Isn’t it funny how sometimes, the reason behind the behavior of our dogs is perfectly reasonable? You cook a hamburger and look to see a pair of soulful brown eyes imploring you for a taste. You pick up the leash and there she is, your fuzzy little shadow, just waiting for what comes next. Then, however, there are things your dog does that remain a mystery. Try as hard as you might, you will never understand why your dog eats her own poop. Or what she is thinking about when she systematically digs up your roses. Or why, with a nice, big house, a fenced in yard, and a pretty cool crate, your dog insists on hanging out in your closet.
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The Root of the Behavior
Let’s face it, dens rock. It is a small space that is nice and controlled, where no one can sneak up on you, where you are largely sheltered from the weather. And because it’s a smaller space, it’s often a bit warmer. Plus, it smells like your pack. With this in mind, can you imagine why a dog might love your closet? It is quiet, out of the way of foot traffic, the dog can see who is coming, and no matter what the weather is, she is protected, even if there is thunder and lightning. Add the fact that it smells like her people, and it’s hard to imagine a better place in your home. Even if your dog has her own crate, she may occasionally choose to sleep in your closet if she is anxious. For instance, if you have a lot of people over for the holidays, if you are moving furniture, or if you have repair techs in. Many dogs like excitement and energy, but too much can be exhausting.
When you think about it, a dog’s den is a lot like her personal man cave. Maybe she doesn’t have a big screen TV and a leather recliner, but it is her space, comfortable and safe. There are other reasons a dog may choose to sleep in your closet. In the wild, wolves conceal any illness or injury they may have. A wolf who has an injury or illness risks her standing in the pack. She may even be putting herself in physical danger. So, she does her best to hide her injury, only walking when necessary, limiting how much she eliminates so other animals can’t detect any illness, even limiting her food and water intake. Your dog, of course, comes from wolves, and many of the behaviors of wolves are hard-wired into her DNA. She may choose to hide in your closet because she is feeling vulnerable, either through illness or injury. She is obeying the call of the wild, so to speak, that tells her that she needs to hide her vulnerabilities, even from the rest of her family.
Encouraging the Behavior
When your dog chooses to hang out in your closet, it’s important to figure out why she is doing that. Is this something she regularly does, every time there is a thunderstorm, for instance? Does she like to sleep in the closet when it is cold, or when there are a lot of children around? Or is this a new behavior? And if this is a new behavior, you should pay attention to what else is happening. Has your dog been eating properly? Has her interest in walks changed? She may have new lumps on her body, or perhaps she has a sudden eye discharge. Pay attention to your dog, and try to find out what else is going on. If something else is happening, you should take her to the vet as soon as possible.
Assuming that your dog is not hiding in your closet because of a physical reason, take the time to look at her surroundings. Your dog may be seeking a den. You should get a crate for your dog so she can truly have a room of her own. If she has already has a crate, maybe it should be moved to a quieter corner of the house. Or maybe she has outgrown it. Take the time to look at your house from your dog’s perspective.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Another reason why your dog may be choosing to hide in your closet is out of depression. This often happens if you have had a loss in your family. Maybe one of your children has moved out, or perhaps you had another dog that has recently died. Change is stressful for everyone, and dogs experience grief and mourning as well, just like a human. So, like anybody else, when a dog is feeling sad, she will sometimes pull back from everything and go to the safest, quietest place she can find, and in most homes, that is the closet.
If you suspect that your dog has started to hang out in your closet because she is depressed, one of the best things you can do for her is to take her out of the situation. Take her to the park, give her extra treats, and try to cheer her up. Think about what you like when YOU are sad, and tailor it to your dog. Only time will heal the wounds of loss, but there’s a lot you can do to break your dog out of her funk.
Your dog has her own mind, and her own agenda. Her English is not that great, but if you take the time and patience to understand her, your dog will make herself clear. Maybe she needs a space of her own, maybe she needs to see the doctor, maybe she’s just afraid of thunder and small children. Whatever the situation, it’s our role as her human to improve what we can and make her life that much more comfortable. After all she’s given to us, it’s the least we can do.