Why Does My Dog Sleep Belly Up? (Trainer Explains)

Why Does My Dog Sleep Belly Up

On average, dogs sleep around 12 hours a day. Of course, puppies and older dogs need more sleep, and if you took your dog on an extra long hike they might sleep in. Sleep is important to help rejuvenate both your dog’s mind and body. Evidence shows that sleeping not only helps dogs cognitively (retaining memory and learning)o but lack of sleep can contribute to a dog being in a mood.

Like humans, dogs’ sleep is very necessary, however, dogs need more sleep than us. Unlike us, dogs have the habit of sleeping in unusual places and weird locations, like sleeping under the bed or pressed against the wall. Sometimes they even sleep on their back, belly up.

So why does your dog sleep belly up?

Sleeping belly up is a vulnerable position for dogs, so when they sleep belly up it is because they feel comfortable, confident, and safe. As their owner you have probably created a safe environment that allows them to sleep feeling exposed in a belly up position.  

Let’s take a look at how a dog sleeping belly is different than other sleeping positions, and what it says about the household and environment they live in.

Other Sleeping Positions

Before we look at dogs sleeping belly up, let’s look at some other common, but different sleeping positions. This way, it is more obvious why a dog sleeping belly up is so special.

    • Side-sleeping is a very common sleeping position for dogs. Whether they are sleeping sprawled on their side in their bed or on the floor, dogs who side-sleep are probably happy and comfortable enough to leave their belly vulnerable.
    • A dog in the superman sleeping position is laying on their belly with their front legs stretched forward, and their back legs stretched back. Some people call it frogging.  While this sleeping position can be breed-specific (like French Bulldogs), dogs sleeping like this might be cooling off, especially if they are on a tile floor. A dog in this position might eventually roll over on their side.
    • Like the superman, dogs sleeping in the lion pose are lying on their belly. However, they are not as relaxed but alert, with their haunches underneath them and their head on their paws. A dog sleeping like this might be a light sleeper, or they could be in a busy environment and they do not feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply.
  • The donut is a sleeping position where a dog sleeps curled up like a donut. They will be curled in a circle with all paws and maybe even their nose tucked under. In the donut position, a dog does not leave their belly exposed, so it is a much less vulnerable position than belly up or side sleeping. They might be a shy or nervous dog, or they simply could be cold!

Check out these sleeping positions in action in the video below!

But Why Does Your Dog Sleep Belly Up?

Dogs laying on their back, belly up could mean many different things. They want to play, they want belly rubs, or they are being submissive. No matter the reason they are on their back, they feel trusting enough that they are leaving their most vulnerable area exposed.

Underneath a dog’s soft belly are their organs, which means they will only expose them when they feel completely trusting and safe. So when your dog sleeps with their belly up, they must feel very secure with you.

Reason 1. Your Dog Is Comfortable

Dogs tend to lay belly up when they are not too cold, not too hot, and in a comfortable spot. Whether they like to be on the floor or a comfy bed, dogs who sleep belly up are extremely comfortable and happy.

They will sleep belly up not only because they are physically comfortable, but because they are emotionally comfortable. Inviting a belly rub is clear dog body language that they are relaxed, and falling asleep like that means they feel comfortable enough to not worry about having their vulnerable stomach exposed.

Before they fall asleep belly up, there is a good chance they will have soft eyes, and a wagging tail, and their mouth might be slightly open with their tongue lolling out the side, like in the video below.

Reason 2. Your Dog Feels Safe

Comfort comes not only from a place of physical relaxation and happiness of being with their owner but also a feeling of safety. A dog will not expose their stomach if they feel like they are in danger. When dogs do not feel safe they will sleep in the donut position, or even more likely the lion pose. That way their sensitive organs are protected and they are ready to flee.

However, by sleeping belly up, your dog does not feel like they need to worry about danger. The household and environment they are in is safe enough that they can be vulnerable.

Reason 3. Your Dog Is Confident

Having the ability to sleep belly up shows that your dog is confident enough to feel safe and comfortable to expose their vulnerable stomach.

Many dogs are confident by nature, but it does take a safe, relaxed, and happy environment to nurture confidence. Dogs who are well socialized from young puppyhood into adulthood usually mature into happy and confident dogs. Socializing does not mean your dog is pet by every stranger or has to meet every dog.

They must also learn to ignore some of these distractions as well, this is called impulse control.

Socializing your dog will condition them to be relaxed when things might get overwhelming. They have to confidence to stay calm. Dogs like this also have the confidence to be relaxed enough to enjoy sleeping belly up.

Reason 4. Your Dog Is Regulating Their Temperature

Unlike people, dogs have limited sweat glands. They have some sweat glands in their paw pads, but otherwise, they regulate their body heat through panting and finding locations where they can cool off.

Some breeds, like huskies and other thick-coated dogs, have an even harder time cooling off in hot weather. By sleeping belly up Huskies can utilize air circulation to help cool down.

Air can better cool off their paws and exposed bellies and bring down their body temperature, especially if they can sleep belly up in front of a fan like this happy dog.

If you have a breed that cannot handle hot weather, make sure they always have access to shade and water during the hot summer months!

What Makes Your Dog So Comfortable?

So how do you make your dog comfortable enough that they can sleep belly up?

A dog who sleeps belly up is a dog that feels safe and confident. The environment they live in (i.e. your home) probably has a steady routine, they trust the family they live with and feel assured that they can fall into a deep sleep with their exposed belly and not be in danger.

Sleeping belly up means your dog was probably socialized and trained in a way that they grew up learning to trust you. They trust you not to hurt them, yell at them, or put them in situations that scare them.

A good way to begin a relationship of trust like this with your new puppy or dog is to use positive reinforcement and force-free methods to train your canine companion.

However, some dogs are less likely to feel comfortable enough to sleep belly up. Many rescues have a traumatic past and feel better sleeping in a safer donut position. Or it could be their nature to be alert.

Livestock guardian breeds like Great Pyrenees were bred to sleep with and protect their flock (often sheep or goats), so they are constantly on alert. While they will always love a good belly rub from their human, they are less likely to fall asleep belly up.

Should I Be Worried?

Generally, dogs are not likely to fall asleep in a position that will inhibit their breathing, so you do not need to worry about your dog sleeping belly up and having trouble breathing.

Dogs that have breathing issues, like brachycephalic dogs, are less likely to sleep belly up. Brachycephalic dogs have flattened snouts that restrict their airway passages because of their small nostrils. Popular breeds include Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers.

While these dogs might fall asleep belly up, they will probably shift to side sleeping. You can always encourage them to sleep on their side, but it is unlikely they will put themselves in a position where they sleeping belly up for too long.

Sometimes a dog that regularly sleeps belly up might suddenly start side-sleeping. As dogs age, they tend to switch sleeping positions. Sleeping belly-up can put pressure on the spine, however, most aging dogs will switch sleeping positions on their own so you do not have to worry about them hurting themselves.

However, if your older dog seems uncomfortable in any other way, you should always visit your veterinarian to make they are pain-free.

Final Thoughts

Sleeping belly up is a sign of a happy, comfortable dog. Exposing their sensitive belly where their organs are is a huge sign of trust in dogs. They feel safe enough with their owner and the environment they live in to be able to sleep belly up.

While some dogs sleep belly up because they are hot, they will not expose themselves no matter how warm they are if they feel uncomfortable or like they are in danger. Dogs cannot regulate their body temperature as easily as humans so it is important to cultivate an environment where they feel safe and also one where they do not overheat. Fans, shades, and access to water will help keep your dogs cool. 

If your dog likes to sleep belly up, it probably means you have socialized them well and you have also trained them in a way that they are very confident. These are the foundations of having a close relationship with your dog. Maybe your dog even likes to sleep belly up in your spot where they feel that much closer to you!

Finally, you are not a bad dog owner if your dog does not sleep belly up. From a traumatic past that inhibits them from getting too comfortable, to being a breed-specific issue, some dogs might just not feel comfortable either physically or emotionally sleeping belly up. What is important is that you provide a stable and safe environment for your dog no matter how they like to sleep.

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