I know many people will find this unpleasant, but our dog sleeps with me in my bed. As a consequence, I get to see Misty in full repose so frequently, I’m aware that she often sleeps “belly up” with her feet pointing into the air. This made me wonder why dogs sleep on their backs so much.
Aside from looking adorable, I felt there must be an explanation for this behaviour. So I decided to find out and share some thoughts as to why!
It seems there are a bunch of reasons why dogs sleep on their backs, and some of them surprised me. The table of contents provides quick reasons as to why, but they do require further reading… I’ve been deliberately vague!
Table of Contents
- Because It’s Comfortable!
- Dogs Sleep On Their Backs to Keep Cool
- They’re Relaxed
- Or Perhaps They’re Uncomfortable?
- They’re Displaying Submissive Signals?
- They Want a Belly Rub
6 Reasons Why Dogs Sleep on Their Backs?
1. Because It’s Comfortable!
We’ll start with the obvious. Dogs sleep on their backs often because it’s comfortable to do so.
Assuming a dog is happy and feels safe (see the “They’re Relaxed” section below), it may feel comfortable sleeping on its back.
Though of course like us humans a dog will likely change positions when it sleeps, it may be that sleeping on its back is just incredibly comfortable!
2. Dogs Sleep On Their Backs to Keep Cool
One of the main reasons why dogs sleep on their backs is to regulate their temperature. I know that dogs don’t sweat like we do, and so they can’t rely on evaporation to cool down.
Most dogs have very little fur on their bellies (my Whippet is practically bald). Since their fur is so thin on the belly, it’s the area most likely to lose body heat quickly. Dogs often sleep on their backs to expose their bellies so they can cool down.
If they begin to feel chilly they can always roll back over to keep their tummies warm.
Furthermore, dogs also regulate heat through their paws. As strange and unlikely as it seems, dogs have sweat glands in their paws and by sleeping on their backs they expose their paws to cooler air.
3. They’re Relaxed
One of the only times dogs expose their bellies is when they’rre feeling completely relaxed.
Sleeping on its back makes a dog very vulnerable. In the wild a dog would probably never sleep exposing a part of its body that could put it at a disadvantage If it suddenly needed to defend itself.
Exposing the belly in such a way would mean that the dog:
- Exposes vulnerable areas of its body
- Would have to turn itself over if it had to wake up and go into defence mode.
When dogs sleep on their backs with you, it probably means they’re not wary of attack at night and so are relaxed.
4. Or Perhaps They’re Uncomfortable?
A dog may sleep on its back if it’s painful to sleep in any other position. Perhaps it has pain in its paws or legs or maybe its belly hurts.
If a dog suddenly starts sleeping on its back whereas it always used to sleep on all fours, or if it lies down on its belly and whimpers, it might be worth checking to see if it has a problem.
Arthritic pain in a dog’s paws or legs might make sleeping on its back more comfortable. Additionally, the skin on a dog’s tummy is quite sensitive. If its skin is irritated for some reason this too may deter sleeping in any other position.
5. They’re Displaying Submissive Signals?
Although not a common display in the wild, sleeping on the back while in the pack (i.e. with you and your family) may denote a display of submission.
Dogs tend to roll over on their backs if they want to display submissiveness to a more dominant figure: in the wolf pack this would be the top-dog… at home this might be you!
Although it’s unlikely that a dog would deliberately fall asleep on its back to signal submissiveness, it may be that a dog can fall asleep while showing submissive signals.
6. They Want a Belly Rub
My dog loves nothing more than a good belly rub from me… especially when she’s on our bed. She’ll happily roll over on her back to encourage me to provide a pre-sleep belly rub!
There have been numerous occasions where she’s been so relaxed at this time that she falls asleep on her back… sometimes she stays in that position for a while.
Okay, so this isn’t perhaps an earth shattering reason why dogs sleep on their backs, but it’s easy to see how it happens. A dog can get comfortable on your bed and a little tummy rub just sends them off with the fairies!
Summary: Why Do Dogs Sleep On Their Backs?
Dogs sleep on their back for a number of reasons and most of them are nothing to be concerned about.
Of course, if you believe there’s a medical reason why your dog sleeps on its back you should get expert veterinary advice at the earliest possible convenience.
For the most part, if your dog tends to sleep with its legs and belly pointing to the ceiling, it’s because it’s comfortable and happy to do so.
While dogs in the wild don’t tend to sleep on their backs, a happy, well-loved domesticated dog will often be more than happy to do so.
Does your dog sleep on its back? Do you have additional reasons as to why it does so? Please tell me about them or ask a question in the comment section at the bottom of this page.
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Philip Morici says
All my greyhounds do the same thing they call it the dead cockroach position.
That’s such a good comparison true Philip! My daughters call it the “dead spider” position!
I have a variety of sighthounds and one of the things they have in common with each other is the very deep bony chest, keel like. When mine rest on their fronts only the chest touches the bed/ground etc with the skinny back section of torso way above the ground. I imagine it’s not particularly comfortable resting only on the chest or feeling the draught under them.
They may sleep on their sides if they’re on a soft area but I would think the fact they are slim built means there’s little padding for the ribs or hips. I know the playful happy or relaxed nature of them enjoys the legs in the air in various positions whilst curled on their backs is often to express contentment with their pack or family and I agree with the author it can regulate temperature to expose the belly.
Whilst not limited to sighthounds, all mine do it together in a heap with legs sticking out, like a pile of bagpipes!
My Nige sleeps like this a lot – paws in the air like he just don’t care!!! Whippets are hilarious.
They truly ARE hilarious aren’t they Trish!