Why Do Dogs Make Their Bed

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Introduction

Your dog probably goes through a ritual before going to sleep. He might paw, scratch, shape his beddings and turn around before finally lying down. If your dog’s bed has blankets, he might even use his nose to ‘create a tunnel’ under the blankets. When he does this, he is “making his bed." You have probably wondered about this behavior and are probably puzzled by it. But there is nothing abnormal about what your dog is doing as it is quite normal for dogs to make their beds before going to sleep. While there is little scientific research into this behavior, certain evolutionary and physiological theories have been advanced to explain why dogs make their beds. We discuss these theories in detail below.

The Root of the Behavior

As most, if not all, dogs seem to exhibit this behavior, it is believed to be an inherited trait, hence your dog, though domesticated cannot help but act this way. Charles Darwin called this vestigial behavior,  which is behavior that is inherited. In the wild, this behavior is driven by a survival instinct. Dogs share their territories with dangerous animals such as snakes, spiders, ants, and scorpions that might attack them in their sleep. Therefore, before going to bed, wild dogs and wolves will scratch and paw at the ground to satisfy themselves that they are not going to share their sleeping area with dangerous animals or insects. Dogs that sleep outside are thought to look out for these same dangers and that is why they will dig around in their kennels.

Another reason why dogs do this is to mark their territory. When dogs scratch their paws on the ground, they emit hormones that signal other dogs to keep off. Dog experts say that this would explain why dogs seem to scratch at their beddings more when new canine members join the family. The hormones also serve another purpose; because your dog knows its own smell, he will come to identify with his sleep area and only want to sleep there. Dogs also make their bed for safety. Your dog’s ancestors were accustomed to living in dens that protected them against predators and bad weather. While inside their dens, they would dig a depression into the ground and use anything around them, including twigs, leaves and soil, to make a comfortable bed. When your dog burrows in his blankets, he is doing what his ancestors did, only instead of leaves, he uses his blankets to create a protective fort. 

Nesting, as observed in female dogs just before they go into labor, is also similar to making a bed. When a female dog is getting ready to welcome her new puppies into the world, she will make a soft bed that will provide a soft landing for her newborns. When dogs get close to labor, their bodies emit hormones that trigger this desire to nest or make their beds. Female dogs that are still nursing their young also nest to provide a comfortable place for their puppies to feed and sleep.

Encouraging the Behavior

Based on the explanations given above, dogs making their bed is nothing to be alarmed about and should indeed be encouraged. But understandably, you might not want to encourage this behavior if your dog is tearing up his bed into tatters or worse, damaging your hardwood floors. As you cannot force your dog to fight his instincts, there are things you can do to make this experience pleasant for him. One, if he sleeps on a hard mat or on the bare floor, add some blankets to the surface. Providing your dog with a soft sleeping area where he can dig around easily will make this process pleasant for him and satisfy the urge to paw at the floor. 

Two, it is possible your dog does not feel safe in his current sleeping room. To make him feel safe, relocate his bed to a more secluded area. You could also create a canopy over his sleeping area to create a more enclosed sleeping area. Three, if you cannot stomach the damage your dog is causing, get him nail caps. This way, he can satisfy his natural need to dig into his bed without damaging bedding or leaving scratch marks on the floor. Lastly, investing in a good quality dog bed might be the way to go if you don’t mind the expense. Certain dog beds are designed to withstand damage while providing comfort and support. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Persistent scratching and pawing might be motivated by other factors such as cold or anxiety. According to the ASPCA’s Virtual Pet Behaviorist, dogs can dig or scratch because they are cold, anxious, or simply find the activity fun. If your dog seems to be digging in his bed long after he should have settled down, check the room temperature and if it is low, crank up your thermostat or provide him with extra blankets. A dog that is scratching his bed, floors, and carpets because of anxiety can be trained to relax and respond calmly to your absence or to being left alone for the night. While some dog owners resort to sharing their beds with their dogs, this is not recommended in all cases. According to dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, some dogs can develop aggression towards other members of the household when allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds. A more viable solution is to get another pet friend to keep your dog company.

Conclusion

People often say, “I can’t help who I am." Well, this is the same for dogs and if your dog could, he would say those same words to you. If you get annoyed at your dog for digging, you are telling him to ignore not just his vestigial instincts but also his need to feel secure and comfortable. Would you live without those things?