Dogs can sometimes sleep in some pretty crazy positions. Your pup’s sleeping style isn’t just a personal preference, however. How your dog sleeps can reveal a lot about his health and personality. Learn about what a dog sleeping on its back means and if (and when) you should be concerned.
Lie on their back as a cool down tactic
Dogs only have sweat glands in the soles of their feet. They cannot regulate their body temperature the way humans can by sweating. In the hot, humid summer months when dogs can easily overheat, your dog needs to get creative with how he cools down. Most dogs have a thinner coat on their stomach. Sleeping on his back and exposing his thinly hairy stomach, coupled with vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels) allows your dog’s blood to flow to his skin where it is cooler and away from his inner body where it is warmer.
Sleeping on his back also allows your dog maximum exposure to the foot pad. Again, dogs only sweat through their pads, so exposing those pads to the air can actually thermoregulate through sweating.
Any dog can overheat in hot, muggy weather, but some breeds and age groups are more at risk than others. Puppies and senior dogs cannot thermoregulate as well as healthy adult dogs, so they are more at risk of overheating. In addition, brachycephalic breeds, that is, flat-nosed or short-nosed breeds (pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Pekingese, boxers, shih-tzus, etc.) are more prone to overheating. Dogs with concomitant illness, especially related to their heart and / or lungs, are also at higher risk of overheating. Obese and overweight dogs may also be more prone to overheating due to their added weight. Fat tissue is usually not very vascular, so your dog won’t be able to cool down as effectively with vasodilation if they have all that extra fluff in their way.
If you see your dog sleeping more on his back in the warmer months or if your dog is a dog prone to overheating, providing gel-cooled beds can help cool them down. But as with any bed, be careful if your pup also enjoys shredding and eating his bed. The gel in these specially made beds can cause gastrointestinal upset and can also cause a foreign body obstruction.
Sleeping allows your dog to completely relax their muscles and prevent them from putting extra stress or pressure on their muscles and joints. This allows them to sleep deeply without aggravating arthritic joints. If your pup is in the tooth for a bit or if he has premature arthritis from orthopedic injury or surgery, investing in a memory foam orthopedic bed can be helpful. These special beds allow your puppy to sleep without putting pressure on his aching joints and without having to sleep on his back all the time.
When your dog sleeps on its back, it also tells you that it is completely and completely safe in its environment. The abdominal organs are not protected like the lungs and heart, so lying on your back can be an incredibly vulnerable position. In fact, falling back asleep is rarely seen in wild dogs or ‘outdoor’ dogs because of how exposed and defenseless it is. The sensitivity of a dog lying on its back also lends itself to a submissive attitude. Dogs roll on their backs in social situations to show that they are not a threat.
Regardless of how your dog sleeps, you should never wake him up if you don’t have to. Dogs usually only sleep when they want to relax, so let them enjoy their nap. if you Do for one reason or another need to wake up your dog, do so gently and carefully. If your dog is awakened suddenly, he may be confused and even a little startled, enough to break defensively. Dogs can sleep in some pretty quirky, sometimes awkward-looking positions. Usually the position in which they sleep is not as clinically significant as one might think.