Dog sleeping positions and habits: What do they mean?

Anyone who has ever watched a dog sleep will agree that they often lie in some rather strange and seemingly impractical positions. What do each of these positions mean, and what dog sleeping habits are normal?

Sleeping dogs are incredibly cute, but what do their various positions mean?
Sleeping dogs are incredibly cute, but what do their various positions mean?  © Collage: Unsplash/Charlesdeluvio/Connor Home/Isabela Kronemberger

Let's face it: there's not much sweeter than a sleeping puppy.

If you're a dog owner then there is nothing more gorgeous than your perfect pooch's nap time, and as such, it's important to develop an understanding of its snoozing habits.

In this dog guide, TAG24 takes a look at the sleeping habits of dogs. What do different dog sleeping positions mean, when should you be worried, and what should you look out for?

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Zzz! Let's take a look.

Dog sleeping positions meaning

Every dog has its preferred sleeping arrangement, whether it be a particular position, a particular location, or a particular human. While the location and company that are involved are relatively self-explanatory, it is the position itself that leaves many puzzled.

You see, the position in which your dog sleeps indicates a lot about its mood, feelings, and general physical and mental wellbeing. If your doggo is sick, it will position itself differently to how it would if it were perfectly healthy. A worried dog will also position itself differently to a calm dog, and so on.

Here are the most common dog sleeping positions and what they mean:

  • Your standard lion: In almost a sitting position, with a bulged back and looking a bit like a cat, when your dog sleeps in a lion's pose, it's not quite relaxed. These doggos are likely not completely asleep, and are allowing themselves to be a tad alert for safety or, perhaps, because they might want to play with their humans.

  • On its side: This is the standard position - a dog lying on its side with its legs extended out away from the stomach. It is the sign of a chilled out and relaxed doggo and one that feels safe, happy, and trusting.

  • Stretched out: Also sometimes referred to as the "Superman," a stretched-out position is one that indicates that a dog is extremely relaxed and chill, but also somewhat awake and uncertain whether it wants to be active right now. It is characterized by its stomach being pressed against the floor, with its legs sticking out in all directions.

  • The donut / bagel: Another standard dog sleeping position, the "donut" is, as it sounds, when a dog rolls itself into a donut or bagel-shaped ball. It indicates a feeling of slight unease and a need to protect oneself from the elements. In particular, it is the position of a dog that may be cold.

  • Belly in the air: If your doggo is lying on its back with its legs in the air and its belly exposed, then it is an extremely trusting canine companion. It might want to be pet, it might want to take in some sun. Whatever it is, your dog loves you and trusts you.

  • Snuggler: If your doggo is snuggling up to another animal, curled around another pup, or has burrowed into blankets or sheets, this is a sign that the dog wants to feel secure, loved, comfortable, and protected. The former is also a sign of love and affection for its fellow friend.

Dogs will often shift between positions, and sometimes those shifts are just for the purpose of improved comfort rather than something changing. Keep that in mind when trying to read your dog's body language.

Pregnant dog sleeping positions

While pregnant dogs won't necessarily change the positions in which they sleep because of pregnancy, they will have different sleeping habits. Any female dog that has become pregnant will be significantly more tired and docile than they were before. As a result, pregnant dogs need to be provided with quiet and calm places to sleep that are well away from any crowds or other animals.

One important thing to note is that you shouldn't be too surprised if your pregnant dog sleeps a lot more than it used to. After all, a lot of its energy is being taken up by its body literally creating a litter of puppies. As such, make sure that its bedding is regularly washed and of a high quality.

You may notice that pregnant dogs don't sleep in positions which require them putting pressure on their stomach. As such, you're more likely to see a pregnant dog in a donut or on its side, rather than stretched out.

There are many dog sleeping positions worth unpacking.
There are many dog sleeping positions worth unpacking.  © Unsplash/Ruby Schmank

Dog sleeping positions when sick

A dog's sleeping position will change if it gets sick, but the way that it will change is dependent on the sickness it is experiencing. In general, if it is a physical illness then it will try to relieve any pressure that is being put on the area of the body that's hurt, resulting in rather unusual positions.

Sick dogs often sleep with their heads and neck raised, so you may find that your dog is sleeping with its head on pillows and cushions a lot more regularly. If this is combined with increased breathlessness or noisy breathing, it might be time to call the vet. Overall, though, non-physical sicknesses will usually be coupled with your dog's favorite sleeping positions.

Signs of a dog that's in distress when it's sleeping:

  • Increased snoring, breathlessness, heavy breathing
  • Increase or reduction in the amount and frequency of sleep
  • Difficulty changing positions or unusual body language
  • Getting up constantly
  • Strange noises, whining

Important: If you're concerned that your dog's sleeping positions and behavior could indicate illness, it's best to contact the vet as soon as possible.

Dog sleeping positions with owners

Dogs love to sleep with their human, but it's important to set clear boundaries.
Dogs love to sleep with their human, but it's important to set clear boundaries.  © unsplash/Chewy

To finish up, it's time to take a look at the multitude of positions that dogs sleep in when chilling with their owners.

They are snugly little creatures and often want to be as close and feel as protected as possible. Of course, many people won't let their dogs sleep on the bed with them - but if they do, this could be quite a useful guide to understanding why your dog sleeps like it does.

Here are main sleeping positions for dogs when they're with their owners:

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  • Spoon: Some dogs love to be spooned by their humans, as it makes them feel safe and secure. They will often do this by sleeping in the bend of your leg, or right up against your chest. Others will spoon you, looking to protect and show affection to their human.

  • Belly revealed: Just as we described earlier, when a dog shows you its belly, it is revealing the most sensitive and vulnerable part of its body. As such, it is a sign of deep trust and love.

  • Leaning against: This is about mutual respect. When a dog leans against you, and you by extension lean against it, the dog wants to provide security to you while you do the same for it. It also carries over to support and love, with the leaning against position expressing that you are both partners in this together.

  • Burrowing: If your doggo burrows into your body, it is looking for warmth and also for comfort. It is an expression of love, trust, and a want to be protected by you.

  • General vicinity: This is the position of a more independently-minded doggo. As such, a dog who sleeps in the general vicinity, within earshot and sight, wants to feel connected to you but also free to move around and do its own thing.

Once you learn to recognize the many sleeping positions that your dog takes up when you're sleeping as well, you can develop a closer and more loving bond with the animal.

Pay attention to dog sleeping body language

If your dog has been behaving strangely of late, in any way, it's time to take it to the vet. The same goes if your doggo hasn't been sleeping or, instead, has been sleeping in a worrying way, clearly cradling a hurt body part or possibly pregnant. Remember that you're not a doctor, and neither are we, so try not to diagnose your dog yourself and, instead, get professional medical advice.

Dog sleeping positions can indicate a variety of health issues, potential pregnancy, and even problems with mental health. It's an important indicator, one that you should pay attention to, and one that should always be treated seriously.

Cover photo: Collage: Unsplash/Charlesdeluvio/Connor Home/Isabela Kronemberger

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