We’ve probably all seen our dogs start to doze off as they sit in the backseat of the car after an intense play session at the park. Perhaps you’ve even seen your pup take a small tumble after they fell asleep while standing at the front door, waiting to see you off for your 4 am flight.
It may seem like an unusual thing to us humans to try and sleep while sitting or standing up, but for a dog, it might not be that unusual. But why do dogs try to sleep while sitting or standing up?
Dogs often try to sleep while standing or sitting up if they are tired but want to continue doing whatever it is they are currently doing. They may also do it if they are uncomfortable laying down, or if they’re not yet tired enough to fully relax. Rarely is it due to a medical condition.
In the article below we’ll look at a few possible reasons as to why your dog is trying to sleep while sitting or standing up, as well as discuss when it might be a cause for concern.
We’ll also discuss ways in which you can make your pup’s environment more comfortable and inviting to them so that they choose to sleep while laying down instead of sitting or standing up.
5 Reasons Why Your Dog Tries To Sleep Standing Or Sitting Up
Below are just a few possible reasons as to why your pup tries to sleep standing or sitting up.
While going through these reasons, it’s important to keep in mind that every dog is an individual and there may even be a combination of these reasons that are causing your dog to try and sleep standing or sitting up.
If you suspect that the reason may be due to an underlying medical or behavioral issue, it’s a good idea to reach out to your vet to get your pup checked out.
Reason 1: Your Pup Is Tired But Wants To Keep Playing
This is probably one of the most common reasons why your dog is falling asleep while standing or sitting up. Adolescent and high-energy dogs in particular seem to struggle with this issue.
They want to keep playing and interacting with their owners or another dog, but their brains and bodies are signaling that they need to rest. So when they take a break from play (usually when the owner needs to do something or when the other dog signals that they need a break), they may start to snooze where they stand.
For some dogs, these “micro naps” are enough to keep them going for at least a few more minutes, but for others, the pull of much needed rest might be too much. In rare cases, some dogs just don’t know when to stop and they can work and play themselves to the point of collapse.
If you happen to have one of these dogs and you see them start to wobble during their brief moments of pause during an intense play session and see the tell-tale signs of the body’s need for sleep, you may have to step in and remove your dog from the play session to allow them to have some much needed rest…even if they themselves don’t feel they need it!
Reason 2: Your Dog Is Tired (But Not Tired Enough)
The second most likely reason your dog is trying to sleep while standing or sitting up rather than laying down is that they are tired, but not quite tired enough to fully lay down and sleep.
They may need to close their eyes for a bit and you may see a yawn, but their brain and attention are still fully focused on the world around them and they do not feel tired enough to relax their bodies.
Dogs can vary in how much sleep and rest they need, so for some dogs they may feel a little bit tired after a heavy exercise session but their minds are still quite active so they may opt not to lie down and sleep.
You can also see this occur when your dog is in a particularly comfortable location and is feeling really good, but they are also not very sleepy. I see this happen a lot with my own dogs when they happen to catch a good bit of sunlight out in the yard.
They’ll stand or sit and close their eyes, but I know they aren’t really sleeping and are instead just enjoying the moment!
Reason 3: Your Dog Is Afraid To Lay Down
For some dogs, there could be a more disturbing reason as to why they do not want to lay down to sleep and instead choose to try and sleep while standing or sitting up.
When a dog lays down either on their side or in what I like to call the Sphinx position, they are putting themselves into an extremely vulnerable position that is more difficult for them to get up from than if they were in a sit or stand position.
For a dog who is very afraid or who previously experienced a traumatic event while sleeping, they may have difficulty sleeping while laying down, especially when in the presence of others.
Your pup may sleep while laying down when they know they are alone and safe, or they may only do it if they are in an area where they feel safe, such as their crate or an area of your home that is very protected such as a closet or underneath a bed.
The rest of the time you may catch them taking a brief snooze only when sitting or standing up. By staying in a more mobile position (which means they are more easily able to move and run away if frightened), they may feel a bit better about closing their eyes for a moment.
In extreme cases, some dogs may not even feel comfortable enough to do that and will only close their eyes and rest when completely alone.
If your dog is having difficulty laying down to sleep and choosing to nap while standing or sitting up and you believe the reason is due to fear or past trauma, reaching out to your vet or a dog behaviorist may help provide you with some ways to assist your dog with his sleep troubles.
Reason 4: Your Pup Has An Underlying Medical Issue
One of the more concerning reasons your pup might be trying to sleep while standing or sitting up rather than laying down is because they are suffering from an underlying medical issue.
Arthritis, bone cancers, and other hip and joint issues can cause pain when a dog lays down, so your dog may try to sleep standing or sitting up because it is more comfortable for them than the alternative.
Dogs who recently had surgery, such as in the case of the video below where this Lab was recently spayed, may also refuse to lay down due to the pain at the surgery site.
Dogs who have an internal issue within their gut system may also choose to sleep standing or sitting up because laying down is uncomfortable for them, especially if they have a lot of gas or if they feel bloated. Inflammation within their body can also potentially cause a dog to avoid laying down for long periods of time.
If you notice other symptoms of illness or injury (especially if your dog is showing signs of bloat or if your dog is repeatedly pushing their head into the wall, both of which are considered medical emergencies), a visit to your vet is in order.
Providing more support through an orthopedic bed or pain medication may be all that your pup needs to start laying down to sleep again.
Reason 5: Your Dog Has Made It A Habit
In some cases, a dog may choose to sleep standing or sitting up because that is what they are used to. It is all that they know and has become a habit for them. This can be seen in dogs who come from puppy mills, or for those who come from hoarding environments.
Oftentimes these dogs are kept in tiny cages that do not allow them enough room to move around in. They usually have to urinate and defecate where they sleep, which further discourages them from laying down.
The stress and fear of being in such an environment can contribute to not wanting to sleep in such a vulnerable position, so they choose to stand or sit.
Even when they have been removed from this environment and are in a much safer one, those habits of sleeping while standing or sitting up may still linger for quite some time.
Your vet or a local dog trainer may be able to assist with helping create a more calming environment if your pup is experiencing this type of issue, and over time as your dog adjusts to their new home they should begin to feel more comfortable about laying down to sleep.
Is It Bad If My Dog Tries To Sleep Standing Up?
It’s not usually bad if your dog tries to sleep standing up if they only do it occasionally and for short periods of time. However, if your dog is trying to sleep standing up due to an underlying medical or behavioral issue, it’s best to get them checked out by your veterinarian.
If your dog frequently tries to sleep standing up, there’s also a risk they may fall over and hurt themselves (as seen in the video below). Staying in that position for too long can also cause joint issues if your dog is older, and could potentially cause their knees or hips to lock up.
If your dog is choosing to stand to sleep rather than lay down, it’s also likely they aren’t fully relaxing and allowing their brain to rest, which can cause a cascading effect of health and behavioral issues.
Is It Bad If My Dog Tries To Sleep Sitting Up?
Similar to your dog trying to sleep while standing up, it’s not usually a cause for concern if your dog is only occasionally trying to sleep while sitting up and there is no underlying medical or behavioral issue.
It’s also probably a little less risky if they are sleeping while sitting up rather than trying to do it while standing because they are less likely to fall over and there is not as much stress on their joints.
However, it’s still unlikely that they are experiencing a full state of rest and relaxation, so if your dog is doing this frequently there’s still a risk they can experience health and behavioral issues from not being able to fully “turn off” their brain and recover from the day.
How Do I Encourage My Dog To Sleep Laying Down?
If you’d rather your pup try to stick to laying down while sleeping rather than standing up or sitting down, the best thing to do is to provide them with more bed options and in different locations of your house.
You also want to rule out any underlying medical or behavioral issues if you feel those might be a contributing factor, and enlist the help of a trainer if you think fear might be an issue. Providing a safe space where your dog feels comfortable enough to fully relax is important, and crates are a good option for this.
If your dog is comfortable with it, you can also get a crate cover or even just put blankets or towels over the crate to make it more private. Just make sure you’ve chosen a location that’s not too hot for the crate so that your dog doesn’t overheat while in there, and that you still follow a good crate training process if you have not yet introduced your pup to the crate.
Using positive reinforcement while around your dog and encouraging him to take breaks and fully relax and lay down is also a good idea.
Tossing him treats whenever he chooses to lay down will encourage him to lay down more often, and playing soothing music (see below for a video to play for your pup) or providing him with a long-lasting chew toy will also help encourage him to stay in the down position (and perhaps even fall asleep!).
For the most part, if you catch your pup taking a snooze while sitting or standing up, it’s probably nothing to be too concerned about (other than the risk of a tumble if they tip over!).
If they do it frequently or you are worried they have an underlying medical issue like joint pain or a fear of laying down and relaxing around others, then it’s best to reach out to your vet to get guidance on the issue.
Providing a comfortable and safe space for your pup to relax will help encourage them to lie down when they sleep.