What Your Dog's Sleeping Positions Tell You About Him

Updated on February 21, 2017
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinary hospital assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Let's face it: dogs tend to sleep in quite some odd sleeping positions and some of them can be quite comical! Whether your dog sleeps curled up on the couch, in bed with you or using your feet as his favorite pillow, perhaps you might have wondered sometimes whether your dog's sleeping positions can reveal something about his personality. Well, turns out that the "Tell me how your dog sleeps, and I will tell you something about him" cliche' may be close to coming true.

Dogs sleep several hours a day and, just like us, their sleep goes through different cycles. At what point they are in their sleeping cycle can make a whole lot of difference as to what sleeping position they choose. Also, little things such as the surrounding temperature, how your dog feels and his overall activity level can affect they position in which he sleeps. Paying attention to these little details can actually tell you more about about your dog.

So yes, you can actually deduce quite a lot of things about your dog by simply watching how he sleeps. Sure your dog's sleeping position won't tell you personal things such as who your dog's favorite pal at the dog park is or what's his favorite brand of kibble, but dogs have several reasons as to why they choose one sleeping position over another one. So this is just a fun general guide about dog sleeping positions.

Of course, as with everything dog, no rules can be written in stone, so if your dog sleeps in a certain position, it could simply be it's because he likes it!

The Dead Cockroach Sleeping Position

Is your dog sleeping with his legs in the air? I like to call this the "dead cockroach position" as it reminds me of those dead cockroaches you stumble on sidewalks hours after the exterminator has stopped by. Just like mattresses have a summer and winter position, dogs have certain seasonal sleeping positions that are based on how cold or hot they feel.

The dead cockroach dog sleeping position is quite popular in the dogs day of summer when your dog is in desperate need of cooling off by exposing his belly to cool air. This may look like a silly sleeping position, but your dog knows what he's doing. If you take a good look at your dog's belly, you will notice how your dog's tummy has areas that are not covered with fur. This means that by exposing his tummy to the air, he's granting himself a better chance of cooling off quickly compared to other sleeping positions.

But that's not all folks, exposing the bottom of the paws to the air is also another astute strategy considering that that's where a dog's sweat glands are located!

This dog sleeping position though may reveal something more than telling you that your dog feels hot. A dog sleeping in the dead cockroach position is usually a dog who is feeling secure in his environment. Why? For the simple fact, that when dogs sleep on their back they are more vulnerable to their surroundings as it takes more effort to flip back on their legs should they need to move away quickly in the presence of a threat. So yeah, it takes a bit of confidence to sleep this way. Your dog likely feels in his safe haven, surrounded by people he trusts when he sleeps this way.

Note: Some dogs may sleep in this position against a wall. Most likely contact with the wall's cool surface feels good, but on top of that, perhaps these dogs like that they can use the wall as "leverage" in case they need to get up quickly and be back on their feet.

The Snowball Sleeping Position

Does your dog sleep nicely curled up in a ball, in what I like to call the snowball sleeping position? This is a position often seen in cats, but it's quite common in dogs too. A dog in the snowball sleeping position is sleeping nose-to-tail with his spine curved up.This is one of a dog's favorite late fall and winter sleeping positions to snooze in. Why is that? For the simple fact that this sleeping position ultimately helps a dog conserve heat.

However, the snowball sleeping position tell you more than your dog is feeling cold and wishes to stay warm and comfy. This sleeping position is quite similar to the fetal sleeping position seen in humans, and as such, it's suggestive of a dog trying to protect himself. This sleeping position is reminiscent of the old days when dogs were puppies and used to sleep in a den. The tight curled up position therefore not only helps a dog stay warm, but it also helps keep vulnerable organs out of reach from any dangerous predators.

Therefore just as the fetal sleeping position observed in humans, the snowball sleeping position denoted a dog who is seeking security and comfort. It can be sometimes be seen in a new dog or puppy who is a bit insecure about his environment and may trying to adapt, explains explains Margaret Gruen, a board-certified veterinary behavior specialist.

Unlike the cockroach sleeping position, the snowball sleeping positions allows a dog to be quickly on his feet if need be. So does this mean that this sleeping position means your dog is feeling insecure? Not necessarily. Just as in humans, dogs come with their own little quirks and personalities and there are no rules written in stone. Your dog may just be sleeping this way for the simple fact that it feels good.

As much as the snowball sleeping position seems comfy, consider that it's one of the least restorative positions. When dogs sleep curled up, their muscles are tight, which interferes with their ability to slip into the most restorative sleeping stage of all, the REM stage, explains veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker.

“When dogs sleep in the wild, especially where it’s cold, they’ll dig a nest and curl up into it. This gives them warmth — tucking into a ball conserves body heat. It also protects their most vulnerable organs in the abdomen from would-be predators."

— Dr. Gruen

The Pancake Sleeping Position

Is your dog sleeping flat on his side with his legs extended? I like to call this dog sleeping position the "Pancake." It's almost as if dogs are flattened against the floor. This is one of those sleeping positions where you must let sleeping dogs lie. Of course, no dog should be bothered when sleeping, but this is where things get more serious as this is the most restorative sleeping position of all and the one during which REM sleep (when your dog kicks and paddles, acting out his dreams) is more likely to happen.

A dog sleeping in this position is seeking out serious sleep and most likely would prefer to be left alone. My senior Rottweiler suffers periodically from neck problems and the first days he's quite in pain when he's waiting for those pain meds to kick in. The neck pain prevents him from being able to sleep on his side which means that for a day and half he's sleeping in other less restorative positions. You can clearly see how cranky and exhausted he gets when he misses out his most restorative sleep!

As with the cockroach position, a dog in the pancake sleeping position is also comfortable in his surroundings. He knows he's in deep sleep in this position, so he'll likely pick an area where he feels more safe. Getting back on his feet from this position also requires some effort. Many dogs start off relaxing in other sleeping positions and then when they feel comfy and safe enough (or acknowledge that there's nothing worthy going on), they'll roll over to their sides for some serious deep sleep.

Did you know? As in humans, the REM portion of sleep is important considering that it's the part of the sleep cycle during which stress is resolved, explains Paul Owens in the book "The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training."

Dogs who sleep all curled up must keep their muscles tensed and are therefore less relaxed than dogs who stretch out when they sleep and are less likely to twitch in their sleep.

— Arden Moore

The Sphinx Sleeping Position

I like to call this position the "sphinx sleeping position" for the simple fact that it reminds me of the good old days passed in dog training school. My dog training mentors wanted us to train our dogs to perform "downs" in the sphinx position meaning that they had to have their front legs straight in front of them with their rear legs tucked under. Why was this position so important? Because it allowed the dogs to quickly sprint into action once we called them.

So what does this sleeping position tell you about your dog? It tells you that he's ready to get up on his legs. Not many dogs really sleep in this position. My Rottweiler did for a day when he had neck pain but he required a pillow in front of him for support as his head kept tilting to the side which was painful for him. He really didn't get to sleep much other than very light sleep. This is often a transitional position assumed by dogs who are a bit unsure of their surroundings or who aren't sure what to do next." Should I fall asleep or keep ready in case something happens? "

If nothing major happens, your dog may get sleepy and decide to roll on to his side for some serious sleep, but if he sees you grabbing the leash or opening the fridge he might be get quickly on his legs in hopes of a goodie.

The Superman Sleeping Position

I like to call this the Superman position, with the front legs extended far out, it just looks like dogs are about to take flight and go up, up and away. This sleeping position is one that often grants many chuckles and you often see it featured in social media. What does this sleeping position tell you about your dog?

First of all, just like the cockroach position, it tells you that your dog is likely feeling hot. It may be it's a hot day or your dog is simply hot from exercising. Either way, your dog's belly this time is exposed to the cool tiles,hardwood floor or moist grass which feels nice considering that a dog's belly has areas that are lacking fur. This position may also tell you that your dog is likely tired. Often you'll see a puppy play a lot and then he takes a step or two and then plops himself on the floor.

The superman position is not really a comfortable position for serious sleep, but it might work well for a short nap if your dog is really tired. A bit like the sphinx position, this position though also allows your dog to sprint into action as needed. He might not take flight, but he'll happily romp around ready for more action.


That's all for dog sleeping positions! How does your dog like to sleep? Have you noticed anything interesting about his sleep? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

  • Sometimes my dog sleeps on my pillow and curls around my head ?

    Sounds like a dog who feels nice and comfy and wants to be close to you. I see dogs who sleep attached to a human body part as wanting to be informed about their humans' wherabouts, as every little motion will waken them up.

  • My female Schnauzer is four-years-old. She tries to sleep sitting up and she chases her butt. Is there some sort of problem? She has been doing this for quite a while.

    It sounds like there's is something bothering her. Sleeping sitting up is of course not comfortable, so a dog who seeks this position may be having some form of pain associated with lying down. Sometimes, this can be seen in dogs with buildup of fluid in the chest. Chasing her butt may be indicative of parasites, problems with the glands under her tail. Sometimes, partial seizures can cause odd behaviors like this too. A vet visit is warranted here to see what may be going on. It may help to record her when this behavior happens and then show the video to the vet. A video is worth 100 words in describing odd dog behaviors.

© 2016 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

Comments

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    • profile image

      JusD 

      5 months ago

      I seen all of the sleeping patterns from my fog but I noticed he likes to sleep like a human he has his lower body under the blanket and his head out or sometimes all you see is his paws sticking out from the blanket I guess he watch me so much and that’s cause he sleeps at the foot of our bed

    • profile image

      Lisa Davies 

      8 months ago

      At night,or whenever I am sleeping in bed my dog wants to Everytime sleep with her head resting inside my neck. I let her for a while, but her head gets heavy,so why is this her go to position with me?

    • profile image

      Stephanie Purser 

      15 months ago

      What wonderful insight! How useful it will be to know how my dogs are feeling by the way they lay. The "cockroach" is my staffy's favorite position while my Papillion×chihuahua prefers the "snowball". Says a lot about their personalities in general!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago from USA

      Kristen, thanks. We had several dogs over for boarding and training and it was interesting looking at each dog's sleeping positions. I have a collection of pictures of dogs sleeping that I shared with the owners.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago from USA

      Lol, Zen mode is cute, heidithorne! My dog likes to sleep in that position against the wall, and you can tell because he's leaving marks on our white walls. Thanks for sharing!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 years ago from Chicago Area

      I've seen 'em all! We call our dogs in the "dead cockroach" position in their "Zen" mode. They seem really peaceful. Our dogs are also couch dogs. So they love draping themselves over the armrests, too. Not sure what to call that position. :) Thanks for the fun look at our four-legged friends! Sharing!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Alexa, this was an interesting look on the sleeping positions of a dog. I miss having one. This was so informative with an inside look. Nice lens.

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