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The following question came in through our “Ask A Dog Trainer” program:
“My dog Foxie loves to cuddle, and it’s great, but she always sleeps facing the opposite direction that I do. That’s okay, but it sometimes means her butt ends up a little too close for comfort or it just gets a little funky never actually looking at her. Is there a reason Foxie does this?”
I know exactly what you’re talking about!
One of my dogs loves to sleep with me every night, but he rarely sleeps with his head next to mine. Instead, Jack does this weird thing where he lies facing away from me. He is curled up next to me, but his bum is towards my face. To humans, that might seem rude, but to dogs, it is a normal behavior.
Not A Bully Advising veterinarian Dr. Joseph Menicucci explains that “Dogs choose sleeping positions based on instinct and comfort rather than conscious safety considerations. Dogs, being pack animals, may sleep facing away as a natural behavior to monitor their environment, akin to how wild canines rest.”
Additionally, some dogs sleep this way to avoid eye contact. Especially protective dogs might lie facing away from you to keep an eye out. In other cases, you might have accidentally reinforced the behavior without realizing it.
We’ll take a closer look at each possible explanation and help you figure out which explanation makes the most sense for you and your dog.
Reason 1. Your Dog Feels Safe
You can tell a lot about how safe a dog feels in their environment based on how they sleep. Doggy sleeping positions communicate different ways of how they are feeling. For example, Light sleepers might doze off in a lion’s pose, where they lay on their stomach, haunches underneath, and head on their paws. They are ready to get up at any minute, maybe because they are protective or maybe because they are in a busy environment.
Meanwhile, a dog who lies facing away from you on their side or belly up feels safe enough with you to expose their vulnerable stomach. If they felt unsafe they would sleep in a lion’s pose or in a donut position where they shield their organs with their body.
Like side sleeping, sleeping away from you is an indication that your dog feels safe. They do not have to keep an eye on you and they trust you to keep them safe.
Reason 2. Your Dog Is More Comfortable Sleeping Facing Away From You
There are several reasons a dog might feel more comfortable facing away from you. First and foremost, that is simply how they like to sleep. Sleeping facing away from you is a part of their personal preferences and there is nothing wrong with that.
Although there might be a different explanation for why your dog is more comfortable sleeping facing away from you. Check out the layout of your room and bed. Do they prefer to sleep facing the door or a window, or facing a vent or fan?
Their sleeping position could depend on simple factors like the location of an air conditioning vent or which side of the bed is warmer. It would be interesting to see if your dog changes their sleep patterns when you are traveling and sharing a hotel room!
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Ignoring You
Depending on the situation a dog avoiding eye contact and sleeping facing away from you is a sign that they are stressed or something has scared them.
However, Dr. Menicucci emphasizes that “Stress-related sleeping changes usually come with other signs of anxiety, which pet parents should keep an eye out for.” That includes body language signals like:
- Whale eyeing
- Lip licking
It might not have been you who scared your dog. Sometimes scary things happen outside of our control like thunder, fireworks, or gunshots. When scared or stressed, your dog might lay facing away from you because they are upset and have a hard time focusing on you which makes it seem like they are ignoring you.
Finally, if your dog is new to the household, they might need time to get to know you before they snuggle with their head facing you. Eye contact can be threatening in doggy communication, so if they are avoiding face-to-face contact and sleep facing away from you they might not be socially comfortable yet.
Reason 4. You Have Reinforced The Behavior
Perhaps you are, consciously or subconsciously, providing them with reinforcement that’s making them want to roll over and sleep facing away from you.
For example, when they roll over, maybe you scratch their back as a final goodnight, which they love. Or when they face away from you, you turn off the lights so they can finally go to sleep. Even you trying to coax them back with words of love and praise could be reinforcing them to sleep facing away from you.
If your bedtime routine looks anything like this, there is a good chance you have unintentionally reinforced your dog to sleep facing away from you. Dogs are very tuned into human behaviors and patterns, making it very easy to accidentally reinforce unwanted behavior. However, for most dogs, instinct is the primary driver of sleeping position and not training.
However, this explanation is less likely in Dr. Menicucci reminds us that canine sleeping positions are more often chosen for comfort and instinct rather than learned behavior. So while this is possible, it shouldn’t be your first guess.
Reason 5. Your Dog Wants Space
I am the first to admit that if my dog lays with his head next to mine, I am going to smother them with kisses and pet his face even though he is probably trying to fall asleep. I can’t help myself! While my Chihuahua might love all the extra attention, my Border Collie would hate this. Egg prefers to have space at night and is not a snuggler.
The rare times she does get in bed or lays near me, she is always facing away. As we have already mentioned, dogs are good at picking up patterns and Egg knows she will get unwanted attention if she sleeps facing me.
Although dogs are social by nature, some dogs might need some space and will sleep facing away (or in another room) from you because they are tired, stressed, or sore. Dogs that are more aloof by nature are more likely to appreciate their own space and sleep facing away from you.
Reason 6. Your Dog Is Keeping An Eye Out
Speaking of the Great Pyrenees, your dog sleeping facing away from them might be a protective behavior. Great Pyrenees and other livestock guardian dogs were bred to protect livestock. Usually sheep or goats, but in a modern setting they would consider you to be a part of their flock. So they sleep facing away from you to keep an eye out.
Some dogs are more vigilante by nature and will sleep facing away from you so they can spring to action easily and quickly. Dr. Menicucci noted that it could be related to breed but “individual temperament and past experiences also play significant roles.”
Can I Change This Behavior?
Unless you can change something in your room to help change your dog’s sleeping position, like moving a fan or rearranging your bed so your dog is facing away from a bothersome window, it is not that bad of a habit for a dog to sleep facing away from you. Sleeping away from you is natural and doesn’t mean something is wrong.
However, if your dog is sleeping away from you because they are avoiding you, it might be time to break out the treats and work on gaining your dog’s trust. Using positive reinforcement to play training games with your dog is a great way to build a relationship with any dog, whether they are a newly re-homed dog or puppy or something has scared or traumatized them.
Regardless, you do run the risk of your dog changing their position to sleeping away from you once you fall asleep. Especially if they are more comfortable sleeping like that.
Finally, you might simply not want your dog’s bum in your face. That is reasonable, especially if you have a gassy dog. If it does not matter to you whether your dog sleeps near you or not, you can manage their behavior by training them to sleep somewhere else.
Mat training is also a good alternative to help change your dog’s behavior if you do not want them to sleep facing away from you. You can even put their bed in your bedroom so that they can still be near you but you both have your own space.
Another option is training your dog to sleep in their crate. Every dog is different, but most dogs can sleep in their crate every night as long as they have gotten enough exercise and mental stimulation during the day. Some dogs might learn to prefer to sleep in their crate instead of sleeping facing away from you. My Border Collie usually chooses to sleep in her crate with the door open despite having the option of many dog beds, the couch, or my bed.
Dogs sleep facing away from you for a lot of reasons, but it is usually nothing to worry about. It is probably a more comfortable sleeping position that allows them to get the deep slumber they need. In most cases, the choice is driven by instinct more than anything personal.
I can tell by my dog Jack’s body language that when he sleeps facing away from me he is happy, relaxed, and enjoying a good night’s sleep. He might be facing towards the heating vent for extra warmth or I have accidentally reinforced the behavior by petting him when he settles in facing away from me for the night, but it does not matter as long as he is calm.
Although if he seemed tense or jumpy, I would be worried about what was making him stressed. Was it something I did like yell or drop something or did he hear thunder or a gunshot?
Unless your dog is nervous or stressed, your dog has probably discovered the most comfortable sleeping position. If it is important, you can do a few things to slowly try to get your dog to sleep facing you. But until you start noticing dramatic changes in their sleep habits, you do not need to worry about your dog sleeping facing away from you.