Many dogs regardless of breed, choose to sleep in this position despite having plenty of room to stretch out. While your dog's sleeping position may not provide as many insights into his personality as human sleeping positions do, it's sure quite interesting learning what the nose-to-tail position reveals in dogs.
A Quest to Stay Warm
You may have stumbled upon pictures of sled dogs covered in snow and sleeping in the nose-to-tail position. This position is the best way to conserve heat. With their body curled up and their tails against their nose, this sleeping position allows sled dogs to trap the heat against their bodies. As long as these dogs have snow on their fur, everything is well. Problems start though when the snows melts and ice starts forming, a sign that dogs are losing body heat and their fur isn't insulating properly, explains Sophia Yin, the late author, veterinarian and animal behaviorist who lived and worked in Davis, California.
A Protective Position
By sleeping curled up in a ball, dogs may be doing more than conserving heat. This sleeping position is reminiscent of ancient times when dogs were living in the wild. In the old days, when dogs were ready to nap, especially on cold days, they would dig up a den and curl into it. This sleeping position not only kept them warm, but also protected their most vulnerable organs from dangerous predators, explains Margaret Gruen, a board-certified veterinary behavior specialist working for North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Seeking Out Security
The curled up, nose-to- tail position is quite similar to the fetal position in humans. Turns out, dogs and people sleeping in the fetal position may share one common characteristic: the need to feel secure. A dog who feels insecure because he's exposed to unfamiliar territory, may decide to revert to a curled-up sleep position, adds Dr. Gruen. A new puppy or a new dog may require some time to acclimate to his new surroundings. Having a blanket to “dig” into and curl up on can make these dogs feel cozy and more protected.
Some dogs breeds enjoy sleeping curled up under the blankets. Often, these are often breeds who were selectively bred to burrow such as dachshunds.
Reduced Restorative Sleep
While sleeping curled up may help a dog feel warmer and more secure, it's not the ideal sleeping position for gaining restorative sleep. Among the various sleep stages your dog goes into, the rapid eye movement stage, characterized by distinct twitches and movements, is by far the most restorative. By sleeping curled up, the dog's muscles will be more tense so you won't notice much jerky movements as this position is less relaxing than sleeping stretched out, explains Karen Becker, author and veterinarian at Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Dogs can suffer from sleeping disorders too. If you notice sleeping difficulties in your dog, consult with your vet.
- Dr. Sophia Yin: Cold Weather Safety for Dogs: Insights from a Sled Dog Veterinarian
- Vet Street: Why Does My Dog Curl Up in a Ball When He Sleeps?
- Heathy Pets: How Secure Does Your Dog Feel in Your Home? This Behavior Is a Tip-Off
- Vet Street: Why Does My Dog... Twitch While Sleeping?
- Pet Care RX: Sleep Problems that Can Affect Dogs
- Vet Street: Four Dog Sleeping Habits Explained
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.