One of the most adorable behaviors in dogs is seeing them wrap and tuck themselves into blankets until they look like a burrito of coziness. Do they do it to look cute because they know what aww-inducing effect it will have on us or do they snuggle for warmth, shelter and a sense of security? Or maybe, they just want to be where you are. After all, if it is safe enough for you to sleep here - maybe it is enough to let them feel that safety as well. But, should you allow it? Is it safe for your dog to sleep under the covers and doesn’t your dog need boundaries?
The Root of the Behavior
It turns out that your dog’s adorable preference of sleeping under the covers or burrowing into blankets is a natural instinct, similar to that of moles and groundhogs, and it is present in most dogs. It comes from the fact that their ancestors were born and raised in dens, a mammal's sheltered home. The behavior is especially common in Terriers and Dachshunds as these breeds were known to be avid hunters of smaller prey that either travelled through tunnels or had dens underground. The behavior can also be seen in Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies as their ancestors burrowed into snow for warmth and as a way to camouflage themselves and remain hidden from predators. However, instead of staying in their dens all year round like moles and groundhogs, dogs don’t usually spend more than a couple of hours buried underneath the covers. They either get too hot or don’t feel comfortable with the amount of air over a longer period of time. Companionship is another reason. Dogs are pack animals and it is in their nature to sleep in a pile, especially during their puppyhood. A puppy litter always finds a way to stay together, cuddled and by each other's side for as long as it is possible. It comes as no surprise then that your dog loves laying by your side and occasionally snoozing under the covers. It is a sign of affection and your dog’s way of showing you that he cares about you. By sleeping next to you and protecting you throughout the night he lets you know he considers you a member of the pack.
In addition, sleeping under the covers can help certain fearful dogs or dogs with anxiety to feel safer and more calm. Lastly, if you have a short-haired dog that tends to slip under the covers during the colder seasons it’s most probable that he is just cold, however it doesn’t rule out the possibility of him having the instinctual desire to burrow. Even in the warmer months, most dogs just love laying under desks, tables, or self-made holes in the backyard.
Encouraging the Behavior
Whether or not you should encourage your dog to sleep under the covers or not largely depends on the type of dog you have and his behavior until now. If your dog has been cuddling up with you under the covers for a few years now and was always able to manage to get out from underneath the covers whenever he was oxygen deprived, then forbidding it now would only confuse him - as it would be a drastic change for him and a hard one to understand. However, if you have some concerns and for whatever reason, you think it is best for your dog to not sleep under the covers, instead of forbidding it, try to encourage your four-legged friend to sleep half-covered or on the outside of the covers. If you have a smaller dog, you need to be more careful about the bed privileges. Make sure the covers are not too heavy as they might prevent the dog from being able to get out in case of discomfort or lack of air. It is safest for small dogs to sleep at your feet or in their own doggy bed with a light blanket. This would still enable the smaller breeds like Dachshunds or Chihuahuas (who are big fans of burrowing) to live out their instinct while remaining safe and thus enabling you to get a peaceful night of sleep.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you’re concerned about suffocating your dog while they sleep under the covers next to you - don’t be. Most dogs react instantly to being hot, uncomfortable, or not having enough air and will manage to wiggle out from under the covers. However, if your dog is either a heavy sleeper or small (either by breed or age), and you think he might not have the strength to get out, he should not be sleeping under the covers. Instead, get him a cozy doggy bed next to your bed with some blankets of his own.
As much as you might enjoy your dog sleeping under the covers, it is always safer to have them sleep in their own doggy bed with their own blanket. Try to encourage your dog to sleep in his own bed so you will both have more room to move around.