Why Do Border Collies Sleep on Their Backs?

Border Collies are highly energetic dogs, so it’s not surprising that many spend most of their time on the move. However, Border Collies need their rest, too, and some may sleep sprawled on their backs with their paws in the air. Is it normal for Border Collies to sleep this way?

Border Collies sleep on their backs when they feel safe in their surroundings and when it’s very warm. Not all Border Collies sleep on their backs, but many prefer this position because it’s comfortable and helps them keep cool. 

Read on for more about the reasons why Border Collies sleep on their backs. You’ll also learn what you can do to keep your dog feeling healthy, happy, and comfortable, no matter which position they choose when they sleep.

Back Sleeping Signals Trust and Contentment

Multiple factors determine which position a dog takes when settling down to sleep. Age, general health, what sort of sleeping surface is available, and individual preference all play a role in how your dog chooses to snooze.

How, when, and where dogs sleep are rooted in their genetics. Circling before lying down, for example, is an evolutionary leftover. The same behavior has been extensively reported in wild wolf packs. Some biologists believe circling is a way for wolves to check the direction of the wind and determine that their sleeping space is secure. 

However, sleeping on the back, with the belly exposed, seems to be purely a phenomenon of the domesticated dog. It’s not a sleeping position that has been observed in wolves or wild dogs. Exposing the belly is a submissive posture, generally used to indicate deference to a higher-ranking member of the pack. 

Most animals don’t willingly expose their bellies–there’s a reason we refer to “the soft underbelly” as a good place to attack a problem. Being on the back is a position of tremendous vulnerability. The vital organs are left unprotected, and there’s very little way to defend yourself. It’s one thing to flip over for a belly rub from a trusted human. It’s quite another to fall asleep that way.

Therefore, for a dog to sleep on their back requires that they be very relaxed and comfortable with their surroundings. If your dog frequently sleeps on their back, it’s a sign that your dog feels safe. Back sleeping may also be a sign of your dog’s general personality. A happy-go-lucky, laid-back dog may sleep on their back no matter what else is going on around them.

There are also dogs that, for whatever reason, may never sprawl out on their backs to sleep. If your dog prefers to sleep curled, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean they don’t trust or love you just as much. It may simply mean they have a more reserved personality.

Back Sleeping Is Cooler

Most people know that dogs keep themselves cool by panting. Evaporation from the tongue cools them the same way as sweat evaporating from a human’s skin. Although panting is the primary way dogs cool themselves in hot weather, it isn’t the only way.

Dogs also rely on something called vasodilation. Vasodilation is the expansion of blood vessels, allowing them to carry a greater volume of blood. When blood vessels–especially those near the skin’s surface, like those in the ears and face–dilate, more blood is exposed to the air, cooling it before it returns to the heart.

Back sleeping exposes the stomach, which tends to be less densely furred than a dog’s back and sides, allowing vasodilation to have a greater impact. Additionally, dogs do sweat, though far less than humans. Dogs have sweat glands on their noses, as well as on their paw pads. Sleeping on the back ensures that all of these glands are exposed to the air, allowing more rapid evaporation and more efficient cooling.

How To Help Your Border Collie Cool Off

Vasodilation and a few sweat glands in the paw pads aren’t enough to keep a dog cool by themselves. But when it’s very hot, every little bit helps. If you notice your pup sleeping on their back during hot weather–especially if that’s not a way they usually sleep–here are a few other things you can do to help them cool off:

  • Offer your dog lots of water. Put multiple bowls around the house, and make sure they’re clean and topped off frequently with cool water. Dogs will often choose not to drink if their water is stagnant or dirty. bring this dog water bottle with you on walks or exercise with your Border Collie.
  • Make ice treats. Freeze your dog’s favorite treats in ice cubes, or make chicken stock “pupsicles” for a tasty surprise. Check out these silicone molds to make your dog’s favorite ice treat on Amazon.
  • Exercise during the cooler parts of the day. Of course, your Border Collie is probably willing to go for a run any time. But during hot days, aim for mornings and evenings, when the temperature is lowest.
  • Make a splash. Not all Border Collies like to swim, but many will happily splash in a kiddie pool or run through a sprinkler with a young family member. Amazon has a ton of different pool options for dogs. Most of them are in the $20-$40 range.
  • Use a cold pack: Put a damp towel or small blanket in the freezer. Your dog will enjoy a cooling post-run rubdown on a hot day. You can also find pet cooling mats here.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, shaving or cutting your Border Collie’s coat will *not* help them cool off and could even make things worse. In double-coated breeds like Border Collies, the insulating undercoat will shed in warm weather, and the topcoat acts as a natural sunblock. Without it, your Border Collie will be *more* prone to sunburn and heatstroke.

Final Thoughts

Just like humans, Border Collies sleep in the position that feels most natural to them–even if it doesn’t look very comfortable to those of us watching! Whether it’s curled up nose-to-tail or splayed out on their back, you can be sure your pup is enjoying their nap.

And when they fall asleep in a particularly adorable or hilarious pose, you should feel free to enjoy watching them–and maybe snap a pic to share with the rest of us!


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