Sweet Dreams: Understanding Your Dog’s Sleeping Habits

May 19, 2024

Ever think about what happens when your dog sleeps? Or wonder if their sleep position says anything about their personality? The truth is that once you discover the basics of dog sleep habits and positions, you can better bond with them!

First Things First: How Much Do Dogs Sleep?

On average, dogs sleep about 12 to 14 hours per day. Puppies sleep about 18 to 19 hours per day with short bursts of energy in between snooze sessions. Also, bigger dogs tend to take longer naps than smaller dogs. Keep in mind, however, that these are average numbers. Every dog is unique!

If your dog is like most, though, chances are sleeping really is what they do the most. But even if it seems like sleeping doesn’t really count as “doing” anything, you can actually learn a lot about your dog’s psychology and health just by watching what happens when they sleep!

The positions and places your dog chooses to sleep in and the things they do when they’re getting ready to settle in for a nap really can provide insights into their personality, their mood, and the instincts that connect them to their feral ancestors.

Dog Sleep Positions and What They May MeanPhoto: A Boxer mix sleeps with its arms over its head.

They sleep in the weirdest positions, don’t they? From cracking us up to making us wonder how in the world they even get in those positions, there are lots of different dog sleeping positions. Here are some of the most popular, and what they might mean:

  • The Lion: Often seen with the head resting on the paws, this position is more about rest than deep sleep. It’s a transitional pose where your dog is relaxed yet alert enough to jump up if needed.
  • Side Sleeper: Dogs sprawled out on their sides are in a state of relaxation and security. This position allows for deeper sleep, where you might even see some twitching and kicking as they dream.
  • Superman: Pups lying flat on their belly with limbs stretched out are likely trying to cool down. This position also indicates a playful, energetic nature, ready to spring into action.
  • Tummy Tucker: If your dog sleeps with legs under and belly down, it’s not the most restful sleep. It suggests they might be keeping themselves ready to move at a moment’s notice, or they could be finding comfort in the compact position.
  • Curled Up: This “donut” position helps conserve body heat and protect vital organs. Dogs curl up into a ball when they might be cold or just want an extra sense of security.
  • Back-to-Back: Dogs sleeping this way, whether with other pets or humans, show a strong bond and trust. It’s a throwback to their ancestral pack behavior, seeking warmth and safety in numbers.
  • Paws Up: In this vulnerable position with the belly exposed and paws in the air, dogs are likely too hot. It’s also a sign of complete trust in their environment since this position exposes them to potential threats.
  • Head Propped Up: Dogs that sleep with their heads elevated might be doing so for better breathing. It can be a comfortable pose, but if it’s a new habit, it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye on it to see if there are breathing problems.

More Dog Sleep Habits And Patterns

Of course, there’s sometimes even more to dogs sleeping than just their weird patterns. Here are a few of the most common dog sleep situations:

  • Snoring: Some dogs snore, and while it’s often normal, excessive or strained snoring can indicate breathing issues, particularly in breeds with shorter noses.
  • Seizures: Distinguishable from normal dreaming behaviors, seizures are serious and usually involve more intense symptoms like drooling or involuntary urination. These require immediate veterinary attention.
  • Dozing: Light sleep or dozing allows dogs to rest while staying alert to their surroundings. It’s common and shows that your dog is relaxed but ready to engage if needed.

By paying attention to these sleep patterns and behaviors, you can gain deeper insights into your dog’s health and emotional well-being. It’s not just about finding them the right bed or making sure they get enough exercise before bedtime—though those are important too—it’s about understanding their needs on a more intuitive level. That helps deepen the connection you have with your dog and that makes for a better overall relationship for you both.

What About Dog Dreaming? Do Dogs Dream?Photo: A Terrier mix sleeps in a weird position with its front legs over its hind legs.

Yes, dogs dream too! Signs like twitching, whimpering, or barking during sleep tell us they’re experiencing dreams, most likely reliving their daily adventures! Interestingly, their dreaming patterns are quite similar to ours! Scientific studies suggest that dogs experience REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is where most dreaming occurs. During this stage, a dog’s brain activity is similar to its waking state, and where you see the physical signs like twitching, irregular breathing, or eye movements behind their closed eyelids. Just like in us, this stage is crucial for memory consolidation and learning​.

Researchers believe that dreams in dogs often reflect daily activities and experiences. For example, a pointer might dream of pointing at birds, or a Doberman might chase imaginary burglars in their sleep. This phenomenon is related to how dogs, like humans, process daily experiences through dreams, reinforcing learning and memory.​

Even more interestingly, the size of a dog can influence their dream patterns! Smaller dogs tend to have more frequent but shorter dreams, while larger dogs might experience longer but less frequent dreaming periods. Age also plays a role, with puppies and senior dogs dreaming more frequently, possibly due to the higher processing of new experiences and memories in puppies, and cognitive changes in older dogs​.

When Snoozing Is A Problem: Understanding Dog Sleep Apnea

Similar to how it is in humans, sleep apnea in dogs is a condition where the dog experiences temporary stops in breathing during sleep. This can be due to obstructions in the airways, such as from excess tissue due to obesity, or structural abnormalities associated with certain breeds. Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs are particularly prone to sleep apnea due to their short snouts and narrow airways​.

The most obvious symptom of sleep apnea in dogs is loud snoring, accompanied by pauses in breathing, gasping, or choking. Dogs may also show you some daytime fatigue, restlessness at bedtime, and might adopt unique sleeping positions to facilitate easier breathing, such as sleeping with their head propped up​.

While treatments like CPAP machines used in humans aren’t available for dogs, there are several approaches to manage and treat sleep apnea in dogs. These include weight management to reduce throat fat, medications to reduce airway inflammation, and even surgery for severe cases. Adjusting your dog’s sleeping environment with humid or air purifiers can also help.​

Recognizing Other Signs of Sleep Problems in Dogs

Apart from the specific symptoms of sleep apnea, there are other signs that your dog might be struggling with sleep. These include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, excessive daytime sleep, and abnormal sleep behaviors like howling or excessive twitching during sleep. If your dog appears overly tired during the day or changes its typical sleep patterns, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder​​.

If you see any of that, consider talking to your vet about how you can assess and improve your dog’s quality of life. Just like it is for us, a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diets, exercises and restorative rest is the key to a happy life!

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