Dogs sleep in the weirdest ways. They show their belly, twitch their paws, and make little huffs that have you wondering what they could possibly be dreaming about right now.
While you may not know exactly what your dog is thinking mid-slumber, you can get a sense of how your dog is feeling based on its sleeping position.
We spoke to trainers, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists to understand what different sleeping positions mean and how a dog’s sleeping behavior can give you a glimpse into their personality and well-being.
What does my dog’s sleeping position mean?
Dogs are like four-legged grandpas. They fall asleep at any time, in a host of different positions, and for wildly varying lengths of time.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into the way a dog sleeps in a given moment,” says Curtis Kelley, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA ®) and dog trainer with Pet Parent Allies. “You have to look at temperature and whether they’re mentally or physically tired.”
If you want to know exactly how dogs are feeling, Nancy M. Kelly, CPDT-KA, recommends looking at the position of their bodies and heads as they’re falling asleep.
“When dogs sleep, you can see if they’re stressed,” says Kelly, who is a professional dog trainer, as well as a behavior consultant and founder of The Mannerly Dog. “That’s why looking at their sleep position is really important.”
Here are the 9 most common dog sleeping positions and what each can tell you about your pet.
The side sleeper
At the end of a long day of playing, dogs are often like their owners: They want to lie down as soon as they get inside. If your dog rolls onto its side and stretches its legs out fully, Kelly says this means your pet is “very relaxed.”
It’s here that dogs are likely to enter deep, restorative sleep — the kind that often leads to dreaming. It’s a good sign when your dog can power down like this because it means they feel safe enough to not worry about needing to wake up quickly.
Dogs of all sizes curl up in a circle that resembles a donut or bagel. They tuck their feet together and put their heads toward their tails. Kelley notes that while some dogs prefer this position, you often see dogs in new or uncertain circumstances opt to sleep in the donut shape. By drawing themselves inward, they have some control over an unknown space.
“They curl in a donut shape for some type of protection,” says Kelly. “They’re protecting their warmth or because they feel safe in that position.”
The lion’s pose (Sphynx)
Many dogs regularly fall asleep like tiny lions with their heads atop out-stretched paws. Here, Kelly notes that your dog can get up easily from this position if someone comes to the door or they hear the sweet sound of kibble hitting the bowl.
It’s helpful to think of this sleeping position as a transitional one. Your dog isn’t likely to enter deep sleep from this position; but it could be the position the assume before they roll onto their side (often with a grunt or chuff) when they become more comfortable.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Corgi? When a dog lays on its stomach with its head forward and feet splayed out and flat, they’re not adorably imitating the Man of Steel.
Depending where they’ve chosen to splay, they may be trying to cool off (if the floor is tile) or soak up some heat from a particularly inviting patch of sun. This is also what Kelly calls a “ready position,” where a dog is able to catch a few winks, but still be ready if they need to wake up quickly.
This is about a dog’s personality: Some dogs want space, others are glued to people.
Cuddlers are showing you trust — and occasionally stealing some heat — by placing their body next to yours. Kelley says it’s important to not take it too personally if your dog is not a cuddler: Remember that it might be their innate wiring rather than a reflection of their feelings toward you.
Heard of a covers hog? How about a covers dog? Some dogs will sneak beneath covers or blankets until they’re just a dog-shaped lump, perhaps with a paw or nose peeking out.
Here, dogs are likely seeking warmth and comfort. Think of how a baby loves to be swaddled. With burrowing, a dog can build a cozy environment around them and shut out a bit of noise or other potential stressors.
The belly up
The belly-up is the star of plenty of Instagram posts. Wondering why an upside-down pup with their paws curled up or sticking out like chair legs is comfortable?
This is when your pooch is completely relaxed and looking to cool down. They have a thinner coat of hair on their stomach, so they’re attempting to let some heat go by exposing their belly to the air. You can find comfort in knowing that your dog is more worried about cooling down than what’s happening in their environment.
Like the sweet pose at the end of a dance battle, some dogs are naturally drawn to sleeping with their backs against the back of another person or dog. This is a signal of trust because you literally have your dog’s back.
“When a dog is pressed to your back with their back, it means they trust you a lot because they are touching their most vulnerable spot to you,” says Kelley.
Head and neck raised
Some dogs opt to rest their heads and necks on something comfortable, like the arm of a couch or their dog bed. If a dog rests its chin on you, it could be a sign of a contented pup looking for a nuzzle. If your pup habitually elevates its head on furniture, though, it could also be a sign of discomfort, or even potential health problems.
If you’re worried that your dog is having breathing issues or is an older dog that’s moving slower, your pooch looking to elevate their head or neck could be a sign of discomfort and you should consult with your vet.
What to know about dog sleeping behaviors
While the position of your dog can say a lot about how they’re feeling, you can learn more about their state of mind by watching what their body is doing when they’re sleeping. Humans toss and turn at night and dogs aren’t that different, explains Colleen Demling-Riley, CPDT-KA, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), and founder of Pawtopia.
“It’s normal for dogs to twitch, have altered breathing patterns, vocalize, and move during sleep,” Demling-Riley assures. Wondering about specific dog behaviors? Here’s the gist:
Do dogs dream?
Yes, dogs do dream. “Research suggests they dream about the things they do during the day,” Kelly explains.
Why do dogs twitch?
Small paw movements or twitches are simply signals that your dog is dreaming. It’s not uncommon for our four-legged friends, similar to the way humans twitch, and it shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless they seem uncomfortable.
What does it mean when dogs run in their sleep?
Sometimes you’ll see dogs moving their paws in pursuit of a phantom bunny. “Dogs can’t actually run in their sleep; but the impulses are still there,” explains Kelly.
Do dogs talk in their sleep?
Humans aren’t the only ones that talk in their sleep. Little yips or the beginnings of a growl might be your dog remembering a memorable encounter with a squirrel or trip in the car from earlier in the day.
“If there was something that they got really excited at during the day, that’s what they might be mirroring,” says Kelley.
Is it a problem when dogs snore?
Snoring can range from adorable snorts to the sound of a large saw. In many respects, this is like having a partner that snores. The volume and frequency will determine if you need to seek help.
If you have a brachycephalic breed — a dog with what appears to be a smushed face like a pug or French Bulldog — there can be increased likelihood of breathing issues, and you should keep in regular contact with your dog’s vet about options, ranging from dietary changes to medication to even possible palate surgery.
Why do dogs circle their bed before curling up?
This is a behavior that tracks back to when dogs were wolves and looking to bed down in the wild. Trampling down a makeshift bed and finding a comfortable position — often in that doughnut shape for warmth — was part of the bedtime routine.
“Some nesting is totally normal,” says Kelley. “It’s akin to how people crawl into bed. You want to get the pillows fluffy before getting comfy and dogs are no different.”
What does it mean when dogs dig into their beds?
Burrowers will dig into a big pile of blankets, looking for warmth and a place to snuggle down. It’s a similar choice to humans searching for the right layer of blankets. It’s also another call back to when dogs had to make their own beds prior to being domesticated.
How long do dogs sleep?
Dogs are “polyphasic sleepers,” explains veterinarian Dr. Alicia Guarino of Animal Medical Clinics of Rockford, which means they sleep for at least two different sessions every day. Think of them as the original cat nappers.
Dogs sleep on average for between 9 and 14 hours every day. And like humans, they engage in deep sleep, otherwise known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
“We do know that dogs do go into the REM stage of sleep and in humans that is mostly where we dream,” says Guarino. “It would be fun to be able to really ask these animals what they dream about.”
Just as a good night sleep can be restorative for you, sleep is important for your pup. It may even aid their memory. A recent study in Hungary showed that dogs were more likely to retain commands that they learned before sleeping.
“Dreaming is a way for the brain to process memory and that is a normal part of sleep for pups,” says Demling-Riley.
How long do puppies sleep versus adults?
If you think your dog sleeps a lot, it’s nothing compared to puppies, who can sleep as much as 18 to 20 hours a day. Puppies typically have short periods of playing followed by a long stretch of napping.
Do dogs sleep mostly at night or in smaller naps?
Dogs are like new parents, typically grabbing lots of sleep in 45-minute bursts. Kelley notes that dogs tend to have a regular sleeping schedule, thanks to a lack of digital disruptors. “Because they’re not looking at blue screens all day, their circadian rhythms are a bit more natural,” she notes.
Does the size of the dog affect how long they sleep?
While a larger dog sleeping in bed with you can definitely disrupt your sleep, the size of your dog likely doesn’t impact their sleep. Guarino does note that the size of a dog can impact its bladder, which could lead you and your dog to need more trips outside if they have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Finding a dog bed that matches your dog’s sleeping position
Your dog’s sleeping behaviors not only give you insight into what they emotionally need, they can also show you what kind of dog bed matches their sleeping personality.
“When trying to determine what type of dog bed a pup should have, observe how the dog sleeps naturally,” says Demling-Riley.
Dogs that are seeking comfort — by sleeping in a doughnut pose or cuddling — will like a Cuddler Dog Bed or the Ultimate Dog Bed where they can nestle down and feel “held” by the sides. Whereas dogs who regularly lounge in the Lion’s Pose or Superman will appreciate the space to stretch out across a Quilted Pillowtop Dog Bed.
“Dogs are going to prioritize whatever spot is most comfy,” says Kelley. “Dog beds are often comfier than anything else out there.”
If your dog prefers to sleep with their head or neck elevated, look for a bed with arms like the Super Lux Sofa or the Quilted Couch. For dogs that burrow before they lay down, add on a pet blanket so they can snuggle down properly.
Kelley also recommends giving your dog, especially puppies, a favorite treat or toy while they’re in a chosen bed. The desire for that treat will give them a strong positive association with their bed — particularly helpful if you’re trying to crate train your pup — because it represents an additional reward beyond a cozy night’s sleep.
Making your dog more comfortable while they sleep will help both of you get a good night’s rest. And, once you’re asleep, perhaps you'll both be dreaming about the great day you had at the park.