4 Reasons Why Dogs Sleep on Their Back

If your pup rolls over on their back, showing you their tummy while they sleep, It generally means they're comfy or want to cool off.

Published February 9, 2023
Woman With Dog Sleeping On Bed At Home

If you find your dog loves sleeping on their back, this usually means they trust you. This behavior isn't a cause for concern in most cases. Like humans, dogs have different sleep positions. Some dogs like to sleep with all four paws tucked under them, while others like to stretch out and take up as much room as possible. If your dog sleeps on their back most of the time, they may be trying to cool off and get comfy, or they might be trying to avoid discomfort or pain sleeping on their stomach or side. Find out what to look for, and when to be concerned.

1. They're Cooling Down

Your dog may feel hot and is look for a way to cool down. This is especially true for dogs with thick fur coats. If you've ever felt the fur on your dog's stomach, you know that it doesn't provide much protection from the elements.

Dogs generate a lot of internal body heat when they're active and they can overheat quickly, especially in the hot summer sun. Running to the shade and sleeping on their back allows your dog to release some of that heat.

Dog cooling dow on the sofa

Think of this like a blanket. Your dog has a giant blanket everywhere except for their stomach. The hair on their stomach is thin, allowing heat to escape more easily. To keep warm, they can lie on their stomach and allow their thick blanket to keep them warm. When they're too hot, they can lie on top of the thick blanket and utilize the thin blanket on their belly to cool down.

2. They're Getting Comfy

For some dogs, sleeping on their backs is a way of relaxing and getting comfy. It's not necessarily a sign that something is wrong with your pup. It's just their favorite position for snoozing.

If your dog sleeps on their back, you'll probably notice this behavior more when they're relaxed or tired out at the end of a long day. If they spend most of their time lying flat on their belly or curled up in a ball, but roll over onto their back from time to time, it's likely nothing more than a preference.

When dogs sleep on their backs, they can get an unobstructed view of everything happening around them. They absolutely want to keep track of those things. Just as it's your job to protect them, dogs feel it is their job to protect you and their family.

3. They're Showing Trust

Most dogs sleep on their backs when they are comfortable and relaxed. This includes the times when they sleep with their owners or other dogs who they trust. When your dog is in this position, they are vulnerable, which shows this sleeping position is a sign of trust. You can use this to help you understand why your pet sleeps like this. If you startle them while they're doing it, they might react negatively - even biting or snarling at you - because they don't want to be bothered.

Golden labradoodle relaxing on her back on the couch

4. They're Seeking Relief from Arthritis Pain

There are several types of arthritis in dogs, but osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of joint disease in aging pets. It can cause pain when they're moving around, or even when they're laying down. When dogs sleep on their backs, it allows them to take pressure off their joints so they can get comfortable.

Arthritic dogs can experience:

  • Swelling in the joints, which can cause discomfort and pain
  • Limited range of motion in the affected joints, which can make it hard for them to climb stairs or jump into a car
  • Decreased activity level
  • Abnormal weight gain

If you believe your dog may have osteoarthritis, make an appointment with the veterinarian. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help your dog rest easier. If you're looking for a natural method to help your dog feel better, search for a holistic or integrative veterinarian.

Interesting Facts About Back Sleeping

You may not know these interesting facts about dogs sleeping on their backs:

  • Dogs who have been recently spayed or neutered are more likely to sleep on their back than others. This is because the surgery can cause pain and discomfort that makes it difficult for them to lie comfortably on their side or stomach without putting pressure on their abdomen.
  • Dogs have a reflex that causes them to roll over when they feel something touch their belly. This reflex is known as the pupillary light reflex. It causes your pup's pupils to contract when exposed to bright light. If your dog has ever been startled awake from a nap and looked around bleary-eyed before laying back down again, you've probably seen this reflex in action.
  • Small breeds like Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers are more likely to sleep on their backs than other breeds.

When to Worry

The best way to tell if your dog is sleeping on their back because they're nervous, anxious, or in pain is to watch them. If they start adjusting positions excessively or whine in their sleep, then it's probably not a good sign. If you notice that this happens often and your dog has other symptoms of pain or anxiety, talk with your vet about what your dog is experiencing.

Relax and Rub Their Tummies

Most of the time, your dog is sleeping on their back because they're feeling safe and want to get comfortable. As long as they aren't showing any signs of pain, they're probably fine. Keep an eye on them if you're worried, and give them a good tummy rub to let them know they were right. They are safe with you.

4 Reasons Why Dogs Sleep on Their Back