Nothing is cuter than when a dog curls up to sleep. But why do they do it? My dog Radar has a pre-sleep ritual. He’ll wait to be invited onto the bed, dig in the blankets to make a nest, and turn in circles until he’s found the perfect spot to curl up in. Radar almost always curls up to sleep, even when it means squishing himself into a seemingly too-small space.
Some dogs sleep stretched out on their sides. Others contort themselves into uncomfortable-looking sleep positions. But many dogs curl up to sleep like my Radar. And it’s not just a preference: curling up to sleep has practical benefits for dogs.
Canine sleep habits
Like humans, dogs like to be comfortable when they sleep. Although some dog sleep positions look uncomfortable from the outside, for your pooch, they’re just perfect.
Common dog sleep positions include:
- On their side
- On their tummy
- On their back with their paws up in the air
- Snuggled up with their favorite human or animal friend
- Curled up in a ball
All of the above sleep positions have their benefits. For instance, sleeping sprawled out on their side or tummy can help dogs cool off in warmer months. In general, dogs fall asleep in positions that offer physical comfort and psychological safety.
A dog curls up to sleep for warmth
The most obvious reason dogs curl up to sleep is for warmth. By curling tightly into a ball, and tucking their nose under their tail, they conserve body heat. Consider how you sleep when it’s cold: bundled up under warm blankets, possibly with your knees drawn up to your chest, or even snuggled around your sleeping dog.
Huddling up for warmth is an instinctual behavior in mammals. You and your dog have a lot in common!
Your dog’s tendency to curl up to sleep goes back to their origins. Before they were domesticated, dogs slept in dens and made nests to keep warm at night. Even though your dog has a warm, dry shelter, they still have hardwired behaviors from their ancestor’s pre-domestic days. This may also explain why dogs “make the bed” by digging into blankets or the couch. They’re preparing their nest for the night.
Dogs curl up for security
Another reason dogs curl up when they sleep is to feel safe. You may have heard that dogs show their stomachs when they’re comfortable. Conversely, they curl up to protect their tummy in vulnerable situations. Curling up to sleep protects dogs’ vulnerable organs from would-be predators. Curling up to sleep can also offer psychological comfort to dogs who feel unsafe. Consider how often you see photos of dogs in animal shelters, huddled or curled up in the corner of their kennel. In a noisy, intimidating environment, curling up to sleep can help dogs feel protected and safe.
Dogs curl up for comfort (even if it doesn’t look that way to you)
In truth, the main reason dogs choose one sleep position over the other is simple: it’s comfortable!
When your dog curls up to sleep, whether for warmth or protection, they’re mainly just trying to get comfortable. Even if they sleep in a crate, as long as they have space to stand up, stretch out, turn around, and lie down, they can get a great night’s sleep.
You can help make your dog more comfortable by providing space and soft surfaces for sleeping. Give them a soft blanket or pillow to use in their “nest.”
And for added cuteness, keep a teddy bear or other stuffed toy around. Curling up to sleep is always nicer with a friend to snuggle!