Dogs are oddballs, aren’t they? They have a few pre-sleep rituals that make us scratch our heads and think “why in the world are you doing that?“. If your dog is a digger, you’ve probably asked the question “why do dogs dig in their beds?” This is one of those weird things that nearly every dog does and no dog owner seems to know why. For those that are worried something is “wrong” with your dog, you can let go of those worries. A dog circling their bed and then digging at it before they lay down is completely normal behavior.
The only time you should try to correct the behavior is if they are constantly tearing apart their dog bed and you have to continue purchasing new ones. However, there are some really durable beds out there that are nearly impossible to tear up. Other than that, it’s totally fine to let your dog dig to their hearts content.
In this post we will be covering the top reasons dogs dig in their beds and then we will go over a few methods to reduce the amount of times your dog feels the need to dig.
It’s All About The Instincts
Dogs have a number of bedtime rituals, digging in their bed is one of them. They do this because of 3 primary instincts, all of which are related to survival. They are:
- Temperature Regulation
- Marking Territory
Humans have instincts just like animals do. Think about a newborn human baby. Does anyone teach the baby how to swallow? No, yet they instinctively know how and without this instinct they wouldn’t be able to survive.
However, humans can think much more logically than animals, and as we get older, we can control our instincts. Animals, on the other hand, cannot logically think through why they are doing something, so they will often behave in ways that seem odd.
We need to remember that even though we domesticate dogs, they maintain their survival instincts as if they were still out in the wild. They don’t sit there and think “now that I am in a safe house with a loving family, I no longer need to do dig at the bed before sleeping.”
Here are just a few instincts you’ll most likely see in your dog (other than digging in their bed)
- Marking their territory (primarily in male dogs)
- Burying their food
- Digging in the yard
- Barking at night
This list could go on and on. Some breeds have different instincts than others. For example, most dogs in the hound family will keep their nose to the ground when running and walking, whereas a sheepdog will keep their head up and rely on their vision just as much as their sense of smell.
Now that you understand the basic answer to why your dog digs in their bed is because of instincts, let’s get into the details of WHY this instinct developed so you can get a better idea of what they are expressing when doing it.
3 Instincts That Cause This Behavior
What’s the number one priority of wild animals? Hint – It’s most likely your number one priority also…safety!
If you do a simple search for “wolf sleeping” you’ll notice they dig out a small surface in the ground to sleep in. They do this to decrease their chances of becoming another animals dinner. By sleeping even just a few inches under the surface, it helps hide them from potential predators.
Another way it helps protect wild dogs is by clearing any potential dangers that could have been right underneath them. For example, if a wolf were to lay on a snake or scorpion accidentally, that could potentially be deadly. By digging out a small surface in the ground, they are clearing the ground of potential danger.
2 – Temperature Regulation
Humans have sweat glands that help us regulate our body temperature. When we get too hot, we begin sweating which helps cool us down. Dogs don’t have sweat glands, but they do have the ability to regulate their body temperature in ways we can’t.
One of the ways is through panting. Have you ever noticed how on hot days dogs pant even when they weren’t running around? When they pant, they are allowing cold air to flow through their body which causes warm water to evaporate. We won’t get too scientific here, but that’s one method of temperature regulation for dogs.
The other method is known as conduction. On one of those blazing hot summer days, you’ve probably seen your dog spread out on the tile or some other cold surface. They aren’t doing this for comfort reasons alone; they are trying to regulate their body temperature. By using conduction, when they lay on a cold surface, the surface will pull heat out of the body which will cool their body temperature.
When humans go to bed, we have the ability to place more sheets over us when we get too cold and remove sheets when we get too hot; dog’s don’t have this ability. On hot days, when they scratch at the ground, they are removing the hottest part of the earth’s surface and are able to lay on a cooler part. On a cold day, the opposite is true, they are removing the coldest part of the surface and exposing a warmer part.
3 – Marking Territory
Territory is everything to dogs, and they want to make sure all the other dogs around them know this is their territory. They mark their territory in a variety of ways; one of the most common ways male dogs express this behavior is by urinating all around their region – letting other dogs know not to come in.
Digging where they sleep is their way of letting all the other dogs know “this is my sleeping area, not yours.” By digging where they sleep, they are transferring most of their unique smell to that exact spot (dogs feet contain a large number of scent glands), preventing other dogs from “stealing their bed.”
Can You Stop Your Dog From Bed Digging?
Once we go over the most common reasons dogs dig at their beds, one of the main questions we receive is “can this behavior be prevented”?. The simple answer is no, it can’t be prevented. However, you can significantly reduce the number of times this behavior is taking place. Here are two ways to accomplish that.
Help Them Feel Safe and Comfortable
Remember, the number one reason dogs dig at their bed is for survival. If this behavior is persisting day in and day out, your dog might not feel safe. There are several things you can do to help your dog feel safer. The first step is to move their bed to a more private location. Most dogs enjoy sleeping near their masters, but some dogs want exclusion when sleeping. On the other hand, some dogs may be afraid of exclusion. If their bed was already in a private location, you could move it closer to your room. If you notice your dog suddenly stops this behavior when you make the change, that’s a clear sign that they just didn’t feel comfortable where their bed was located.
The next thing you need to ask yourself is if other dogs ever slept in that bed? Remember, everything is about territory for dogs. If there was ever another animal sleeping in their bed, they may continue to scratch and dig the bed until the other scent is gone.
Don’t Wash Everything At Once
In an ideal world, I would tell you never to wash your dog’s bed because they HATE IT when this happens. However, asking dog owners never to clean their dogs bed isn’t realistic. None of us want our homes continually smelling like a dirty dog.
One trick to help your dog “cope” with washing the bed is to make sure you don’t clean everything at once. Does your dog have blankets, pillows, or toys that they go to bed with? If so, only wash one thing at a time, never clean all of them at once. This will make them feel more comfortable knowing something smells like them at all times.
Do You Need This Behavior To Stop?
Before you try to stop this behavior, it’s important to ask yourself why? Part of being a responsible dog owner is understanding that your dog is going to have instincts that might seem odd, but it’s part of who they are. Dogs scratch and dig all the time, there’s nothing to be concerned about. If they are digging holes in YOUR bed, that’s a good reason to get them to stop. However, there are plenty of dog beds that are made to withstand digging. It would be worth investing a few extra bucks in one of these beds rather than trying to change your dogs instincts.
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