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Why Do Dogs Lay On Their Back?

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Thursday 1 September 2022
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
Why Do Dogs Lay On Their Back?
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It’s no secret that our furry friends like to snooze. Your healthy adult dog should spend 12 to 14 hours every day sleeping, and puppies and senior dogs will take longer naps. You’ve probably noticed your dog sleeping in all sorts of positions, including laying on their back – but why do dogs lay on their back?

It’s not uncommon to see a dog lying on its back. Your pooch will do this for a number of reasons, but as a diligent owner, you may wonder if it is normal or safe for them to do so. Ready to find out more about why dogs lay on their back? Read on with us today to learn more.

Why Do Dogs Lay On Their Back?

There are several reasons why your dog might lay on their back. The most common reasons are comfort, cooling off, and showing or receiving affection.


Experts suggest that dogs feel safe and secure when they expose their most vulnerable body parts, such as their underbelly. However, context is important – dogs will also expose their vulnerable side as an appeasing gesture to other dogs. But, if your pup often sleeps on their back, paws up, they are comfortable and trusting in your presence. Dogs who lay on their back don’t have a care in the world and feel totally at peace. And, much like people, dogs have their favorite sleeping position – some may prefer to sprawl out on their back in their comfortable bed.


Your dog may sleep on their back to cool off if they feel too warm. This is because your dog loses heat through their paws – their paws contain sweat glands, and the fur on their belly is often thinner than that of the rest of their coat. Exposing these surfaces to the air may help them to lose some body heat. However, you must be aware of the other signs that your dog is overheating, as this is not the only indicator. If your dog is starting to suffer from heatstroke, they may not feel comfortable or relaxed enough to lay on their back as normal.


If your dog often sleeps close to you in an upside-down position, they trust you completely. Your dog’s underbelly is vulnerable, so to expose this to you is a show of affection and assurance. If your pup is partial to belly rubs, they may snooze on their back close to you to invite this type of affection. However, be sure that you don’t disturb your dog often when they sleep – regularly waking your dog can damage their trust in you, and they may begin to feel insecure.

Other Common Dog Sleeping Positions

You’ve probably seen your pooch sleeping in various positions as a pet parent. However, you may also wonder why your pooch sprawls out the way they do or if it’s normal for your dog.

Back to Back

Some dogs will sleep back-to-back with other dogs or their owners. This indicates total security and comfort with the other party. Your dog may cuddle up to the other party, getting as close as possible for comfort and affection. This is undoubtedly one of dogs’ most endearing sleeping positions and one of the most obvious signs of trust in you!


Your dog might be a “burrower” if they frequently sleep under pillows, clothes, or blankets. Your dog will do this to seek comfort and security. Being under a blanket may help your pooch to calm down and relax, which can be highly beneficial for pups with anxiety. They may also need an escape from noise and light to settle down.


Another very common dog sleeping position is what we call the “donut.” You’ll see this if your dog curls up into a ball to sleep. According to Dr. Houpt, many shelter dogs will sleep in this position when undisturbed. They may do this to make themselves smaller and feel less vulnerable. Some dogs will also sleep this way to keep warm. This position is most common for smaller breeds, whose bodies must work harder to keep them warm!

Lion’s Pose

Some dogs will rest with their head on top of their paws. If you see your dog doing this, it’s more likely that they’re just snoozing and not in a deep sleep. Some dogs may sleep in this position if they feel that they may need to get up quickly, as their legs are not tucked tightly into their bodies as they would be in the donut for example.

Side Sleeper

The most common sleeping position for dogs is for them to sleep on their side with their legs extended. According to Dr. Coren, this position shows that your dog is relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings. If your pooch sleeps this way, it’s important to invest in a large, comfortable bed for them to stretch out!


Perhaps one of the most amusing sleeping positions for dogs, the “superman” occurs when your dog plays with its forelegs outstretched in front of them and its hind legs stretched out behind them. This position is common for tired puppies who need to nap but must be ready to jump up to play immediately. Some dogs will also sprawl on a cold surface to cool down.

Dog Sleeping Behavior and Patterns

As a new pet parent, it can be alarming to see what your pooch gets up to before and during their sleep for the first time. We’re here to assure you that many behaviors are entirely normal for dogs, such as barking, twitching, circling, and snoring.

Barking, Squeaking & Twitching

Dogs experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep states like we do, in which dreaming occurs. It’s not uncommon for dogs to bark or squeak during their dreams, as they will physically act out what they are experiencing. In their dreams, your dog might relive memories of what they did during the day, leading them to “run”, bark, and twitch in their sleep.

Circling and Digging

Your dog is packed with natural instincts, and circling and digging before going to bed is one of them. In the wild, your dog would hide in a safe and secure area when going to sleep. They may dig a hole to create a space to hide from predators and protect from extreme weather. Even if your pup lives indoors, this behavior may still be present, leading to them digging their bedding to create this safe space.


Much like humans, dogs snore when the airflow in their passageways is restricted. This is often normal and can result from something as benign as your dog sleeping on its back. The tongue may drop towards the throat, blocking easy airflow that results in snoring. However, a dog who suddenly starts snoring when they have never done so before may have a blockage in its airway. Be sure to monitor them for signs of ill health.

Dogs On Their Back: FAQ

Still wondering why dogs lay on their backs? Feel free to check out our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If you doubt your dog’s health, always talk to your vet first.

Why do dogs lie on their back when they see you?

Some dogs roll over onto their backs as a submissive or appeasing gesture. This is to curtail active aggression. In acting out passive submission, your dog communicates timidity and helplessness, much akin to someone coming out with their hands up or waving a white flag. A submissive dog will also have a tense, low body posture, wide eyes, lips pulled far back, and soft whining may also occur.

In saying this, not all dogs who roll onto their back are trying to appease you. This is an invitation for a belly rub and affection for other dogs. Your dog will signal their desire with loose, wiggly body postures, a relaxed mouth, and open or squinty eyes.

Is it good for dogs to sleep on their back?

There is generally no harm in your dog sleeping on its back. This behavior is normal for dogs; they may do it to cool off or get more comfortable.

What is a dog’s most comfortable sleeping position?

Every dog is unique and will have its preferred, most comfortable sleeping position. Many smaller breeds will sleep curled up to retain body heat and security, while larger breeds are more likely to sleep on their side with their legs outstretched.

Why do dogs sleep on their back with their legs in the air?

Your dog may sleep on their back with their paws up to cool off or simply because they feel comfortable. Exposing the underbelly is a vulnerable act for a dog, so they have to feel completely at ease in their surroundings to do this.

So, why do dogs lay on their back? When sleeping, it indicates a sense of security and relaxation. This can be an appeasing signal or an invitation for affection when awake. You know your pup best, so always read their body language carefully.

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