What Dog Sleeping Positions Mean: From Belly Up to the Sphinx

Dogs are active animals who love to run, play and explore the world around them.

But canines also enjoy sleeping, with healthy adult dogs spending up to 14 hours per day in their basket or slumped on the sofa.

How a dog nods off can actually be very insightful into how they are feeling mentally and physically.

Dr. Mary Burch, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and American Kennel Club (AKC) Family Dog Director, believes: "It's not just when your dog is awake that the dog's posture has meaning."

She told Newsweek: "Those of us who are dog lovers are likely to know about canine body posture.

"A stiff body and legs with the ears pulled down and the lips pulled back means "watch out," and that big goofy grin means your dog is happy."

What Dog Sleeping Positions Mean

Dogs sleep in a whole range of positions, some of which look less than comfortable to us.

Dr. Jacqueline Boyd, a Nottingham Trent University animal scientist, believes many dogs have preferred and characteristic sleeping positions.

She told Newsweek: "Puppies often fall sleep in unusual positions, including on their backs, whereas older dogs often prefer to sleep lying flat on their side and might prefer softer, warmer bedding and locations

"Alterations in sleeping positions may indicate pain or discomfort and if your dog appears stiff or sore after resting, it is important to seek veterinary advice.

"Breeds and types with shortened muzzles such as pugs and bulldogs often sleep with their head raised to support breathing and this should be monitored carefully.

"Relaxed dogs will often sleep stretched out or on their backs, especially when they feel safe, whereas worried, anxious or stressed dogs will often choose to sleep curled up, almost making themselves as small and inconspicuous as possible.

"However, temperature can also impact on this—warmer temperatures often mean increasing the amount of body surface exposed to the environment to aid cooling.

"When it is colder, our dogs are more inclined to curl up, sometimes even tucking their nose between their legs to keep warm."

Read on to find out about common dog sleeping positions and what they mean, according to canine experts.

Curled In a Ball

Cute little dog (Bolonka Zwetna) curled-up on
Cute little dog curled-up asleep on red sofa. A common position dogs take when sleeping is to curl up into a ball. RobertPetrovic/Getty Images

Many dogs will start their sleep by curling up in a ball, with their front and back legs tucked in and the head is bent forward.

Dr. Burch believes this position "could be related to a dog that is anxious."

She said: "We often see shelter dogs curled in a ball when they sleep, as though they want to protect themselves.

"More common though, especially with our pets, this is a dog that wants to get warm as it drifts off to sleep.

"Think about your own sleep—if you are cold, you might pull your legs up and tuck your arms in.

"This is what the dog is doing. When the dog feels warm after being curled on a ball, you may see it roll on its side and stretch its legs out."

Sleeping on the Side

Sweet curly girl and jack russell dog
A girl and Jack Russell dog sleeping together. Pet parents witness all sorts of dog sleeping positions. Getty Images

Being flat on the floor (or in a dog bed) and sleeping on the side is one of the most common body postures for dogs.

The AKC's Dr. Burch said: "The head is on the floor and the legs are extended in a comfortable position.

"This is a dog that feels safe and relaxed. These dogs are often having "sweet dreams" where you can see the paws moving.

"We often assume the dog is dreaming about chasing a rabbit or is running through a field in the dream."

Belly Up

Cute pug dog sleep rest in the
Cute pug dog sleep rest in the bed, wrap with blanket. Injuries or soreness can also cause a dog’s sleeping position to change. Getty Images

In the opposite way curling in a ball conserves heat, canines can occasionally sleep with their belly exposed, with Dr. Burch suggesting it can allow dogs to keep cool.

She said: "I noticed with my own dogs that they would often go from sleeping on their side to rolling over on their back.

"In this position, you can see the dog's belly, the front legs are often bent and the paws are curled. At the AKC Family Dog program, we receive a lot of photos from loving dog owners of their dogs as they sleep in this position.

"The belly-up sleeping position indicates that the dog is extremely relaxed and is feeling safe and un-threatened in its environment.

"Animals who have a sense that they might be attacked don't expose their bellies. When the dog rolls over onto the belly-up position, it could also mean that the dog has gotten warm while sleeping and needs to cool off."

The Sphinx

German Shepherd in a blanket
German Shepherd in a blanket. The lion’s pose sleeping position (also called ‘the sphinx’) is when your dog sleeps with their head on top of their paws. Korneeva_Kristina/Getty Images

Should you discover your dog sleeping with its head on top of his paws, chances are he is comfortably at rest.

Dr. Burch said: "Unlike the totally relaxed position of belly-up, sometimes dogs sleep in a position that looks like a Sphinx.

"The dog is in a down position with the front legs stretched out. The dog is getting some rest but is usually not quite relaxed.

"As they fall into a deeper sleep, they may "nod off," eventually dropping their head and placing it on their paws.

"These are dogs that are not ready to relax—they are in a position where they can jump up and go into action. You can almost hear this dog saying, 'I'm not sleeping; I'm just resting my eyes.'"

Superman

Sleepy Pug Dog
A sleepy pug dog. Owners may notice their pup sleeps in a very specific way and it might not be a happy accident. fongleon356/Getty Images

Owners may sometimes see their dogs stretched out with their legs in front of their heads and kicked back behind their butts.

Dr. Burch said: "There is an exercise in human physical therapy where you lay on the floor face down, legs straight out, and extend your arms over your head.

"They call this the 'Superman' exercise. We've seen plenty of dogs sleeping in this position—it is particularly common with puppies.

"These are puppies who have worn themselves out and need a break, but they are ready to get up and play on short notice.

"This could also be the position for a dog who needs to cool down—pressing the belly on a tile floor can help the cooling process."

Blankets, Bath Tubs and Air Vents

A sleepy Dog Snuggle
Dogs sleep in a variety of positions, just like people. Petr Ryabchun/Getty Images

The positions above are the most common, but some dogs create variations.

Dr. Burch said: "Dogs who sleep curled in a ball may routinely use their own blanket, or if allowed to sleep on the owner's bed, they may use the owner's blanket.

"This could be for warmth, but it could also be for dogs who need security and comfort to fall asleep. Shelter dogs will often burrow under blankets, even after they are placed in a safe, loving home.

"Dogs who are trying to stay cool might choose an air-conditioning vent or a bathtub as a place to sleep."

golden retriever puppy sleeping
A golden retriever puppy sleeping. Owners should pay attention to the position their dog frequently sleeps in. IuriiSokolov/Getty Images