Decoding Your Dog's Sleeping Habits

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 24, 2015
Image: Milles Studio / Shutterstock

Decoding Your Dog's Sleeping Habits

If your dog isn’t begging for food, scarfing down a meal or accompanying you on a walk, chances are he’s asleep.

It’s true: after all, man’s best friend sleeps an average of 12 to 14 hours a day. Since we are often around our dogs when they’re slumbering away, we can’t help but be curious about their various sleeping habits and mannerisms. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Just scour the Internet or social media sites for “sleeping dogs” and you’ll find all sorts of humorous photos of dogs snoring, moving their paws in the night and stretching out in hilarious bedtime positions.

But is there a method to their nighttime madness? Pets 360 surveyed a panel of experts to find out why dogs do the funny things they do when curling up — or stretching out — to go to sleep.

Image: Sarah Lew / Shutterstock

Sleeping In a Cozy Dog Bed

Have you ever noticed that before finding a spot to tuck into for the night, your dog wanders around, circles a few times and then dramatically plops down? Or what about when he fluffs up the bedding to make things extra comfy, or burrows deep down into the covers? There is definitely a reason behind that. “Dogs are pack and den animals,” says Animal Fair’s Wendy Diamond. “When a dog circles around a spot before sleeping, it’s marking its territory.” Diamond adds that when a dog burrows deep under the covers, he is following his ancestral calling to search for shelter and warmth. Michelle Blake of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers speculates that dogs circling their sleeping environments do so as a way of making sure things are safe so they don’t become vulnerable. “Another theory is that dogs do this as a way to scan the environment in order to check for threats before laying down,” she explains. “It’s an instinctual behavior pattern.”

Image: Susan Quinland-Stringer / Shutterstock

Curling Up In a Ball

Do you ever find it funny that even though your dog has a giant plush bed, he curls himself into a little ball and takes up only one fourth of his allotted sleeping space? Have no fear; he knows what he’s doing. Experts say that this behavior dates back to when dogs lived in packs in the wild. Back in those days sleeping space was tight, and dogs had to squeeze in to fit. This was also done as a means of snuggling up and keeping themselves safe and warm, as this form of sleeping conserves body heat and protects their internal organs from predators. So while your dog knows that he’s perfectly safe sleeping at the foot of your bed or in his crate, he’s just following what his DNA is telling him to do.

Image: Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock

An Active Sleeper

Dogs can often be very active in their sleep, moving their half-closed eyes around under their eyelids, twitching, growing and pedaling their feet. But does this mean that they are dreaming? According to animal behaviorist Trish Loehr, dogs can be quite active during their deepest phase of sleep. “Dogs kick their feet, vocalize and whimper during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep,” she explains. REM sleep is when humans dream, and though it hasn’t yet been 100 percent confirmed (although research has led experts to believe it to be true), it’s hypothesized that dogs are active during this stage because they, too, are in the middle of a dream. “It’s fun to speculate what their dreams might be by the movements they are making,” says Loehr. “I've even seen dogs growl and raise the fur on their backs and necks (hackles) while dreaming, and puppies who appear to be nursing in their sleep,” she adds. Loehr doesn’t generally recommend interrupting an REM dog (it takes a while for dogs to get back into this phase if awakened). Adam G Denish, VMD, even though dogs sleep over 12 hours a day, it is rarely continuous, as their makeup allows them to wake at noise or threat. “It is very different than human sleep patterns; We would be uncomfortable and unhappy being woken up at every sound.”


Image: dogboxstudio / Shutterstock

Sleeping Belly Up

According to animal trainer Brandy Diaz, if a dog opts to sleep on his back with his belly exposed, this means that he is very comfortable with his surroundings. “These dogs are going against their natural instinct to protect themselves while sleeping, which means they are very bonded to their environments and feel very safe around their owners,” she explains. This is often typically seen in more easygoing breeds and dogs that demand more affection from their owners. “My pug had to always be the center of attention,” Diaz says, adding, “She was always sleeping on her back, belly up, and ready for a tummy rub. My male Chihuahua does it, too. It’s like he learned it from her.” As animals have become more domesticated, they have changed their patterns as they don't typically need the same protection sleeping in the wild versus sleeping in one's bed, adds Adam G. Denish, V.M.D.

Image: Shutterstock / Shutterstock

Sprawled Out

If you've ever seen your dog stretched and sprawled out on the ground during rest, he’s not just going for comfort — this sleeping position often means that your pup is trying to cool off. It’s the opposite of the curled ball sleeping position, and a good barometer for the fact that your furry friend may like it a little cooler!

Image: Javier Brosch / Shutterstock

Sleeping In Your Bed

If your pup loves to cuddle up and fall asleep with his head on your lap, you can take that to mean that he feels very bonded to you. Since dogs are pack animals that historically cozied up to fellow canines in their dens at night, they still instinctually follow the same mentality today. If your dog keeps hopping into your bed at night, it’s because he sees you as part of his pack and wants to sleep as close to you as possible. So next time your dog steals your sleeping real estate, drools on your pillow or greets you with his morning breath, remember that it’s all out of love!