What does it mean when my dog lies down on their back?

Dog lie down on back in the grass

Dogs are able to communicate to their owners about how they are feeling in various ways. While their body language is generally easy to understand, other behaviors can be harder to decipher. If you take the time to try to understand what your dog is trying to say to you, you’ll be able to better satisfy their needs and establish a strong bond with them. In this article, we’ll go over some of the main reasons why dogs lie on their back.

A way to express submission or fear

Sometimes, dogs lie down on their back to show submission to others around them. For example, they might do this to their owner or another animal. When they put themselves in this position, the most vulnerable parts of their body are exposed, showing that they don’t intend to engage in conflict.

When dogs lie on their back, they are essentially trying to appear gentle, showing that they have absolutely no desire to fight. For example, if your dog lies on their back when you are scolding them, it means that they are conscious of their actions.

Additionally, fear can cause dogs to get into this position. They could lie on their back to show that they have no intention of defending themselves. They might adopt this behavior when you scold them or when they are in a confrontation with another dog. By leaving their throat and stomach vulnerable, they are accepting to be dominated. It’s a passive and submissive attitude.

A sign of complete trust

With the vulnerability associated with this position, this behavior can prove a dog’s complete trust towards their owners. It’s their way of showing that they feel comfortable and completely safe with you. It also shows serenity and peace.

In order to feel comfortable sleeping on their back, dogs need to trust their environment and those around them. When your dog gets in this position, they are showing that they know that there is no reason to be scared of the people or animals around them. They know that it’s pointless for them to always be on guard.

If you notice that your dog is lying on their back, you can respond by giving them soft caresses on their belly. It’s a way of telling them that you understand them and have no ill intentions. You can also praise your dog by speaking to them kindly.

A way to cool down when it’s hot

Sometimes, dogs choose to sleep on their back because they feel too hot when they sleep. Having their belly exposed allows them to get rid of some of the excess body heat. They are exposing their abdomen to cool down the blood that is circulating in their blood vessels.

To regulate their body temperature, dogs often pant. While very effective, they aren’t able to do this when they are sleeping. When they are trying to get some sleep in the heat, they can show their belly and lift their legs to put themselves in a position where they can sleep comfortably.

Their fur is less thick around their belly. Therefore, sleeping on their back is a good solution when it comes to getting air circulating around the body. Additionally, this position is great for their sweat glands, which are found around their paws and paw pads. While they do not produce sweat, these glands are very useful for thermoregulation, especially when they are not able to pant.

As puppies are more sensitive to the heat than adult dogs, they often get into this position to avoid heatstroke. It’s also the case for senior dogs or overweight dogs. When they are on fresh surfaces like grass or tiles, they can completely lie down flat with their paws stretched out behind them. However, when it’s cold, dogs protect their abdomen by curling up into a ball. This helps them conserve as much body heat as possible.

You might be interested in this article: How to protect your dog from the heat

Dog lie down on back indoors
Most dogs love having their belly scratched or caressed.

A way to ask for caresses or play time

Dogs have a hard time reaching certain parts of their body that they would like to get scratched. To touch the top of their head, for example, dogs need to rub their heads against something. This is also the case when it comes to their stomach. In general, dogs love getting scratched in this area, but are not able to do so themselves. They are, therefore, very happy when you respond to their position on their back by caressing or scratching their belly. It’s a pleasant gesture for most dogs when it comes from someone they trust. With that being said, some dogs don’t like when this part of their body is touched.

Sometimes, dogs can roll on their back in the sand or in the grass during their walks. They are doing this to express their joy and desire to play. It’s, therefore, the perfect moment to start playing with your dog by throwing a ball or stick.

With that being said, lying on their back in the nature doesn’t always translate as a desire to play. Other reasons can explain this behavior as well. You just need to observe your dog to attempt to understand their needs.

Analyze the situation to understand your dog’s behavior

Dogs can lie on their back for many reason. If you see your dog on their back, start by ask yourself what their motivations might be by observing the environment around you. Outside of the reasons listed above, this behavior can stem from:

  • their hunting instincts,
  • medical causes,
  • a reflex, etc.

The hunting instincts of dogs can awaken during a walk in the countryside. Your dog can lie down on their back to camouflage their smell. They do it in an effort to follow the path of a prey without being noticed. You can let them do this, all while making sure that they do not lie down in excrements. Otherwise, you will have to wash your dog when you return home.

When it comes to medical causes, this behavior could be caused by itchiness from flea bites, a skin disease, etc. When your dog scratches themself incessantly, the best option is to set up an appointment with a vet. As a professional, they will be able to quickly identify the cause of the itchiness and propose a suitable treatment.

Dogs also choose to sleep on their back, with their legs spread out, to get rid of excess pressure or relax their joints and sore muscles. It’s a behavior that we often see in senior dogs that are suffering from arthritis, joint problems, or a wound.

When getting out of the bathtub, some dogs like to roll on the ground and lie down on their back. This helps them get rid of the smell of cleanliness that they are not a fan of. If your dog does this, it’s best to place a towel on the ground so that they can dry themself off at the same time.

By placing themself on their back, your dog is communicating to you the way that they are feelings. By understanding how they are feeling, you can better respond to their needs.

You might be interested in this article: All you need to know about your dog’s emotions