We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and our dog’s sleep patterns and positions are an endless source of fascination to us humans. Vets are frequently approached with concerns from worried owners about where, how often and in what position their dog sleeps. What is normal and what is abnormal when it comes to canine sleep?
The truth is that dogs are just as variable as humans when it comes to how often they want to sleep, how long they sleep for and in what position. What suits one dog will not suit another. However, there is much that your dog’s sleep can tell you about how they are feeling and their sleeping position is a big part of that.
The Facts About Dog Naps
Dogs are very active creatures and love to go for walks, play and run around, not to mention a lot of sniffing and a bit of digging. They also like to take a nap. A normal adult dog will spend between 12 and 14 hours asleep. Pups, senior dogs and dogs with health issues will sleep even more than this. Perhaps you didn’t realize this. You may have seen your pooch sprawled on your front porch in the sun or curled up in front of a log fire but you hadn’t added up all the hours that they sleep. Dogs sleep at night and during the day. There are several factors that influence how much sleep your dog will need.
Age is the most important factor. When you first get your pup home, they can spend as much as 20 hours out of every 24 asleep! Also, senior dogs may require at least this much sleep as they tire easily. Breed and size are also important. Bigger dogs tend to need more sleep although there are exceptions to this rule. If you have a large breed dog, you may find that they sleep up to 18 hours a day even when they are no longer a pup. Smaller dogs may only need 12 hours or so.
The amount of activity that your dog gets will also influence how much sleep they need but not in the way that you would expect. A very active dog, such as a working dog, typically needs less sleep than the breeds that have a sedentary lifestyle.
If your dog’s sleeping habits have changed or if you are worried that they are getting too much or too little sleep, you should seek guidance from your vet. There may be a medical reason for it and your vet can treat it.
The Five Main Dog Sleeping Position
As a dog Mom or Dad, you will have witnessed a variety of sleeping positions. You dog may like to cuddle up on your sofa or on your bed or they may prefer to snooze in their own bed or on a rug by a fire. Wherever they are, you may have seen them adopt all sorts of different shapes, with their limbs spread out or curled in tight.
These positions all have a story to tell about what is going on your dog’s mind. Here are the five main dog sleeping positions and a brief guide to what they mean.
The Donut Pose
This is also referred to as a ‘curled up position’ or as a ‘nose to tail’ position and is when your dog sleeps on their side curled up into a ball. This is a very common canine sleeping position. It is also a position that dogs (and other animals) adopt in the wild because it has several advantages. It uses the pelvis and the limbs to guard the vital organs in the chest and abdominal cavity in case the animal is attacked. It is easy to get up quickly from this position if a predator approaches so the dog can either stand and fight their corner or run away quickly. It also makes the dog’s surface area smaller and this helps to preserve heat which is vital when wild dogs are sleeping in exposed areas.
It is a natural position for an undisturbed dog to adopt. It makes them feel safe and warm and less vulnerable. You know that they are not too hot because they have not stretched out to cool themselves down. However, this raises the issue of whether your dog is too cold. Perhaps you should try getting them a cozy bed or even a self-heating dog bed to keep them nice and warm. If your dog is sleeping like this in an outside kennel, it may be time to bring them into the house to warm up.
The Superman Pose
You may also see this referred to as the ‘sprawled pose’ and it is when your pooch sleeps on their stomach, stretched out, with their limbs in front and behind them so that their tummy is in contact with the floor.
Animal behaviorists are not all in agreement about what this pose means but it is also probably controlled by the temperature of the environment. The coat on a dog’s abdomen is sparse and thin compared to the coat on the rest of their body. Therefore, to cool themselves down, they try to get as much of their belly as possible in contact with the cool floor. Inside, tiles are a favorite or cool grass if they are outside.
You will see smaller dogs and pups doing this more often than larger dogs. This is probably because it is not so easy for a big dog to get into this position! Any dog over 20 pounds is going to struggle. It is easy to jump up from this pose and start running around so it is often adopted by dogs who have a lot of energy and are very motivated.
Heat stroke is a serious health issue in dogs. If you have concerns that your pooch is getting too hot, you could try getting them a chilled pad to lie on or a chilled dog vest. However, if your dog adopts this position even when it is cold, you could prevent them from getting chilled by getting them a raised dog bed to keep them off the cold floor.
The Cuddle Pose
This is the position adopted by dogs who like to snuggle up against you when they sleep. It is sometimes called the ‘cuddle bug’ and is very sweet and adorable for dog owners – most of the time. It may not be so great if you have a small bed and a large dog!
This is a throwback to puppy behavior. Pups need to sleep close the Mom dog and to their litter mates to maintain their body temperature. Their metabolism is not mature enough to do this on its own. It needs a little help until they are mature enough to regulate their own temperature.
However, it often becomes a learned behavior. Many adult dogs are still pups at heart and us humans often treat them as our babies which re-enforces that effect. Dogs find it very comforting to snuggle up to their human companions or to other dogs or other animals in the household. You may find your dog sleeping back-to-back with your other dogs and this just means that they want to bond and get close to them. When they do the same with you, they are trying to bond with you. It shows that your pooch feels very loving and affectionate towards you and are completely comfortable in your company. They trust you and that is a wonderful thing.
However, there will be times when you are simply not available to take a nap and your dog will need to be able to get to sleep without you on occasions. It may be wise to invest in a cozy pet bed that has a sheepskin lining and you could put an old item of your clothing in there so that it smells like you.
The Side Sleeping Pose
This is when your dog is asleep on their side with their four limbs stretched out in front of them. It is a very relaxed pose and is adopted by dogs in a deep sleep. It means that your dog is very relaxed and very comfortable. They are at ease with their surroundings and trust the humans that they are with
Dogs may start off their nap upright in an alternative pose which is often called a lion pose. They are on their front with their head on their front paws. They look a bit like the statues of reclining lions that you see in public areas. It is a semi-alert pose and it indicates that your pooch is merely dozing and relaxing. They are not in a deep sleep yet.
When they fall faster asleep, they slump onto their side. Once they reach a sleep state where they start to dream, their muscles become relaxed and they naturally roll out of the lion pose. The side position is a more natural sleeping position. In this pose, your pooch will like to stretch out so you need to get them a large bed where they can get comfortable in this position.
A dog that is sleeping in this position, is very comfortable with their home and trusts the humans that they are with. Dogs who adopt this pose are generally self-contained and low-maintenance. This may not be apparent when your dog is awake because they may appear alert and even guarded. However, if they sleep in this position, you can be sure that they have great trust in you and are very happy in your home. This pose says a lot about your dog’s character. It means that they are loyal and happy-go-lucky which is a great combination.
The Crazy Leg Pose
This is the most amusing position and it can look very funny. Your dog is probably on their back with their limbs spread out or sticking up in the air. It may even seem a little odd to you but it is perfectly natural for a dog so you do not need to worry.
This pose can indicate a number of things about your dog. By exposing their belly to the air, your dog may be using this pose to cool down. The hair is thin around their abdomen and exposing this area helps a dog to cool down when they are hot. Also, they have sweat glands on their paws. By exposing all four paws to the air in this way, your pooch is using an effective mechanism to cool down! You are more likely to see a dog in this position in the summer than in the winter months.
It also says a lot about how comfortable and confident your dog is feeling. This is a highly vulnerable position for a dog. They are exposing their vulnerable underbelly and their chest and abdominal cavity which house all of their essential organs. Therefore, they clearly don’t feel that they are likely to get attacked in your home. Also, it is a very awkward position to get up from. They would have to flip right over and scramble to their feet which will take precious seconds. A dog will only adopt this position if they are sure that they will not have to run away from anything.
It is the typical sleeping position of a pup who does not have a care in the world. It means that your dog is confident and secure and is most often adopted by laid-back dogs who are quite independent.
So, now that you know hat these sleeping positions mean, you can use them to better understand your pooch and judge how they are feeling when they are taking a nap.