayed and belly on full show.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

So why does your dog sleep on his back with his legs open? There are a few reasons behind it. It signals that your dog is comfortable in their environment. Exposing their belly is the most vulnerable position. They can’t spring to action quickly from here. In the wild, they would be prone to attack if they had their belly on show. So your pup is incredibly relaxed if they are sleeping this way.

Your dog could also be cooling themselves down. Their belly holds most of their heat, so they are exposing it to increased airflow by rolling on their back.

If your dog loves to sleep with their belly up, they will probably Luke a bed with tons of airflow like raised dog beds.

7. The Burrower

Beagle sleeping burrowed under a blanket.

The Burrower is when your dog burrows in a blanket or under covers to sleep soundly. The jury’s out as to whether dogs are denning animals or not.

Experts at PetHelpful seem to think so:

“Dogs don't seem to qualify as den animals. Yes, they seem to have an instinct to hide in small places or may enjoy snuggling in the blankets, but dogs don't live year-round in a den nor do they dig to burrow themselves in a tunnel to live for most of the year.” - Adrienne Farricelli, PetHelpful (5)

However, the American Humane society disagrees and suggests that dog dens are part of their well-being. (6)

Whether dogs are denning animals or not, it’s clear that some dogs prefer the protection and comfort of denning while they sleep.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

Being wrapped in a blanket is comforting and warm for dogs. It could signal that your dog is anxious about their surroundings and are cloaking themselves from the outside world. Therefore, you might see your dog burrowing more often during stressful or noisy situations. For example, when fireworks are sounding in the background.

It could also mean that your dog is cold and wants extra warmth from the blanket.

If your dog is a burrower, they may love a cave bed. Check out our round-up of the best dog cave beds on the market.

8. Head & Neck Raised

Three Chihuahua's sleeping with their head and neck raised.

Dogs love to sleep with their head and neck raised from time to time. Your dog could be dozing on the sofa and gently lay their head on the armrest.

What does this dog sleeping position mean?

Having their neck and head raised is quite comfortable as you know if you use pillows at home! It also helps with breathing. If you think your dog is having trouble breathing in other sleeping positions, consult your vet. Generally, though, this is just a comfortable way to snooze. It’s usually accompanied by the Side Sleeper position too.

If your dog loves this sleeping position, cave beds or orthopedic beds are perfect for them.

9. The Cooldown

Sleeping black labrador puppy dog lying on the floor trying to cool down.

Am I cheating with this position? A little bit! You could classify the Belly Up and the Superman as cooling poses. Both are true. With this point, however, I’m honing in on what they are sleeping on. The ultimate cooldown is sleeping on a cold, flat surface, away from any dog beds, carpets, rugs, blankets or sofas.

What does this sleeping position tell you?

Simply put, your dog is too hot! They need to regulate their body temperature by laying their belly or side sleeping on a cool surface. This could be tiling, concrete or stone.

If it’s high summer and you want to help your pup keep cool, a dog cooling mat will be a great addition to your home.


What Does Your Dog’s Sleeping Position Say About Them?

So there you have it! A list of the top ways that your dog likes to sleep. Overall, unless your dog is sleeping in an unusual position (like standing up) or appears uncomfortable, you shouldn’t worry too much.

Some of the positions could be an issue if you let your dog sleep in your bed though.

Consult your vet if you have any concerns.

Related: Why Won't My Dog Sleep at Night?

FAQ

Why does my dog sleep so close to me?

Your dog likes to sleep close to you because they like you! You are a source of comfort and ease for them. When sleeping, dogs traditionally slept very close to the other members of the pack as a means of protection from predators. Puppies sleep close to their mothers for warmth and safety. Now with you as their main parent, you’re their main source of affection and protection. So if your dog is sleeping close to you, take that as a sign that they are completely comfortable with you.

Do dog sleeping positions change when sick?

Yes and no. If your dog is struggling to breathe at night, they may shift to a neck and head raised position. If this is a continued pattern, seek out a vet. Your dog might sleep unusually if they have had an injury or is suffering from another illness.

For example, if your dog is raising their paw as they sleep, it could be because putting pressure on their paw is uncomfortable for some reason. Inspect the area delicately for foreign bodies, sprains, bruises or bites.

Another cause for concern is if your dog is falling asleep standing up. This could be to avoid an injury on the underside of their body. So they could have a wound, bite or another injury they’re avoiding. It could also be an extreme fatigue issue. It’s more common to see in older dogs but is still a reason to seek medical help.

What is the best dog sleeping position?

There isn’t really a best dog sleeping position. Every dog is different. The most common and comfortable position would be the Side Sleeper. But dogs will change their sleep position depending on the circumstances. If they are in a crate, they’re more likely to sleep in a Doughnut position because of the space. If they have a bed with raised sides, they may take advantage of them and sleep with their head and neck raised.

The context, mood and environment all play a factor in how your dog chooses to sleep. There’s no “best way”, just the “best for right now”!

References:

  1. Ryan, T. June 10, 2022. “How Many Hours A Day Do Dogs Sleep?”. The Sleep Foundation. Retrieved December 10, 2022. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/animals-and-sleep/how-much-do-dogs-sleep
  2. Bender, J. May 9, 2022. “Dogs' Favorite Sleeping Positions, and What They Mean”. Sleep.com. Retrieved December 10, 2022. https://www.sleep.com/sleep-health/dog-sleeping-positions
  3. Coates, J. December 7, 2018. “5 Dog Sleeping Positions and What They Mean”. PetMD. Retrieved December 10, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/5-dog-sleeping-positions-and-what-they-mean
  4. Burke, A. March 12, 2019. “What Do Dogs Dream About?”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved December 10, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/what-do-dogs-dream-about/
  5. Farricelli, A. April 18, 2022. “Are Dogs Really Den Animals?”. PetHelpful. Retrieved December 10, 2022. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Are-Dogs-Really-Den-Animals
  6. American Humane. August 25, 2016. “Dog Dens”. Retrieved December 10, 2022.https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/dog-dens/

Olivia De Santos


Olivia De Santos is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer and Video Content Creator.

Olivia has over 10 years of experience writing professionally and is a dog Mum to Pip, her Podengo and Blue, her Flat-coated Retriever. She loves writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners.

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