Why Do Dogs Sleep Curled Up in a Ball?

Adrienne Farricelli

Why do dogs sleep curled up in a ball? If your dog likes to sleep in the nose-to tail, curled up position, you may be wondering why he has such a preference. Sure, he has ample of leg room all around him, so what gives?

Why do dogs sleep curled up in a ball? If your dog likes to sleep in the nose-to tail, curled up position, you may be wondering why he has such a preference. Sure, he has ample of leg room all around him, so what gives? While there are many advances in studying dogs, the "tell me how you sleep, and I'll tell you more about your dog's personality" quizzes haven't officially popped up from canine experts... at least as of yet. However, there are some interesting subtleties in our dog's snoozing styles that are way too interesting to keep for ourselves. Here are some interesting findings about dogs who like to snooze curled up in balls.

Winter Sleeping Position

dogs sleeping curled up

At our place, we like to call the curled up, nose-to-tail position as the "winter sleeping position." Just as mattresses come with a summer side and a winter side, our dogs switch sleeping positions based on the temperatures of our home. It's therefore not surprising that dogs choose this nose-to-tail sleeping position for a very good reason: it helps them stay nice and toasty and allows them to conserve heat. You have likely stumbled in the past on pictures of groups of sled dogs sleeping all curled up with their tails covering their faces. This is an astute, energy efficient way to trap the heat against their bodies, explains Dr. Susan Whiton, veterinarian and owner of Dream a Dream Iditarod Sled Dog Kennel in Anchorage, Alaska in an interview by the late Dr. Sophia Yin.

Protecting Vital Organs

Sometimes, some things dogs do may be reminiscent of their past, when they weren't fed in shiny bowls and supplied with soft beds and plush pillows. If we take a look back in time, we'll see that the ancestors of our domesticated dogs lived in the wild and they were exposed to many predators. Sleeping in the nose-to-tail position, not only helped them stay warm as explained above, but also protected their vulnerable organs from direct exposure to dangerous predators, explains Margaret Gruen, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist working for North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Need For Security

dog curled up in ball

The nose-to-tail sleeping position in dogs shares some interesting features with the fetal sleeping position in humans with their arms and legs pulled toward the torso: a need for security. In humans, this position is associated with people being "tough on the outside and soft on the inside." In dogs, this position may denote something similar, especially if dogs assume this position when it's not a cold day. When a dog feels insecure about his surroundings because he's in a new, unfamiliar place and needs some time to acclimate to his new environment, he may revert to this comforting nose-to-tail sleeping position, further adds Dr. Gruen. Providing these dogs with a cozy blanket to curl up into may help these fellows feel more secure and protected.

A Need to Burrow

Some dog breeds are more predisposed to sleep curled up in blankets than others. Many of the small terriers, feisty dogs who were selectively bred to "go to ground" chasing and sometimes killing many ground-dwelling critters ranging from rodents to foxes, may be particularly attracted to sleeping curled up in blankets "burrito style." Dachshunds, even though they're officially categorized under the terrier category, share many features with small terriers, and among them is their habit of sleeping nose-to-tail under blankets. A look back in their history shows that they were once used to hunt badgers, hence their long bodies perfectly engineered to allow them to burrow themselves underground.

An anti-conformist?
An anti-conformist?

Conforming to Beds

Finally, of course, if you purchase your dog one of those donuts- shaped beds, your dog will have to curl tightly in a ball to conform to the shape of such bed. Dogs who decide to sleep in baskets, suitcases or chairs, may also have to keep their legs nicely tucked in to conform to the shape of such objects. However, dogs who feel like sleeping with their legs stretched out may figure out a way to still sleep in such beds with their legs protruding out, (as seen in the fellow in this picture) or they may just choose to sleep somewhere else!

Did you know? As much as sleeping in the nose-to-tail position may seem comfy, it comes with a drawback. When dogs sleep curled up in a ball, their muscles are tense and less likely to twitch as they normally do in the REM stage, which is the most restorative part of sleep. This position is therefore less relaxing than sleeping stretched out, explains Karen Becker, author and veterinarian at Natural Pet Animal Hospital in Bourbonnais, Illinois.