Nesting is a comforting maternal sounding activity. Birds make nests and they provide shelter and a safe place to lay eggs. Dogs have nesting instinctive behavior too and as they circle and scratch at their sleeping spot it looks as if they are making a comfy nest. This behavior goes back to the wild days of canine activity when your dog did not have a soft cushion or dog bed to sleep on. Nesting, or creating a place to bed down for the night, was a ritual and made sure the chosen sleeping spot was well prepared. The nesting ritual can be performed by male and female dogs but a bitch preparing to have puppies will have a greater need to make her nest and be ready for the arrival of her litter. Nesting is a natural part of your dog’s behavior and would only be something to worry about if your dog’s nesting activities appeared obsessive or frantic. Bedding down at night after a long day and fluffing up your favorite ‘blankie’ is a natural pre-resting state for your dog.
The Root of the Behavior
Getting ready for bed is a calming activity at the end of the day. It is the time when we turn down the bed, fluff up our pillows, and get ready for a good night’s rest. Dogs feel the same way about their bedtime ritual. You will see your darling dog, whatever size or shape she comes in, getting that resting spot ready for sleep time. There will be some circling, scratching, digging up the blanket, and finally when your dog is happy she will settle down with a contented sigh into her nest. Dogs in the wild had to rely on their own devices to create a comfortable sleeping spot. They had a few things to consider. They needed somewhere safe, warm and comfortable to spend the night. They could create this space by digging a hole to lie in or scratching up leaves to nestle into. Dogs wanting to sleep in a grassy spot would need a few twirls and circles to tramp down the grass and flatten somewhere to sleep. There is no need to do this in the domestic environment where beds and bedding are provided.
Charles Darwin refers to nesting as vestigial behavior, meaning it is an instinctive action that is no longer needed. The domestic dog does not need to provide its own bedding but the ritual will still give Fluffy the chance to put the finishing touches on her favorite sleeping place. The nesting process is also a territorial activity and your dog marks her sleeping area as she circles it and scent glands in her paws mark the blankets. This puts out the message ‘these are my blankets!’ Nature has also decreed that nesting is a very normal part of preparing for the arrival of puppies. If you know your bitch is pregnant, you can help with the nesting process by providing a whelping box or a safe area for the arrival of the puppies. Nesting behavior will be very obvious if the pups are soon to be born and extra blankets, disposable newspaper, and other nesting material will be helpful. If you know your bitch is not having puppies, perhaps she was spayed, but frantic nesting activities are taking place then this could be the sign of a false pregnancy. A visit to your vet could confirm the possible hormone changes and the reason behind Fluffy’s frantic nesting behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
Nesting, although it doesn’t sound very canine, is a normal behavior and providing it remains in the realms of normality, is part of your dog’s bedding ritual. It is a comforting ritual that may gain intensity if you move to a new home or invite another pet into your family. The increased nesting ritual is just a result of some changes to your dog’s environment. Keep the old familiar blankets ready to remind Fluffy that her bed is still intact and after some scratching and circling, things will return to normal. The nesting activity helps regulate temperature in the sleeping area as well as just add that personal touch to the blankets. It is part of the territorial behavior of your dog.
Sometimes we react to our dog's behavior by showing more interest in their actions and as a result, fluffy may think this is a great way to get your attention. The scratching and the circling are not about nesting so much as getting some attention. If this is the case find some other activity to show you are paying attention to the cute behaviors you are being shown. Diversion to something else and then return to the bed area a bit later. Nesting behavior was associated with finding a good place to sleep and so if your dog feels insecure in their sleep place perhaps the nesting activity is alerting you that Fluffy is not too happy with her bed in this spot. It could be too noisy, too drafty, or just too far away from you. Consider moving the bed and see if this helps to minimize the nesting behavior. If you still feel the behavior is excessive and becoming a problem then seek the help of an animal behaviorist or your dog’s vet.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Generally, nesting behavior is harmless and endearing. It is your dog’s way of winding down before a nap. Fluffing up the blankets and rearranging the bedding before flopping down into a relaxed pose. Everyone enjoys the security of their bed and the process of going to sleep in a comfortable and peaceful place. We all sigh with relief when the end of the day comes and the whole family is ready to go to bed. Nesting allows your dog to feel secure and comfortable in amongst the blankets and bedding you have provided. Instinctively these fluffy material things are reminders of the dog's natural need to get bedding sorted before turning in for the night. Creating that nest and curling up in it is your dog’s best way to get a good night’s sleep.
Nesting is, in fact, normal behavior for both dogs and birds. The laws of nature determine nesting norms for each species. Animation allows the abnormal to take place and animated characters give rise to laughter. Snoopy becomes a firm friend of Woodstock, the cartoon bird character, after they share nesting experiences. They share their frustrations and irritations but ultimately everyone realizes that nesting can build happy places in heart and home.
Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/14/2018, edited: 01/30/2020