Skip to main content

by Samantha Drake

Does the way dogs sleep mean anything? Is it more than just what’s comfortable at that moment? Considering how much time dogs spend sleeping, it’s worth thinking about.

The three most common sleeping positions for dogs are curled up, sprawled out on their sides, and those odd positions that defy description. What they mean is a matter of interpretation.

Whether curled up or stretched out on their sides, the way dogs sleep means something, says Dr. Katherine Houpt, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y.

“As far as I can see, it’s a matter of temperature and resiliency,” says Dr. Houpt. In terms of temperature regulation, dogs sleep curled up or stretched out to keep warm or cool off, Dr. Houpt explains. For example, hardy dogs that are bred to work outdoors in cold weather tend to sleep curled up to keep warm. Indoor dogs do this, too.

dog sleeping curled up, dog staying warm

Image: Anna Oates / Flickr

On the other hand, after a long day working outside in warmer conditions, a dog is more likely to sprawl on its side to rest to cool down. Even dogs that have never worked a day in their lives enjoy this position.

dog sleeping on side, dog staying cool

Image: Thinkstock

Houpt says dogs are resilient because they make do with the space and conditions at hand. In earlier times, that might have meant sleeping in a shelter or in front of a fire. These days, companion dogs that face few real hardships are still masters of adaptation, whether it’s taking over half the bed, fitting into the contours of a comfy chair, or squeezing onto a cushion. Pampered pooches may not have spent the day hunting game, pulling a sled, or herding sheep, but every dog needs a good nap.

The third category of sleeping positions is the crazy, free-form postures dogs wriggle into and somehow manage to fall asleep in. This includes the legs-in-the-air-like-I-just-don’t-care pose, the flat-out, limbs extended pose, and the head lolling position.

dog sleeping on back, funny dog

Image: barefootinfla1 / Flickr

Houpt says she can’t really explain why dogs sleep in these odd positions. “I don’t know why they do that, sorry,” she chuckles.

It’s likely all about comfort, both mentally and physically. And that means your dog is in a very good place.

How does your dog like to sleep?

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?