Have you ever watched your dog sleep and wondered if he experiences sleep in the same way that humans do? I know that I have, and you might be surprised to know that there are many similarities between “dog sleep” and “human sleep.”
The average human does best on about 8 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Dogs usually sleep anywhere from 8 to 13.5 hours in a 24-hour period. And like humans, dogs do most of their sleeping at night.
You may also have wondered if dogs dream. Dogs do dream, and again, they are much like humans in how they dream and what they dream about. Like humans, dogs slip into the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which is the deepest sleep and the point where dreams occur. Their dreams are much the same as those of humans – they dream about daily events, things they enjoy doing, and things that frighten them.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the sleeping positions that dogs assume. You don’t sleep in the same position all the time, and neither does your dog. But what do dog sleeping positions tell us about how our dogs are feeling? Keep reading to learn all about common dog sleeping positions and what they mean!
Dog Sleeping Position #1: The Curled Up Sleeper
This is one of the most common dog sleeping positions and it is as old as time immemorial. With this sleep position, the dog curls up in a ball with his nose toward his hindquarters. Pre-domestication, dogs would have slept in this position because it offers some protection to vital organs. It is also easy to get up quickly from this position, which would have afforded additional protection from predators. This position also helps to conserve warmth. It’s doubtful that today’s household pets worry very much about predators or about staying warm, so this dog sleeping position is most likely just a holdover from times gone by.
Dog Sleeping Position #2: The Side Sleeper
In this sleep position, the dog is lying on his side with his legs extended straight out from his body. Before dogs were domesticated, this would have been one of the worst positions in which to sleep, because it leaves the vital organs exposed. If your dog is a side sleeper, that’s an indication that he feels perfectly comfortable and safe with you. This is also a position that will let you know if your dog is dreaming – if he is, his legs will probably twitch and kick.
Dog Sleeping Position #3: Belly Up
No wild dog would ever have slept this way, because it leaves the vital organs completely exposed, does nothing to conserve heat, and is a difficult sleep position from which to get back on the feet quickly. In domestic dogs, it’s a common position during hot days – the dog’s hair is thinner on the belly, and the sweat glands are located in the paws, so it’s a great way to cool off. In the opposite way turning over conserves heat, sleeping with an exposed belly helps a dog cool off. Since the fur is thinner around the belly, and the paws are where the sweat glands are located, exposing these areas is a great way to beat the heat.
Dog Sleep Position #4: Superman
In this sleep position, the dog lies on his belly with his front and back legs stretched out, much as you might picture Superman getting ready to fly or leap over a tall building. This is a common position in dogs that are very active and love to play. It may be that they favor this position because it’s very easy to get up quickly and they want to be sure to be ready if their human summons them to play.
Dog Sleep Position #5: The Lion
You know those stone lions you often see outside buildings, carved in such a way that the head appears to rest on the paws and the back legs tucked up next to the haunches? Picture that, and you’ll have a good idea of why this dog sleep position is called “the lion,” and sometimes “the sphinx.” A dog in this position is usually just dozing, not fully asleep, and ready to jump up instantly if necessary.
Dog Sleep Position #6: The Spoon
This is one of the most endearing dog sleep positions. It requires a partner – the dog isn’t sleeping alone, but snuggled up back-to-back or “paws around” with you. Dogs may also sleep this way with another pet. This is nothing more nor less than an expression of complete love and devotion. It’s your dog’s way of bonding with you or with another animal that they feel especially close to. Dogs who share a bed with their humans will often sleep this way.
Dog Sleep Position #7: Crazy Legs
In this dog sleep position, your dog will lie with his front paws outstretched and the back legs out to the side. It’s a common sleep position in dogs that get a lot of exercise throughout the day. It can also be a way for the dog to take up the maximum amount of space in his sleeping area. You may see this if you have a multi-dog household, since it can be a way for your dog to signal other dogs that he is tired and wants to be left alone.
Dog Sleep Position #8: Go Away and Let Me Sleep!
This is another sleeping position that you’ll find in a dog that’s just tired out and wants to be left alone. He’ll be lying on his belly with his front paws over his eyes as if to say “I can’t see you, so you can’t see me.” If your furry friend is sleeping in this position, leave him to get the rest he needs.
Dog Sleep Position #9: The Mirror
This is actually two positions. The dog starts out lying on one side, and then rolls over to the other side without changing the way he’s positioning his legs. In effect, he’s creating a mirror image of the original position. If your dog is adopting this position a lot of the time, a visit to the vet would be in order. Dogs who sleep like this are frequently in pain. It might be something easily treated, like arthritis, but it could be something far more serious.
Dog Sleep Position #10: Tail Between the Legs
When a dog that is awake and alert has his tail between his legs, he’s feeling vulnerable and afraid. A dog that is sleeping with his tail between his legs feels the same way. I feel very sad for dogs that sleep this way. If it sounds like your dog, then it’s time for you to identify the source of his anxiety and correct it. Your dog might be fearful of someone in your household or circle of friends, or might have an anxiety disorder that would respond to medication prescribed by a veterinarian.
Dog Sleep Position #11: The Fetcher
If your dog is sleeping with his head resting in front of him and his front paws tucked under his body, looking like a dog that’s gearing up for a headlong run to fetch something, he could be feeling lonely or bored. It’s an indication that he needs more attention from his humans. Dogs with separation anxiety often sleep in this position.
Dog Sleep Position #12: Pillow Pal
Dogs that sleep with their head on a pillow are probably trying to pick up scent, most likely that of their beloved human. They may also be looking for their own scent – “This is where I sleep; it’s my place where I belong.” Of course it’s also possible that a dog sleeping with his head on a pillow means nothing more nor less than that he doesn’t want to rest his head on a hard surface!
Dog Sleep Position #13: The Nest
This isn’t so much a dog sleeping position as it is a way of arranging the sleeping area to the dog’s liking. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that your dog will turn around several times before settling down to sleep. Dogs will also frequently arrange their bedding in order to create the softest, most comfortable sleeping arrangement. This is another instance in which dogs sleep very much like humans.
Dog Sleep Position #14: The Knuckle
There is a condition known as “knuckling” in which the dog bends his wrist, flips his paw under his leg, and walks on the top of his paw instead of on the pad. This is an indication of pain, and if your dog is adopting this position in sleep, it’s a sign of extreme pain. It could be due to a foreign body embedded in the paw, or a more serious medical condition. Either way, a visit to the vet is warranted.
Dog Sleep Position #15: Take Me to the Vet NOW!
I have left this dog sleep position to the last because it’s the most important. If your dog is sleeping with his head shoved into a wall or a corner, it is absolutely imperative that you take him to the veterinarian immediately. It could mean that your dog is depressed, or that he’s having trouble seeing, or even that he’s just looking for attention. BUT… it could also mean that he’s in danger of dying. Dogs in the stages of advanced organ failure often display this behavior, so don’t wait – go to the vet right away.
Want To Know More?
Dogs sleep in the most fascinating, and sometimes amusing, ways. But there’s a lot more to know about how dogs sleep other than the positions that they assume. Let’s learn more about the way dogs sleep.
More About How Dogs Sleep
With humans, sleep is usually about one third of our lives. It’s even more than that for dogs. They usually sleep all night with their humans and then take several naps throughout the day. With that in mind, let’s talk about how dogs sleep, what sleep does for our dogs, why they want to sleep with their humans, and more. Take a look at these interesting facts.
- Puppy Sleep is Different
We’ve already noted that adult dogs will sleep up to 13.5 hours a day. Puppies need a lot more, anywhere from 18-20 hours. This is because they need a lot of rest so their bones and muscles can develop properly. The puppy brain, though, is wired a bit differently from the brain of an adult dog. An adult dog will drift gently into sleep, whereas a puppy has the equivalent of a light bulb’s on/off switch They’ll go immediately from vigorous play to being deeply asleep in no time at all.
- Dogs can suffer from sleep deprivation.
Just like humans who don’t get enough sleep, a sleep-deprived dog can develop health issues. Lack of sleep suppresses the immune system and can lead to illness and depression. The quality of sleep also matters. It’s important that your dog has a quiet place to sleep, free from rambunctious toddlers, traffic noise, and other distractions. Think of it this way – if conditions are such that you can’t sleep, neither can your dog. Do you need “white noise” from an electrical fan, or blackout curtains? Maybe your dog needs the same.
- A dog’s sleep cycle re-sets about within 20 minutes
There’s a difference in the sleep cycle between “active” and “quiet” sleep. Dogs, like humans, experience REM sleep where dreaming happens. This is when you’ll hear your dog whimpering, breathing fast, and maybe even howling. His legs might twitch and he might look like he’s trying to run. This will happen about 3 times per hour, and that’s active sleep. During quiet sleep, your dog won’t be doing any of these things – he’ll just be lying still and possibly snoring. If your dog sleeps with you at night, you’ll go through 3-5 REM cycles. Your dog will go through more than 20. This is one way in which human and dog sleep cycles differ.
- Your Dog Dreams More Than You Do
The difference between human and dog REM cycles means that your dog is likely dreaming a lot more than you are. Given that we’ve already talked about what dogs dream about, that means that your dog has more in the way of pleasant dreams than you do, but also more nightmares. I can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking than witnessing a dog having a nightmare.
How do you know if your dog is having a nightmare, and what should you do about it? As to the first part of this question, look at the body language and the vocalization. If your dog is twitching in a way that doesn’t look like a “happy running dream,” and he’s whimpering or crying, assume it’s a nightmare. Of course, the kind thing to do is to wake him up, but be careful. Something is terrifying him, and when dogs are terrified their natural reaction is to bite. You don’t want to end up hurt, so peak to your dog softly and call him by his name. If he seems to calm down, then you can reach out and stroke him. If he looks up at you and recognizes you, that’s the point where you can hold him close, tell him what a wonderful boy he is and that it was just a bad dream. But don’t even think of doing that before he’s fully awake and alert.
What happens during REM sleep in dogs? In humans, we know REM sleep helps to look back on what happened during the day, the same as it does with humans. Is it reasonable to think that a dreaming dog is experiencing the same thing as his human? Is he dreaming about things like playing ball, scavenging a burger out of the trash, going for a walk with his human, or chasing squirrels. Can dogs have nightmares? Again, no one knows. But I’d think that if dogs dream, they can also have bad dreams.
- There’s a Reason Why Your Dog Wants to Sleep on Your Legs
I have a friend who has an English Mastiff that weighs 260 pounds, and he loves to climb up and sleep on my friend’s legs. She has the bruises to prove it! Does that mean that her dog is trying to hurt her? No, of course not. He just loves her to pieces and he thinks that the best way to show it is to try to get in her lap. If your dog wants to sleep on your legs it means that he loves you and wants to be as close to you as possible. If that bothers you, you can work on training your dog to “get off.” Or you could just accept it, bruises and all, as an indication of pure love.
- Should Your Dog Sleep With You?
Yes, yes, yes!If you hear someone say “I would never let my dog sleep on my bed,” chances are they’re lying. In fact, over 70% of humans share their beds with their dogs, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why wouldn’t you let your dog sleep with you? As long as your dog doesn’t have fleas (and if he does there are medications for that) or ticks (and there are inoculations for that) and he’s reasonably clean (and there are baths for that), then there’s no good reason why your dog shouldn’t sleep with you.
Your dog loves you and wants to sleep with you. Bedding washes and is also replaceable. And if you’ve had a bad day and all you want to do is cry, there’s something to be said for being able to sob into the soft fur of your dog. I hear a lot of people say that their parents never allowed dogs on the bed. Well, that’s too bad. Those were your parents’ rules, not yours, and if you want to sleep with your dog, go for it!
- When to Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
How do you know if your dog is sleeping too much? Most dogs have fairly fixed sleeping habits. They’ll sleep all night as long as you’re sleeping as well, and they’ll usually have several naps throughout the day. If it seems as though your dog is constantly asleep, that could be a red flag indicating a health condition that should be checked out by a veterinarian. You know your dog, and you know what’s typical for him. If you notice anything out of the ordinary when it comes to sleep patterns, don’t panic, but do get him checked out.
Now you know more about how dogs sleep, and why they sleep the way they do. So what do you think? Is it time to snuggle up with your best buddy? Nap away the afternoon, or go to bed at night and sleep until morning?
Dogs sleep a lot, and they sleep in a variety of interesting positions. Often, the sleep position can tell you a lot about what your furry friend is feeling, thinking, and dreaming. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch how our dogs position themselves and behave while they’re asleep. Other times, a dog’s sleeping position can be an indication of health problems.
There is a famous quote often attributed to Sigmund Freud: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And sometimes a sleep position is just a sleep position. Nothing more than the way your dog feels comfortable. Still, it’s fun to look at our sleeping dogs and wonder what their sleeping positions might mean.
Does your dog sleep in a funny position? Does he look like a lion, or like Superman, or like something else entirely?Take a look and think about what, if anything, he might be trying to tell you.