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Bedtime is one of those things that seemingly all pet parents do differently. Some people love a good amount of healthy distance between them and their dogs when they sleep, while others want nothing more than to snuggle up in bed with their pooches when it’s lights out.
Those who like sleeping snuggled up with their dogs may have noticed an odd but very common behavior: your dog sleeps facing away from you.
No matter which way you turn, it seems like your dog adjusts so that he’s facing the opposite direction.
If a person you were sleeping next to did this, you may think they were mad at you!
So why do dogs sometimes sleep facing away from you?
Dogs may sleep facing away from you because it’s a natural instinct instilled from their history as social, pack animals. It may also be because that position is more comfortable or conducive to sleeping, or you may be reinforcing the behavior or simply only noticing their position when they are in that direction.
Dogs are not the same as people, so it’s doubtful that they are sleeping facing away from you to give you the cold shoulder, so to speak.
But there are a lot of reasons that may be making your dog do this seemingly odd behavior.
If you’re looking to get your dog to start sleeping facing you or if you are curious as to why many dogs naturally prefer to sleep with their heads facing the opposite direction, read on!
Are You Sure Your Dog REALLY Always Sleeps Away From You?
You and your dog definitely have a very special relationship. There is love and trust and all of the great things people love about dogs.
And dogs definitely have a deep capacity for real emotional connections with people.
But it is important to remember that they are distinctly different animals than human beings.
If your human partner always sleeps facing away from you, it’s probably a good idea for you to reach out and make sure that everything is okay, since it may be an indication that they are upset with you.
And you, being a caring and thoughtful person, are used to reading into cues like this in order to coexist peacefully with those around you.
If your loved one is displaying signs that they are upset, it’s natural for you to notice them and want to address them. This is one of those things that makes us humans so great at all of the nuanced communications that we do with each other.
With dogs, though, these natural inclinations to read body language can end up leading us in the wrong direction if we don’t know what we’re looking for.
So, before we continue with the “why” of your dog sleeping away from you, take a step back and reexamine your observation of this behavior.
It’s entirely possible that your dog sleeps facing away from you and towards you an equal amount. Heck, they may even sleep facing toward you most of the time.
Maybe, though, the moments when they sleep facing away from you are what stands out in your mind. Maybe you think that they sleep facing away from you a lot because you see that behavior and it makes you think that something is wrong, whereas sleeping facing towards you doesn’t even blip on your radar.
I could see that happening to me. When I think back on my day, what usually stands out to me is not the dozens of positive interactions that I had with people.
Instead, it’s usually characterized by that moment when I waved to someone who was actually waving to the person behind me. Or realizing too late that I’ve been calling someone by the wrong name (these are mine, insert our own embarrassing takeaways from the day if it helps).
My point is, bad things usually stand out to us more than the good and numerous studies confirm that people are better at remembering the bad stuff.
And the only reason you may be thinking about their sleeping position at all is because they are sleeping facing away from you at that moment, and it’s standing out to you as something bad.
But, in all likelihood, you’re just reading into their behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean the same as if a person did it.
I’ve recommended it in other articles, but I so frequently find myself going back to Dr. McConnell’s Book The Other End Of The Leash that I feel like I need to keep recommending it.
It’s one thing to understand dog behavior, but all of that is lost if you don’t understand the human filter all of that information is processed through.
In her book, Dr. McConnell talks about what’s going on at the other end of the leash (that’s us), which is an important but often overlooked area that’s worth scrutinizing.
All that to say, keep an open mind as we delve into some of the reasons that your dog may be sleeping facing away from you.
Reasons Your Dog Is Sleeping Away From You
With the background information out of the way, let’s break down the main reasons why your pup may be sleeping with their back to you.
Reason #1 – They May Actually Be Mad
If you had to discipline your dog, take away a toy, or had any negative experience that’s outside of the ordinary throughout the day, then maybe they are sleeping away from you because they do have some negative feelings towards you.
But your dog is not a passive-aggressive animal, so if they are actually upset with you, sleeping facing away from you will be coupled with other behaviors indicating that they are upset.
These behaviors are usually prompted by something that should be pretty obvious to you, like what I mentioned before (some negative encounter you had with your dog that’d leave them upset with you).
If your dog is actually upset with you, sleeping facing away from you will likely be coupled with at least one of the behaviors that are mentioned in the video below (feel free to listen on mute and skip the music…)
Reason #2 – Pack Mentality
If your dog is sleeping facing away or doing any weird behavior you’re trying to decipher, it’s always important to try to understand what your dog gets out of that behavior.
So, when your dog sleeps facing away from you, what do they get out of it? What benefits or effects come from them pointing their face away from you?
One possible explanation lies with the fact that your dog is a pack animal. They are and always have been animals that live alongside and, yes, sleep next to the other members of their pack.
Picture this pack of wild dogs sleeping outside in the wild night, full of both competitors and predators.
Packs of dogs can even still be observed facing away from one another while they sleep. They’ll often put their butts in the middle and make a loose circle, all facing out in different directions.
When you think of it this way, the benefits seem pretty obvious.
By facing in the opposite direction from each other, each dog is able to spread out the pack’s line of sight.
If they all slept facing the same way or facing each other, they wouldn’t be able to spot any intruder coming.
Of course, this is just speculation. We cannot ask dogs “hey, why do you all do that?” so many of these types of nuanced behaviors leave us to have to speculate.
Still, though, this reasoning does make sense and, after thousands of years evolving to want to sleep facing away from their sleeping partners so that you can both play lookout, it shouldn’t be a surprise if your dog is reluctant to spoon with you now.
After all, what if someone sneaks up on you!?
Reason #3 – It’s What They’re Used to
Springboarding off of our previous point, your dog may just be used to sleeping like this, even if they have no intention of playing lookout.
Dogs are creatures of habit, so it’s likely that they have their own set sleeping positions, just like you do.
Your dog is probably just used to sleeping in a certain way out of habit. And how much do you question why you’re a back sleeper or a side sleeper and not a stomach sleeper, or whatever?
Sleeping is when dogs are at their most vulnerable, which is why you’ll often see dogs build weird little rituals around sleeping, like scratching at their blankets or turning in a circle.
Watch for other sleeping patterns too to figure out if your dog is just going through their sleeping rituals or if they are sleeping away from you for another reason.
You may find that they do always sleep away from you when you’re sitting on the couch, but they don’t do that when they are in bed with you or are asleep on the mat by the door.
It may be that your dog sleeps away from you only during certain instances that have trained it over time to respond that way.
Reason #4 – Social Hierarchy
Dogs have an extremely complex social system and hierarchy. While it may just look like tail wagging, circling, and butt-sniffing to us, they are engaging in a very sophisticated form of communication.
Things like eye contact, physical touch, shoulder posturing, gait, and even the way a dog holds their tail all signal to other dogs where they fit in a given social hierarchy.
You can see this in almost all of their interactions with other dogs, and they are engaging in this game with you whether you realize it or not.
Most dogs find eye contact to be a sign of aggression. Prolonged eye contact in people can often be perceived as a sign of aggression. Likewise, avoiding eye contact often indicates that they lack confidence.
Your dog, being a respectful Beta to your Alpha, is probably reluctant to stare you in the face, least of all while you’re trying to sleep.
So, in order not to make you feel like they are treading on your clout, they’ll likely turn to face away from you. Some dogs will take it a step further and leave the bed entirely in favor of the bathroom floor or other appealing spot.
This may explain also why they don’t want to snuggle with you. To them, falling asleep with their weight on you may be a sign of dominance that they aren’t trying to make.
Sleeping facing away from you may just be your dog’s way of giving you a respectful amount of space while you sleep.
Reason #5 – Better For Sleep
This may seem obvious but hey, we’re covering all of the bases here.
Your dog may be sleeping away from you because doing so is specifically more conducive to sleeping for them.
Maybe they are moving towards or away from an air conditioner vent.
Maybe that side of the bed is nice and cool or there’s a pillow over there they like to rest their heads on.
Do you snore? Maybe they’re trying to get away from all that noise coming out of your face.
Everyone likes to get comfy and have a restful night’s sleep, and you know your dog is a big fan of sleep.
So pay close attention to their behavior. It may have nothing to do with sleeping away from you and maybe instead their just seeking out something better.
Reason #6 – You Reinforce
This is another one of those ones that require an open mind and the ability to self-observe.
Dogs are literally a case study in classical conditioning. Over and over, a dog hears a bell ring and then gets fed. Eventually, the dog comes to expect to be fed any time that it hears a bell.
Perhaps you are, consciously or subconsciously, providing them with reinforcement that’s making them want to roll over and sleep facing away from you.
When they roll over, maybe you scratch their back real good and give them a final goodnight, which they love.
Or perhaps when they face away from you, you turn the lights out and they can finally go to sleep.
Maybe it’s that, when they turn to face away from you, you get all lovey-dovey with them and try to coax them to come back, which, again, they love.
Either of those things conditions your dog over time to roll over and face away from you whenever they want to get that back scratch, to go to sleep, or that extra love – whatever it is that you’re doing to reinforce the behavior.
Is It Bad That My Dog Sleeps Facing Away From Me?
Even if your dog sleeps facing away from you, it’s usually best just to let your dog sleep in whatever position makes them most comfortable. Unless you and your dog have had some recent negativity in your relationship, them sleeping away from you is perfectly natural and doesn’t mean something is wrong.
Not to sound cliche but it’s just so appropriate here: let sleeping dogs lie!
How To Stop Your Dog From Sleeping Away From You
But if you do want to get your dog to stop sleeping away from you, there are a few things you can do that are positive and won’t stress your dog while still encouraging them to sleep facing you.
All this requires is understanding the reasons that your dog may be sleeping facing away from you, accepting that some of them are outside of your control, and addressing the things you can.
Step #1 – Physical Changes
This is the easiest option. Your dog may be sleeping away from you because it’s more comfortable for them over there. So, you need to change things around so that the place they want to be is close to and facing you.
You don’t want to go overboard here. No one is going to like it if their sleep routine is completely thrown off.
But remember, this is your house and you have the ability to control the environment you share with your dog. So work to make it conducive to both of your needs.
This may mean pointing your air vents in another direction, moving their dog bed onto your bed, or otherwise recreating what they like about physically being facing away from you in a way that’s now facing you.
Consider picking up a designated bed like this portable (and washable!) one from Chuckit!. It gives you the flexibility of being able to move it all over your house and bed to ensure you create just the right spot for your buddy to sleep on.
You may find that not only is your dog now sleeping facing you, their grateful that they get the added closeness of being with you without having to compromise on comfort!
Step #2 – Positive Reinforcement
Whenever your dog chooses to sleep facing toward you, reward them with positive reinforcement!
This is actively using the powers of classical condition for good: you and your dog both win.
Understand that positive reinforcement in this case, while you’re sleepy, may be different than in other circumstances.
Positive reinforcement means giving your dog something that they want. While they are sleepily facing you, that may mean a nice scratch on the side. Or…it may mean the exact opposite. Maybe, for your dog, positive reinforcement, giving them the thing that they want, means leaving them alone. Hands off, just let them doze off facing you without you putting your hands on them.
It may mean treats, but that’s likely to wake them up and stop the face-to-face-sleepy time.
The trick is to make sure your dog makes the connection between laying down facing you and getting positive reinforcement.
More than anything else, this will take time for you to figure it out and get the point across. But hey, you sleep every night, right? You have plenty of opportunities to practice.
Step #3 – Active Reinforcment Only
Watch what you’re doing when your dog faces away from you. All of those subconscious cues we talked about in Reason #6 above are going to actively undermine all of your other steps unless you get control of them.
It doesn’t matter how comfy you make your side of the bed or how much you reward them for sleeping facing towards you if they still get exactly what they want when they sleep away from you.
Be sure that the only inputs you’re giving your dog when it comes to their sleep positions are ones you are actively choosing and using to help convince them to sleep facing you.
Step #4 – Train Them To Cuddle
This is the longest-term solution and requires the most work, but it’s the best and most thorough way both to get your dog to sleep facing you as well as get more intimacy and physical contact in your relationship in general.
Given all of what we’ve talked about about how dogs are naturally predisposed not to sleep face to face, it’s no wonder that we see some differences in the way we physically interact with them at other times too.
Cuddling, like sleeping face to face, can be perceived as a sign of dominance or aggression between dogs, which is why many dogs don’t like to cuddle at all.
By teaching them to cuddle, you help to erode some of their aversion to those dominance cues that they are so in tune with.
They’ll be better able to relax around you and less worried that they are going to “offend your status” or whatever it is that dogs think.
Worst case scenario, you get a cuddlier dog!
Check out this article I wrote on how to train your dog to cuddle.
Dogs may sleep away from you for a lot of reasons, and most of the time, it’s nothing that you need to worry about.
Unless you two had a fight, you can rest assured that it’s just a natural behavior that they’re engaging in while they sleep.
You can do a few things to slowly try to get your dog to sleep facing you (if that’s something that is important to you), but at the end of the day, what’s most important is that everyone gets a good night’s sleep.