Have you ever watched your dog trying to “settle” on a sleep spot? They sniff around, walk back and forth, and circle. Some even dig at the floor or shove pillows and blankets this way and that.
I have one dog that takes about ten minutes before she is fully settled. And when she does this at bedtime, it’s hard to not question her sanity. Does she have to do all that before going to sleep?
Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, CAE Chief Executive Officer for The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) tells us that there are a variety of theories on why dogs behave like this before settling in, but no one theory is widely accepted.
“Some speculate that it has to do with ‘making a nest’ and the dog is doing the motions of trampling down grass, leaves, etc. to flatten them out and make a suitable bed,” explains Blake.
This would explain the dogs that “rearrange the furniture” of their crates – shoving blankets out of the way or into a certain corner, moving toys here and there, and even some dog’s preference to having a pillow for their head.
“Another theory,” Blake says, “is that dogs do this as a way to scan the environment in order to check for threats before laying down and it’s an instinctual behavior pattern.”
Dogs that are alert barkers, nervous, or more protective than the average dog may indeed feel the need to “secure the premises” before they can close their eyes and go “off duty.” If your dog paces and seems to never settle, you may do her a favor by putting her in a crate, where she can relax and feel safe about her environment in order to rest. You may find she is less likely to bark as well, meaning you will sleep better too.
Dogs do not regulate their temperature in the same way we do. They rely on panting, sweating through their pads, and “bedding behavior.” Some believe that a dogs preference of where and how to sleep could have to do with regulating their body temperature.
“They’re moving in a circular motion to position themselves into the optimal position to keep their body warm while sleeping,” explains Blake.
This certainly seems to be the case for Northern Breeds in Alaska, like the Husky, who burrow in the deep snow to stay warm. One of mine seems to do the opposite and pushes away all the blankets because he prefers to be cool, and stretch out on the cold, hard floor.
Finally, Blake says it could just be as simple as what humans do when we settle into our beds at night – getting comfortable. After all, we don’t want to go to sleep in a lumpy bed with our neck bent in a strange angle, why would our dogs?
So next time you are upset because your dog just won’t settle, remember he might just be trying to get comfy.
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