Why Do Dogs Sleep On Their Backs?

There are a lot of things our dogs do that make us scratch our heads and have to do some problem solving to get to the bottom of. I personally wish I could just ask my dog why he likes to drag his jowls along our glass doors to dry off his excess slobber. He could choose anywhere else that might be far less visible but it’s like he wants to show it off.

We can’t just ask our dogs why they perform certain behaviors and quirks. Chances are if they’re repetitively doing something we don’t want them to do, we’ve probably accidentally fed into it by giving them attention for it at some point in their lives. Sleeping positions are a little different, they’re generally positions your dog finds comfortable for one reason or another and have likely been doing them since very early puppyhood.

why do dogs sleep on their backs
Why do dogs sleep on their backs?

Dogs might sleep in different positions on different beds, surfaces, and temperatures. We can take an in-depth look at dogs’ sleeping patterns to try and figure out why your dog sleeps on their back so much

Dog Sleeping Positions and What They Mean

There are a lot of different positions your dog can fall asleep in and they might allude to different personality traits or states of mind your dog may be in. When considering sleeping positions, body language plays a key role in distinguishing why your dog has chosen that position.

If your dog is asleep on their side, this is usually a very secure and trusting position. A side sleeping dog is either very comfortable in their environment or they’re sleeping heavily as it’s a more difficult position to get up from.

In dog body language, a dog exposing their stomach is a very vulnerable position to be in and they will usually do this to show other dogs that they’re not a threat. Sleeping on their side with their stomach exposed means they are not anxious about any threats so you can rest assured that they feel happy and comfortable around you. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have dogs who sleep lying down like the lion statues carved out of stone in Egypt. They’re relaxing, they may even have their head resting on their paws but it’s not a position that displays a lot of vulnerability, in fact, it says the opposite. If your dog chooses this position they may just be resting for a short while but remain alert, ready to get up if they need to.

They’re not as relaxed as they could be and it’s rare to see a dog sleep like this all through the night. 

Other positions like being coiled in a tight ball can suggest that they’re seeking comfort, anxious dogs may do this but also dogs who are bred for colder climates will sometimes favor this position.

If your dog is sleeping like a pancake on the floor, looking like superman mid-flight, this is usually an unplanned sleep. Puppies do this sleeping position a lot when they get exhausted and fall asleep mid-play

As for back sleepers, similar to a dog sleeping on their side, this suggests they are super comfortable in their environment. A dog sleeping on their back will have almost no ability to remain alert while sleeping. They’re defenseless but on the plus side, it usually means they have the utmost trust in you. 

Staffordshire Terrier sleeping
A Staffordshire Terrier sleeping soundly on the couch.

Is a Dog Sleeping on its Back a Natural Position?

You have nothing to worry about if your dog is sleeping on their back, it’s a very strong likelihood that they just enjoy sleeping in this position. If they suddenly start doing it when you haven’t noticed them sleep in that position before, they could have just gotten more comfortable in the surroundings. If you are at any point concerned for your dog, you can always ask your vet for advice who can tell you if they think anything is a medical concern. 

dog sleeps on the floor
The dog sleeps on the floor.

Reasons Your Dog Might Sleep on its Back

1. Comfort 

Easily the biggest and most common reason for a dog choosing any sleeping position is very simply comfort. It’s hard to fall asleep if you’re in an uncomfortable position and that’s exactly the same for our dogs. They’re not going to sleep in a windy uncomfortable position.

dog sleeps with toys
A very tired dog sleeps with toys.

When a dog sleeps on their back, their legs are usually dangling in the air which keeps pressure off their joints

Some dogs will also fall asleep on their back if this is one of the ways they ask you for affection. Showing their belly isn’t always a submissive gesture but when relaxed can also be a very obvious request for a scratch. If you know your dog well and they often ask for belly scratches and enjoy them, this can be a very comforting position for them to sleep in. 

2. They Feel Secure

Dogs will not often sleep on their backs in new environments. They don’t know how safe they are, they’re not used to the risks and alien environments can make them more guarded when they sleep. This is why sometimes you might notice if you move house or even adopt a dog, they may not sleep on their back for a while.

Border Collie sleeps comfortably
A Border Collie sleeps comfortably in bed.

A few weeks or months down the line, you might start to see them sleeping like this which indicates that they have settled in and feel at ease in the new environment

Dogs who sleep on their back are generally not only comfortable in their environment but also confident. Anxious dogs will not usually leave themselves too vulnerable however a confident and secure dog will not have as much to worry about. If your dog has anxieties about strangers or being left alone, they’re less likely to lie on their back as it takes substantially longer to get up from this position if they’re worried about something. 

3. Keeping Cool

You may notice that your dog will only sleep on its back in certain seasons. This is because sleeping on their back can help keep them cool. Usually, a dog will have a nice thick coat on their back to keep them warm but the fur on their stomachs is usually a lot thinner, sometimes with patches of skin visible.

dog sleeps in bed
A dog sleeps on its back after playing outdoors!

If your dog is feeling hot, the best way for them to cool off is to expose as much skin as they possibly can to the air. Sleeping on their back can help reduce their temperature and help them get a comfortable night of sleep! 

Should You be Worried If Your Dog Stops Sleeping on its Back?

If your dog used to sleep on their back but has recently stopped, there could be a few different reasons. If you had a puppy or young dog who has gotten on in years, you may notice that they stop sleeping on their back. It’s not generally anything to worry about but might be an indication of their age.

Elderly dogs often get quite stiff joints which makes it a lot harder to roll onto their backs. Getting up can get a lot more difficult anyway so sleeping on their back may just me too much stress on their joints to get up from. 

If it’s not age-related, it may just be a change in weather. If winter comes around and your dog stops sleeping on their back, they’re most likely just cold and don’t want to expose their thin-skinned bellies to the air. If you are concerned that your dog isn’t sleeping as they normally might or seem to be struggling to get up and move around with ease, a vet might be able to help you investigate to make sure there are no issues.

Schnauzer sleeps with blanket
A Schnauzer sleeps on the blanket.

Is There Anything Wrong If They Don’t Sleep on their Back? 

There is nothing at all to be concerned about if your dog doesn’t sleep on their back. It doesn’t mean they’re not comfortable or happy in their environment and neither does it mean they are an anxious dog. Much like people, dogs have preferences in how they like to sleep.

Some people like to sleep on their front, on their side, or on their back. Some people might sleep all curled up in the corner of their bed while others like to fill as much of the bed with their limbs. Dogs are no different.

A lot of the time how they sleep is just down to how they feel most comfortable and there’s nothing wrong with them if they don’t enjoy sleeping on their back. 

English Bulldog sleeping soundly
English Bulldog sleeping with its tongue out on a white couch.

Conclusion 

Dog sleeping positions are an individual preference and every dog is different. Just because your dog doesn’t enjoy sleeping on their back doesn’t mean that you should be concerned. A dog’s personality had a lot to do with how they sleep but there’s also a physiological element.

If you have a Corgi with little short legs or a Chihuahua with a much larger body than their legs, they may find rolling onto their back uncomfortable or difficult to achieve. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greyhounds have super long legs and are notorious back sleepers. Perhaps having such long legs can make it hard to get comfortable so sleeping on their backs makes more sense.

There are a lot of reasons for your dog to enjoy sleeping on their back, for the most part, though it just comes down to their personal preference.