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6 Reasons Why Your Dog Sleeps On Top of You

Have you ever woken up to find your dog comfortably sprawled out on top of you snoring away? It’s a common scenario for many pet owners. At least it is in my house and I am sure it happens to other dog owners as well. But do you know why dogs like to sleep on top of their owners?

This post aims to shed light on the reasons behind why dogs often choose to sleep so close to their humans, sometimes even choosing to sleep on top of their owners.

Drawing on recent studies, including research from North Carolina State University, we’ll explore the multifaceted reasons ranging from seeking comfort and security to expressing affection and bonding.

Whether you’re a new dog owner puzzled by your pet’s sleeping habits or a seasoned pet parent looking for insights, understanding these behaviors can deepen the connection between you and your furry friend.

The Bond Between Dogs and Humans

Dogs and humans have shared a unique relationship for thousands of years, evolving from wild animals into the domesticated companions we know and love today.

6 Reasons Why Dogs Like to Sleep On Top of Their Owners
 Title pic with a picture of a sleeping dog with their head on the persons leg.

It’s believed that this transformation began when wolves started scavenging near human settlements. Over time, this interaction evolved, gradually leading to a mutually beneficial relationship, where humans provided leftover scraps as food, while wolves served as a deterrent, keeping other dangerous carnivores at bay from the camps.

Over time, humans selectively bred these wolves, which became more docile and friendly, eventually evolving into the diverse range of dog breeds we see today.

This long history has deeply ingrained dogs into human societies, not just as working dogs or pets but as members of the family.

While you may already know about the deep bond between dogs and humans. You may not know that it goes beyond simple companionship and convenience; it has biological and psychological impacts on both as well.

6 Reasons Why Dogs Like to Sleep On Top of Their Owners - Gray dog (Bella) sleeping on back on a person

6 Reasons Why Dogs Like to Sleep On Top of Their Owners

1. Seeking Comfort and Security

Sleeping on top of their owner gives dogs a profound sense of safety and comfort. This behavior is deeply rooted in their genetics, tracing back to their ancestors’ pack mentality.

In the wild, wolves and other closely related relatives of canines, sleep closely together for warmth and protection. This instinctual behavior has carried over into domestic dogs, who see their human families as their pack.

The physical closeness reassures them, providing a secure environment that mitigates stress and anxiety, making them feel protected and at ease.

2. Temperature Regulation

Dogs often seek out warmth by sleeping close to or on top of their owners, a behavior that becomes more pronounced during colder months. This natural tendency for temperature regulation is another survival instinct inherited from their ancestors.

In the wild, the pack huddles together to conserve heat during cold nights, and this behavior is mirrored in the domestic setting. The warmth from their owner’s body provides a comfortable and cozy sleeping environment, helping them maintain their body temperature.

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3. Affection and Bonding

When a dog chooses to sleep on top of or next to its owner, it’s engaging in a behavior that goes beyond seeking mere comfort. This act is a powerful demonstration of affection and trust, signifying the dog’s view of its owner as a vital member of its pack.

The significance of this behavior is further underscored by a physiological response observed in both the dog and owner. Positive interactions, particularly those involving close physical contact, are known to increase oxytocin levels in both parties.

Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone,” helps make the bond between dogs and their owners stronger. When dogs and their humans are close, like during cuddles or sleep, both release this hormone.

It makes them feel more affectionate and connected to each other. Think of it as nature’s way of enhancing the loving relationship between you and your pet, making each moment of closeness even more special.

4. Protective Instinct

Dogs have a natural protective instinct towards their pack, and when they sleep on their owner, it can also be an expression of this instinct. By positioning themselves on or near their owner, dogs are better placed to protect them from any perceived threats.

This behavior is especially common in breeds with strong guarding instincts but can be observed in virtually any dog, demonstrating their inherent desire to keep their loved ones safe.

Gray dog cuddling with person

5. Habit and Preference

For some dogs, the preference to sleep on top of their owners may stem from habit or personal preference developed during puppyhood. If a puppy is allowed to sleep close to or on top of their human from a young age, they may carry this behavior into adulthood, viewing it as a normal part of their routine.

This habit can be comforting to them, representing a secure and familiar environment in which they feel most at ease.

6. Keeping Tabs

Another intriguing idea of why dogs may choose to sleep on their humans is rooted in their desire to keep tabs on their owners, even while asleep.

A recent canine sleep study by North Carolina State University, revealed patterns in dog behavior that may shed light on this behavior.

The study observed that dogs are most active during the mornings and evenings, as well as on weekends when their families are more likely to be home. Conversely, when left alone during the day, dogs tended to mainly sleep. Aligning with most people’s common belief about their dog’s behavior when no one is watching.

Given this understanding of dogs’ activity patterns, it’s plausible to suggest that by sleeping on their owners, dogs ensure they’re immediately aware of any movement or activity. This behavior could be driven by their reluctance to miss out on any potential interaction or fun.

After all, it’s much harder for an owner to leave the room without waking their dog if the dog is sleeping on top of them. This strategic positioning allows dogs to quickly rejoin their owners’ activities. Thus ensuring they’re always part of the action or simply maintaining close proximity for companionship and security.

6 Reasons Why Dogs Like to Sleep On Top of Their Owners - Bella laying on couch with head on a person's leg.

Considerations for Dog Owners Might Want to Sleep with Their Dog

1. Comfort and Sleep Quality

Taking a nap with your dog is one thing, but for dog owners debating on whether they want to let their dog sleep in bed with them at night, it’s important to consider the potential impact to your own comfort and sleep quality.

Dogs can be restless sleepers. Our dog regularly moves from place to place as she gets too hot or too cold throughout the night. Additionally, larger dogs can take up significant space on the bed, potentially leading to uncomfortable sleeping positions.

Alternatives to sleeping with your dog:

  • Create a Dedicated Space: Providing a comfortable bed for your dog near your own can keep them close without sharing the same sleeping space. This allows for the closeness both you and your dog desire while giving each of you enough space to sleep comfortably.
  • Establish Boundaries: Train your dog to sleep in their own bed by using positive reinforcement techniques. This can help manage their nighttime habits and ensure they understand where they should sleep.
  • Use a Comfort Object: For dogs that seek closeness, a comfort object like a piece of clothing that smells like you can help soothe them in their own bed.
  • Routine: Establishing a bedtime routine can signal to your dog that it’s time to settle down for the night.

Throughout this post, we’ve explored the many reasons behind why dogs may choose to sleep on top of or close to their owners, touching on aspects of comfort, security, affection, temperature regulation, protective instincts, and even the strategy of keeping tabs on their human companions.

Now, we’d love to hear from you! Tell us about the funny, endearing, or even peculiar ways your dog sleeps. Do they have a favorite spot or position? Please share your stories in the comments below. So we can celebrate the wonderful and sometimes humorous world of our canine companions together.

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Why Dogs Like to Sleep On Top of Their Owners – Resources