why do dogs sleep on their backs?

Dogs sleep a lot! Anyone who owns a dog will tell you that they like nothing more than an afternoon nap or a mid-morning snooze. 

Because they sleep so much, they are often asleep while we are awake and it is all too easy to find yourself watching your dog while he is deep in slumber. 

Dog sleeping positions are really interesting and they can tell you a lot about how your dog is feeling. Some dogs prefer to curl up and others stretch out on their side. 

Many dogs like to sleep on their backs. If you’ve ever watched your dog snoozing on his back with his legs in the air and you have wondered “Why does my dog sleep on his back?”

Read on to find out…

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Why do dogs sleep so much?

Dogs require an average of 12 hours sleep in a 24 hour period, but this can range from 7 hours to 16 hours depending on the age, health and size of the dog. 

Puppies, elderly dogs and those who are very active tend to need more sleep. Dogs who are sick will also spend more time asleep. 

Dogs sleep more than humans because their species-specific sleep requirements and sleep patterns are different. They have shorter sleep cycles and wake up more frequently than we do, so their sleep tends to be in shorter bursts rather than just one long sleep at night. 

In addition, dogs sleep when they feel they need to sleep- unlike humans who live within the constraints of modern society and often miss out on sleep as a result.

Why does my dog sleep on his back?

If your dog sleeps on his back with his legs in the air, this is a sign that he is very relaxed. Exposing your belly could leave you vulnerable to attack, so dogs only sleep on their backs when they feel very safe and secure in their environment. 

For this reason, dogs living on the streets or in rescue shelters rarely sleep on their back. So if your dog regularly sleeps on his back, you can rest assured that he feels relaxed and safe in your home.

Dogs also find sleeping on their backs very comfortable, especially if they are lying in a big comfy bed that supports them in this position.

Dogs may sleep on their backs to cool off

Your dog may be more likely to sleep on his back in hot weather. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat through their skin to cool off- however they can sweat through their paws

When temperatures rise you may notice your dog sleeping with his paws in the air to help the sweat evaporate, which is how cooling takes place. 

In addition, they can dissipate heat through a process known as ‘vasodilation’, where blood vessels close to the skin surface expand to allow more heat to be lost through the skin. 

Vasodilation is more effective where there is less fur, so exposing the belly to the air is an efficient way to lose heat

Of course, panting is the most effective way to cool down but dogs prefer not to pant when they are trying to sleep. Sleeping on their back is a good way of keeping cool enough without having to pant.

Why do dogs lay on their back?

If your dog is laying on his back but is not asleep, this may be a submissive posture. Dogs communicate through body language and exposing their belly is a means of showing another dog or person that they are no threat and they want to avoid conflict.

If a dog shows submissive behaviour a lot, this is a sign that they are a little worried about social encounters- particularly if it is accompanied by urinating, lip licking and lots of eye blinking.

It is very common for owners to misinterpret submissive behaviour and think the dog is asking for a belly rub. If the dog lays on his back during a greeting with his owner or with a stranger, it is unlikely that he is asking for a belly rub and it is much more likely to be submissive behaviour

However if your dog is totally relaxed and is having cuddles with you on the sofa when he lays on his back, a belly rub might be in order!

Should I worry if my dog sleeps on his back?

A dog sleeping on his back is generally nothing to worry about, in fact it is usually a sign that he is very comfortable and relaxed. A dog sleeping on his back feels safe in his environment. 

Dogs have many possible sleeping positions and you will get to know which ones your own dog prefers. If you notice your dog sleeping on his back more than usual, this could be a sign that he is too hot and is trying to cool off.

Should I be concerned if my dog never sleeps on his back?

Some dogs never sleep on their backs and it is usually nothing to worry about. Like humans, all dogs have sleeping positions that they prefer

Make sure your dog feels safe and that he is warm enough– dogs will rarely sleep on their back in cold temperatures as they will lose too much heat. 

If your dog is a rescue, it may take many months or even years before he feels safe enough to sleep on his back. Some rescue dogs never sleep on their back, even when they are in a safe home.

Dogs come in many shapes and sizes and it may be less comfortable for some dogs to sleep on their backs than others. If you notice any significant changes in your dog’s behaviour that you can’t explain, it may be a sign of an underlying health problem. 

If your dog always used to sleep on his back and you notice that he has stopped doing it, it might be a good idea to ask your vet for advice.

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