Why does my dog cover her face when sleeping?

There is a wide variety of reasons for dogs to put their paws over their face when sleeping. They can do it because of an evolutionary response, they may be embarrassed, they may be anxious and having a scary dream, they may be itchy and have a rash or allergies, or they may just be subconsciously trying to make you happy and please you.

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Dogs are varied creatures, and from the differences in all of the breeds to the different ways they are raised and their unique personalities, there is often not a clear answer that applies to every dog in the world.

According to Jean Marie Bauhaus of Hills Pet, these are the most common reason for dogs to put their paws on their face when they are sleeping, but there are many other reasons that they may do it as well.


They are protecting themselves

Dogs sometimes cover their face when they sleep because of evolution. They feel the need to protect their eyes and throat, and this position also helps conserve body heat while protecting other limbs and organs. This position is tense, though, so even though they are safer, they do not sleep as restfully.

Pet Dog Owner writes that this behavior may have been overall beneficial for its distant ancestors who were living in much harsher environments. Dogs were sleeping outside, were not helped by man, and every day was a challenge of survival.

They may want to protect themselves from you as well. Suppose they are embarrassed because of something they did, like going potty in the house or are scolded for something. In that case, they may want to hide themselves and run away from what they’ve associated with these negative actions.

They are itchy

Sometimes your dog may just have an itch. They may have an allergy, or something stuck in their face furs like some eye gunk, snot, or something that got stuck there from outside, and they may be trying to get it out of the way.

It’s important to keep an eye on your dog if they are doing this position a lot so that you can get to the bottom of it. If you realize that they are doing it a lot, try to start documenting it.

The dog’s eyes and face may become red and irritated, and there may be a possible infection that you were not aware of. If they are rubbing a lot, your dog may be in pain, and you should consult a veterinarian to check.

Look in their surroundings as well; there may be something bothering them, like a fly or spider, in which case, eliminate the problem and help your friend sleep soundly.


They are anxious

Similar to when they feel embarrassed or scolded, dogs may want to hide and get away just like humans do. Dog’s like to bark and pretend to be big, but they can also hide and want to distance themselves from something they’re scared of.

Dogs also use signs to communicate with their owners, and they may also just be signaling to you that they’re upset, hoping for you to get rid of whatever is stressing them out.

Dogs respect you as their owner and friend and trust that whenever something is giving them anxiety, you can take care of them. Be sure to also reassure them that they’re safe.

If they do this when they are sleeping, maybe they are having a scary dream, and they’re distressed. You can wake them up and soothe them so they know they are safe and that it’s only a dream, that is, if dogs know they are dreaming.

Your dog recognizes your dominance

Dogs can also use this position to signal that they are a part of your pack, and they recognize you as their leader. The dogs are showing that they trust you and want you to know that they see you are not a threat and that they are not a threat to you either.

Another part of this form of communication from the dog is rolling onto their back and exposing their belly to you. If they are sleeping in this position, you may have to try and see what their other positions look like to fully understand what they’re trying to tell you.

An exposed belly and covering their face, they respect you and recognize you as the pack leader. If they are only covering their face, then maybe they have an itch, are scared, or are embarrassed.


They want to make you happy

Sometimes your dog just wants you to know that they’re having a good time, and they see that you like it when they put their paws on their face. It’s a pretty cute pose, and they can do it in a very playful way that makes their owners smile.

Dogs want to make their owners happy, and when they see you like something, they tend to do it again, and if they see you don’t like something, then they’ll try to stop doing it.

If a dog goes potty inside and they scold them, they are less likely to do it again. What’s better than negative reinforcement, though, is positive reinforcement. Smiling, laughing, praising, and petting your pet when they do something good will often lead to them doing it again.

Putting their paws on their face is just one example of this. It can even blend into their subconscious actions as well, and this may be why your dog is doing it in their sleep. 

Overall, dogs are covering their face when they are sleeping because:

  • They are showing they recognize you as the leader
  • They are trying to please you
  • They are scared, anxious, or embarrassed
  • They are having an itching problem because of allergies or some other irritant
  • Or they are just doing it as an evolutionary response to protect themselves and stay warm

You may be able to just look at your dog and understand what they are doing, but the best way to fully understand your dog’s behavior is by watching them over a long period of time, and you can recognize the different patterns they are in.

Watch your pets and see the patterns they are a part of, and then you can fully understand both what they are doing and what they may need you, their owner, to help do for them.