As much as dogs like to run, play and sniff out the world around them, they also like to snooze. Healthy adult dogs spend an average of 12 to 14 hours per day sleeping, and puppies, senior dogs or those with health problems may require even more rest.
Pet parents witness all sorts of dog sleeping positions, especially if they share a bed or couch with their pups. You have the back loungers, the spread-out space hogs, and the curled-up cuties. But what do these dog sleeping positions mean? Why do dogs sleep the way they do?
This helpful guide breaks down five common dog sleeping positions and explains some of the science behind why dogs sleep in certain ways.
The Lion Pose
If you see your dog sleeping with his head on top of his paws, chances are he’s just resting, says Dr. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus in the Psychology Department at the University of British Columbia and author of numerous books, including "Do Dogs Dream?"
“If you see a dog in a lion pose—with his paws stretched forward and head resting on his paws like the statues of reclining lions in front of some government buildings—the dog is apt to be simply dozing and not in a deep sleep state,” he says.
The Side Sleeper
“The most common posture that dogs use to sleep is lying on their sides with their legs extended,” says Dr. Coren.
This means that a dog is relaxed and comfortable and shows a level of trust with his surroundings.
Dr. Coren explains that a dog will often start to dose in lion pose and then slump onto his side once he falls into a deeper sleep. “As soon as the dog starts to dream, his muscles will relax and he will roll out of the lion pose into the normal sleeping position,” says Dr. Coren.
Dogs that sleep on their sides need space to stretch out.
Another common dog sleeping position is when canines curl up into a little ball, says Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of behavioral medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Houpt completed a study that looked at dogs in shelters and how they sleep. “They almost all sleep that way when they're undisturbed—in balls, curled up,” she says.
Dr. Houpt explains that dogs do this to make themselves as small as possible, and that it also helps them regulate body temperature. “When dogs are really warm, they will stretch out on cool surfaces, but most of the time, they curl up,” she says. “I think that it makes them feel that they are less vulnerable.”
You may see some dogs stretched out with their legs in front of their heads and kicked back behind their butts. This is sometimes referred to as the “Superman position.” While researchers aren’t 100 percent sure why this happens, Dr. Coren and Dr. Houpt have a couple of ideas about this dog sleeping position.
Dr. Coren believes that this position also relates to temperature. “The fur on the dog's underside is not as deep and insulating as the fur on the rest of his body,” he says. “What you call the ‘Superman position’—with limbs outstretched and belly against the floor—is also a response to a warm environment, but usually occurs in situations where the surface that the dog is lying on is relatively cooler than the air around him.”
Dr. Houpt says that she sees smaller dogs and puppies stretch their back legs behind them more often than larger breeds. “You see it often in Chihuahuas and Terriers,” she says. “I think that there may be some mechanical reason why if a dog gets to be over 20 pounds, it's harder for them to do that.”
The Cuddle Bug
If your dog is constantly snuggling up against you, or you notice him nuzzled up next to one of the other dogs in your household, there is a pretty simple explanation for this adorable dog sleeping position, says Dr. Coren.
“The tendency that many dogs have to cuddle when they sleep is a holdover from when they were puppies. Again, this has to do with temperature, since puppies have difficulty regulating their body heat,” he explains. “As the dogs mature, sleeping that way against another living thing merely becomes a sort of learned feeling of comfort held over from puppyhood.”