How does your dog like to sleep? Are they the kind of dog who prefers the hard floor over a soft bed? Any time you try to pet them while they are sleeping they move away and act like you are the rudest person they have ever met. It is like some dogs do not appreciate being cuddled and would rather find the most uncomfortable places to sleep.
So why does your dog sleep on you?
Dogs like to sleep on you because they like being close to their owners. Sleeping on you makes them feel safe and is reminiscent of pack mentality when they are feeling affectionate, want attention, are stressed, or are cold. Some breeds of dogs are more likely to sleep on you than others.
So let’s take a look at the reasons your dog like to sleep on you and what it ultimately means about your relationship with your dog. We will also explore why it is usually okay for your dog to sleep on you, but when it can pose a problem.
What Does It Mean When My Dog Sleeps On Me?
Pack theory in dog training and ownership has largely been debunked and your dog doesn’t see you as an alpha. You do not need to eat before your dog, make them wait for you to go through a doorway, keep them off furniture, or not allow them to sleep on you to show dominance over your dog.
Despite this though, they do look to humans for guidance and leadership. Part of that is using positive reinforcement and force-free methods to train proper boundaries with your dog. If you have built a relationship with your dog using these methods, they are going to have a lot of trust in you and hold affection and love for you.
That affection and love can lead your dog to not only feel cuddly and want to sleep on you, but seek you out when they are feeling stressed or want attention. They feel safest when they are with their favorite person, and trust you enough to keep them safe when they fall asleep on you.
Reason 1. Being Close To You Makes Them Feel Safe
Studies have shown that both humans and dogs can benefit from a better night’s sleep when sleeping together. Your dog might take co-sleeping a step further and want to sleep on you for that extra feeling of not only comfort but safety.
One way dogs instinctively show this trust, affection, and love is by wanting to be close to you, bringing to mind their ancestral wolf pack mentality. Many dogs will sleep on you because it is instinctual to want to be close to their pack or family. By sleeping with you or especially on you, your dog is letting you know they feel safe and comfortable enough to be vulnerable around you.
Some dogs are naturally lighter sleepers since sleeping would put them at risk of predators sneaking up on them in the wild. This is why sleeping can make dogs feel vulnerable. But when they sleep on you, they trust that you can protect them.
If your dog is choosing to sleep on instead of being frustrated by it, take it as an indication of your tight bond with your dog. They trust you enough to show susceptibility by sleeping on you because you make them feel safe.
The dog in the video has just been rescued and already shows how safe she feels with her new family.
Reason 2. Your Dog Is Anxious
There is a fine line between your dog sleeping on you because you make them feel safe or because they are stressed. Sleeping on you, especially if your dog is frantic to lay in your lap when you have been gone all day, could be a sign they are suffering separation anxiety.
According to veterinarians Debra Horwitz and Gary Landsberg, “separation anxiety describes dogs that are overly attached or dependent on family members.” A dog who is suffering from separation anxiety is going to be extremely distressed when you are away from home.
Once you arrive home, they are likely to frantically try to touch you and get your attention. The stress of waiting for you to come home is probably so exhausting that they might sleep in your lap as soon as possible.
Being touched can help soothe many dogs’ anxiety, and what better way to be petted than while sleeping on you?
Other symptoms of separation anxiety include pacing, howling, accidents in the house, and suddenly destroying things. A certified trainer or behaviorist can design a training guide for you and your anxious dog and a veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Until you have a chance to work with a professional, crate training is a great way to help keep your dog and your home safe when they are not able to sleep on you, at least until they’re old enough.
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Being Affectionate
Being affectionate and sleeping on you is beneficial for you and your dog. One study at Duke University seems to have cracked the code as to why dogs and humans get along so well, and it has to do with hormones.
When you are petting your dog while they sleep on you, both your and your dog’s oxytocin hormone levels rise. Higher levels of this hormone indicate trust, love, and a strong bond. In general, it shows a strong, positive emotional connection between you and your dog.
So when your dog is affectionately sleeping on you while you pet them, both of you are benefiting from the release of the “cuddle,” or oxytocin, hormone. This symbiotic relationship is also why dogs make such good therapy animals like this Golden Retriever who works in a hospital.
If your dog is not a big fan of sleeping on you for affection, here are some tips to help your dog learn to trust and cuddle more.
Reason 4. Your Dog Wants Attention
Dogs have many different ways to communicate wanting attention. Attention-seeking behavior includes wanting to play all the time, pawing at you, barking at you, or simply staring at you. Maybe your dog has special attention-seeking behavior that I missed.
Sleeping on you you could be another attention-seeking behavior from your dog. Our dogs like being with us because of pack mentality, plus it has been scientifically proven that a loving relationship between dog and owner (such as your dog sleeping on you) raises the hormone oxytocin and increases both of your happiness.
This means your dog likes getting your attention, and if they know you will give them attention by sleeping on you they might make a habit of it. If you do not want your dog sleeping on you, stop rewarding them by not petting or acknowledging them when they get in your lap. Instead put them on the ground or encourage them to sleep on their bed. Eventually, they will give up bugging you because you stopped rewarding them for sleeping on you.
Reason 5. Your Dog Is Cold
If there is a chill in the air and your dog is sleeping on you, they might be cold. Dogs cannot take clothes on and off as humans do to help regulate their temperature. Certain breeds like huskies have a great coat for cold temperatures, but that means that they cannot handle hot summers.
Meanwhile, short-hair and smaller dogs love the sun in the summer, and might even sleep on you while they sunbathe like the chihuahua in the video below.
Dogs regulate their temperature through a few sweat glands in their paws and by panting. Their coat can also help insulate their temperature, but they still move from spot to spot when trying to get warm or cool off.
This is why you might find your long-haired canine friend sleeping on the bathroom floor to cool off during a hot summer. During a heatwave, it is unlikely your dog will sleep on you.
Smaller dogs and short-haired dogs tend to have a harder time getting warm in cold winters and might enjoy snuggling in blankets for extra warmth. But why waste time with blankets when your dog can get warmer and cozier sleeping on you?
Humans have the luxury of regulating our temperature with clothes, which means in the cold winter we will have warm cozy attire. That combined with our body heat, makes the perfect place for a cold dog to sleep on.
In my house, we always have blankets in the winter so our dogs get the best of both worlds to stay warm. They get to sleep on us and get fuzzy blankets!
Reason 6. Some Breeds Prefer To Sleep On You
While breed does not always define a dog’s personality, it certainly can influence it. Dogs are social animals who enjoy being with their family unit, and some breeds are extra cuddly and will love sleeping on you more than others. Huskies, for example, love sleeping with their owners, that is until they get too hot!
However, most of the dog breeds people think about that like to sleep on you are toy breeds bred to be lap dogs. Lapdog is a generic term for breeds that are small enough to be held and enjoy being with and sleeping on their human. These small breeds are likely going to sleep on your whenever your lap is available.
Historically, the most popular lap dog breeds were bred as companion dogs and accessories to wealthy and noble classes. While they love learning tricks and many excel at dog sports, they are not meant to be independent working dogs. For example, most livestock guardian dogs like the Great Pyrenees would prefer to sleep outside with their herd of goats and not sleep on you.
Some of the more popular lap dogs that make great family dogs include Pugs, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Papillions, Pomeranians, and Shih Tzus.
However, just because you have a big dog does not mean it will not want to sleep on you. Check out this compilation of big dogs who think they are lapdogs and try to sleep on their owners!
Should You Be Worried?
There is usually absolutely nothing to worry about when your dog sleeps on you. It shows that you two have a strong bond and they feel safe and secure with you. Even if they have anxiety, at least they know to seek out the comfort and security of their favorite person.
However, some dogs sleep on you because they are protective. Many dogs are naturally protective of their owner, but a few take it too far and it turns into resource guarding.
The term resource guarding refers to a dog who is claiming ownership over valuable resources. Typically people think of dogs resource guarding food, but many dogs will resource guard furniture, toys, their bed, other dogs, or you, their human.
Be proactive if you believe your dog is resource guarding as it can easily escalate to aggression against other dogs, animals, or people. If they sleep on you as a form of resource guarding, they could accidentally injure you or other creatures. Zak George has a great video about working with resource guarding.
There is nothing sweeter than a dog who sleeps on you. They usually sleep on you because they love and trust you and will not show vulnerability like that to someone that scares them. If your dog is avoiding you, they are more likely to hide somewhere to sleep like under the bed.
Coming from this place of love and trust, your dog sleeps on you because of affection, the need to be close to you, or maybe anxiety. The feelings are usually mutual, and that has been proven scientifically! Dogs and humans release hormones that create positive emotions when they are interacting in scenarios like when your dog sleeps on you.
Some dogs are taking advantage of us to steal our warmth, but I promise even if they were freezing they would not sleep on you if they were worried about their safety.
Though sleeping on you is generally a harmless behavior, be aware if your dog is developing separation anxiety or exhibiting resource guarding. Those behaviors can cause a lot of stress in your household and a trainer can help mediate the issues.
But in general, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a relationship built on the love and trust that you have with your dog. Lean back, and pet your dog as they sleep on you.