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This answer was provided by one of our fantastically generous readers, Jerry D.
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That’s a complicated question and has at least seven different answers. Face it we share our lives with complicated canines.
Digging in a bed or other bed like areas is generally referred to as nesting or denning. Both carry a slightly different definition, but are for the most part the same thing.
When people talk about nesting, it’s become a pretty generic term to refer to the bedtime/naptime habits for your dog. However, when people refer to denning it’s more often in reference to pregnant females and their habits when preparing for motherhood.
That being said there are no hard and fast rules to for when using these terms and can be used interchangeably…and really there aren’t any vocabulary police so use them as you see fit.
So, enough of that…let’s jump in and figure out which of the 7 answers fit our dog the best. Because really, that’s why we’re here to find out why our dogs are digging in their beds!
7 Reasons Why Dogs Dig in Beds
#1. Time to Cool Down
When Spot digs a shallow hole in the garden or under a tree and plops down in the dirt it’s probably because he’s too warm.
By removing the top layer of dirt, it reveals the nice cool earth below which provides a nice comfy place to hunker down and relax.
Also, by digging around it helps to remove unwanted and uncomfortable debris.
So, now are you wondering if Spot is so hot (yes, it’s fun to rhyme), why doesn’t he just head on in and nap in the AC? Well, most dogs love being outside especially if you’re out there too, so for them it’s like having their cake and eating it too.
#2. Time to Warm Up
Being from the Midwest, we have the good fortune of having hot summers and cold winters.
On those cold snowy days when Spot comes in covered in snow, he loves nothing more than to head off to bed and nest in his bed and blankets.
Maybe Spot even goes as far as tunneling completely under the blankets.
Or in my dog’s case, curls into a ball and waits for us to tuck him in. But regardless of how he does it, it’s pretty clear he’s doing it to get and stay warm.
#3. Calming Effect
Like Humans dogs enjoy and find comfort in their routines. I’m sure we all have our own bedtime routine; brush our teeth, wash our face, etc.
Our dogs have their own routines for getting ready for bed too. Their routine is slightly different and generally includes a lot scratching and spinning in their beds, think of it as their own turn down service.
#4. To Mark Territory
Dogs have an interdigital gland (fancy way of saying there’s a gland between their toes) that releases a pheromone. This pheromone, when released, helps the dog mark its territory.
This behavior is most often seen when there has been a change in their environment. It could be something as small as a new blanket or dog bed or as monumental as moving or bringing in a new family member.
When Spot scratches at the bed, flooring or carpeting it’s their way of marking their territory.
In my household new couches all have to be “marked” which unfortunately results in rough looking furniture.
#5. To Get Our Attention
So we’ve all commented on how cute it is when our dog starts nesting, especially if they are curling up with a blanket or stuffed toy.
The reality is this, our dogs love getting our attention, so by watching and/or commenting on their nesting habits we could be, unintentionally training this behavior.
Whether or not it’s good or bad attention, it’s still attention and if Spot is feeling neglected (real or perceived) he will do all in his power to get you to notice him.
One of the ways dogs will show anxiety is through destructive behavior or hiding. So, if Spot starts frantically scratching at his bed, he is telling you that something is wrong in his world.
You will be able to tell the difference between normal nesting and anxiety nesting, because of Spot’s energy.
Sometimes, the scratching is a way to redirect anxious energy and sometimes it’s Spot’s way of trying to hide.
When dogs are pregnant or think they’re pregnant, they will start the denning process.
If Duchess starts the denning process, likely it will start with scratching at the bed and with time become more elaborate. Often times she will drag blankets and other nesting materials over too.
What to Do
Those are the 7 main reasons dogs dig in their beds. As you can see most of those are completely benign habits but some are not. For those times when Spot’s digging needs to be addressed here are some ideas to curb his behavior.
If Spot is digging due to anxiety, the obvious solution is removing the stressor. However, removing the trigger isn’t always feasible, so for those times here are a few things to try:
- Exercise – Exercise is such a good remedy for many of our dog’s bad behaviors, and according to Dr. Gary Landsberg, BSc, DVM, DipACVB “…without sufficient stimulation the dog will find its own outlets to focus upon.” Which, in our case happens to be the demise of their bed.
- DAP – Is a pheromone that helps dogs to calm down during times of stress. There are many brands out there and they can be found in the form of a plug in or spray.
- Provide a Quiet Safe Place – Often times we place our dog’s bed in the main living area, which is usually where they want to be. However, sometimes when things get stressful, they prefer a quieter place. If this is the case try putting a bed in another area of the house that has less traffic and noise.
Usually a combination of the above ideas is enough to help Spot from destructive bed digging behaviors, but if not it’s time to see your veterinarian.
There are so many reasons to why our dogs do what they do. I’m guessing you never thought there would be so many answers to the question of “Why dogs dig in their beds?”.
Hopefully, this has helped you discover the answers to Spot’s curious bed digging habits.
Though I am fortunate enough to share my home with multiple dogs none of them are named Spot or Duchess.
- Dr. Suzy Ahrens, DVM, Minnesota Veterinary Hospital, personal interview. 13 March, 2019