Dogs, like humans, sleep in various positions. But, are they just looking for that sweet spot, or do these different poses say something more?
The topic recently piqued the interest of users on TikTok in a viral video shared by the PetOpt account (@petopt), which had 708,000 likes at the time of writing. The clip highlights three common dog sleeping positions, with different pooches seen in these various poses.
Dogs can spend as much as around half of their days asleep. Their sleeping positions can be “interesting to understand as they shed a little light into their behavior and much of it is inherited from their more primitive canine ancestors,” veterinarian Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinary officer at American Kennel Club (AKC), told Newsweek.
A dog’s sleep position is often dictated by the pet’s general levels of comfort, anxiety, safety, and environmental temperature.
Mary R. Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist and the AKC family dog director, 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.”
However, it’s not just when your dog is awake that its posture has meaning, she said.
Below are some common dog sleeping positions and what they mean.
Curled in a Ball
Burch said many dogs start off their sleep in this curled position, with their front and back legs tucked in, while the head is bent forward. This could be related to a feeling of anxiety. “We often see shelter dogs curled in a ball when they sleep as though they want to protect themselves.”
However, the more common reason behind it is that a dog wants to get warm while drifting off to sleep, just as humans might pull their legs up and tuck their arms in if they’re cold in bed. “When the dog feels warm after being curled on a ball, you may see it roll on its side and stretch its legs out,” Burch explained.
Klein agreed, noting the curled position is typically about preserving heat. He added: “They may feel a bit anxious and protective as they are shielding their vital organs when resting. Newly adopted dogs (especially older dogs) may sleep in this position until they are used to their new home.”
sleeping on the side
Sleeping on the side (or even flat on the floor or in a dog bed) is one of the most common body postures for dogs. Its head is on the floor, with its legs extended in a comfortable position.
Dogs snoozing in this position are secure and comfortable in their surroundings, feeling safe and relaxed, according to Klein and Burch.
“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,” Burch explained.
This position sees the dog’s belly exposed, while its front legs are typically bent and its paws are curled. Many dogs often go from sleeping on their side to rolling over on their back.
This belly-up position indicates that the dog is completely relaxed and at ease in their surroundings, feeling safe and unthreatened in its environment, said Klein and Burch.
Burch said: “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 pose sees the dog in a down position, with its front legs stretched out. Burch said as the dog enters into a deeper slumber, they may “nod off” and eventually drop their head and place it on their paws.
Dogs in this position are “resting but usually not in a deep sleep,” said Klein. “We see this often in working or guard dogs.”
Burch explained: “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.'”
This position sees the dog sprawled out on the floor, with its face down, legs straight out and front legs over your head. This posture is particularly common with puppies. Burch said: “These are puppies who have worn themselves out and need a break, but they are ready to get up and play on short notice.”
Klein said dogs that sleep on their stomachs are “tired but also ready to go if the situation should arise.”
Burch added that a dog needing to cool down may also adopt the Superman sleeping position, as pressing the belly on a tile floor can help the cooling process.
Other Sleep Variations
Burch said some dogs may create variations of the aforementioned sleeping positions.
For example, dogs that sleep curled in a ball may routinely use their own blanket. Or if they’re allowed to sleep in their owner’s bed, they might 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,” according to Burch.
Dogs trying to stay cool may choose to sleep on an air-conditioning vent or a bathtub, she added.
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