Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much?

By: Amber Roberts

Photo by Sabine, Marina del Rey

Your dog loves hiking, playing fetch, and sniffing out the newest scents around the neighborhood, but there is one activity he spends more time doing than any other: sleeping. An adult dog sleeps an average of 12 to 14 hours out of every 24, while puppies and large breed dogs tend to sleep even more. Why do dogs sleep so much? Is your dog sleeping too much?

While it may seem your dog does nothing but sleep, dogs get the majority of their sleep through napping on and off during the day and night rather than all at once as we do. In addition to sleeping for half of the day, they spend an average of 30 percent of their time resting, awake but not active. That leaves 20 percent of the day for activity.

Why is My Dog Sleeping More than Normal?

Daytime activity levels can affect the amount of sleep your dog needs. Your dog may be sleeping more because you’ve just completed a long hike or fishing excursion and he needs some extra rest.

Alternatively, he may be sleeping out of boredom. If it seems your dog is sleeping more than he should, try giving him something exciting to do during the day. Dogs will modify their sleeping pattern so they are awake when they know there is something interesting to do. This is good news if you have a puppy who wants to play while the household is slumbering. Dog toys and puzzles or activities outside will give your dog or puppy a reason to stay awake during the day, which may mean his nighttime sleep is more restful.

Occasional changes in sleep patterns or the amount of sleep your dog is getting may be due to extra activity or a change in routine, but a significant change—if your dog is sleeping much more, or less, than usual—can be a cause for concern. Consult with your veterinarian if you notice considerable changes in your dog’s sleeping habits as those changes can point to medical concerns such as:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Other illness

Your dog’s sleeping habits may also change as he ages, as regular activity can become more tiring or finding a comfortable position to sleep may be difficult. Though older dogs tend to sleep more, sudden or significant changes in sleep habits may require a trip to the veterinarian.

Why Does My Dog Sleep on My Feet?

Dogs are known for their many, often comical, sleeping positions. Your dog loves to sleep on or at your feet, on his back, curled up into a little ball, or with his belly fully exposed. What do your dog’s different sleeping positions mean?

When a dog sleeps with his back against against you it means he’s trying to show affection. Great for bonding, this position gets him snuggled up close. A dog who sleeps on your feet is rumored to be showing dominance, while others claim it’s a sign the dog is submissive or nervous. Unless he’s showing other signs of dominance, it’s likely just another way for him to be close to you.

Curling up into a tight ball is a nod at his wild instincts; this sleeping position conserves warmth and protects his tummy and vital organs. Wild animals tend to sleep in this position as well. Though it’s a protective position nervous dogs may use for sleep, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is uncomfortable with his surroundings. It might just be the warmest, most comfortable position at the time.

Summertime heat often means the tummy out, legs sprawled position makes an appearance. Hot weather may inspire your dog to stretch to air out his stomach, where his fur is thinner, and to expose his paws, where he has sweat glands. Upside down, legs outstretched—this is a position you will see when a dog is happy, feels safe, and wants to cool down.

Why Does My Dog Make Circles Before Lying Down to Sleep?

You’ve probably seen your dog make a few tight circles before settling down to sleep. This natural instinct comes from a wild dog’s precaution as well as a desire for comfort. In the wild, a dog would complete a few circles before lying down in order to chase out any dangerous snakes or biting insects. Flattening the grass also created a bed and gave a visual signal to the other dogs in the pack that the area was claimed. Without a comfortable dog bed, they had to create their own sleeping space.

Do Dogs Dream?

Yes! Dogs and other animals go through the same REM sleep cycle humans do; their brain activity during this phase of sleep is similar to our own brain activity while dreaming. Your dog also displays signs he has started dreaming; once he has entered REM sleep, 10 to 20 minutes after falling asleep, his breathing will become slow and irregular, his eyes may move under his eyelids as he “watches” the images in his dream, and he may even twitch or bark in his sleep. What is your dog dreaming about? Dogs most likely dream about their day, which means you likely make an appearance.

Many dog owners wonder and worry about their dog’s sleeping habits. As a dog ages from puppyhood through adulthood and into his senior years, his sleep habits will also change. Awareness of your dog’s sleeping habits can help him get healthy, restful sleep. A dog of any age may sleep better when provided with a comfortable bed or den, plenty of exercise, and a regular schedule. Better rest means more enjoyment when you’re hiking, fishing, hunting, or just spending time together.

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