If you have a dog, you know the score. Bedtime rolls around, and before you've even had time to get your pajamas on, your dog's up on the bed, digging away and spinning round and round.
Aside from messing up the covers, you fear he'll put a hole in the bed, but no matter what you do, he won't stop digging, he wads up all the covers in his self-made bed, and he takes up an enormous amount of room even if he's a small breed!
So, why does he do it? Why do dogs dig in your bed? There's more than one possible answer to this, so let's start at the beginning -- the evolutionary origins of dogs digging in your bed.
Why Do Dogs Dig? Tradition!
Well, it's more than just tradition, but let's start at the beginning. Genetic evidence suggests dogs may have been first domesticated during a harsh glacial period in Siberia approximately 23,000 years ago. This may have been the first time a human witnessed dogs digging in their bed and stealing their covers -- just imagine the look on that caveman's face!
Dogs digging to make shelter, however, is not just seen in domesticated dogs. You will also see a wild dog dig to make a bed, which is an essential part of their survival. Your dog's wild ancestors needed to find a safe place to rest in order to survive, and they passed that behavior on to your furry family member.
That means a dog's digging behavior is a natural instinct, making it difficult to train them out of it. Domestic dog behavior of digging is related to their ancestral need to create a shallow hole where they can stay warm when it's cold.
That's also why they like to snuggle right up next to you -- they're looking for warmth from your body temperature, and they will push you right up to the edge of the bed to get it!
Dog's digging behavior also helps make the hard surface of the ground more comfortable, and though your bed might be very comfortable without digging, your dog's instinct is to dig in it to make it better. But that's not the only reason dogs dig in your bed.
Other Reasons Dogs Dig in Your Bed
A dog's natural instinct to make a safe, warm shelter isn't the only reason dogs dig in your bed. Here are a few other reasons they dig:
That's right, your furry family member is marking your bed as his territory. As with many other animals, dogs have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, and these secrete a pheromone that lets other animals know that's their territory. It’s the same reason they lay down on your feet. That's why they will also scratch at the covers and bed as they arrange them for their comfort.
Curiosity Isn't Just for CatsYour dog may also be digging because he's investigating what might be under the covers and cushions. It's something that often drives dog owners crazy, but they might have 'buried' a toy or some leftover food under your covers, and now they're digging to get it back.
If your dog's digging behavior seems compulsive or over the top, it could also be a sign of some kind of anxiety. You might consider consulting your veterinarian, but it might also be worthwhile to consider buying him a calming dog bed that can help calm him down.
Why does my dog dig in my bed? Anxiety.
If your female dog is digging in her bed, this could be related to nesting behavior which is also called “denning.” Female dogs have the natural instinct to create a nest even if they are not pregnant. Wild female dogs will dig holes in the ground where they can enter and safely have their puppies, as well as raise them to an age where it's safe for them to leave the nest.
It's also a natural instinct for your dog to have a safe place to hide from other animals. For this reason, they will dig a den, and though they are no longer wild, your dog may still have the urge to find a safe, comfortable place to hide.
Hide and Seek
Dogs digging in your bed is also a way for them to fluff up the pillows, so to speak. They are simply trying to arrange the bedding in a certain way that will make them more comfortable. This may be particularly true for dogs that are experiencing some kind of pain, such as that associated with arthritis.
Other Bedtime Rituals
There are several other bedtime rituals you might see your dog doing as they prepare to rest. Here are a few and what they mean:
Walking in a CircleYou've seen this one -- your dog seems to walk endlessly in a circle after they've been digging in the bed before they actually lay down. You likely just scratch your head and stare while you wonder what purpose that serves. Well, it's a holdover from the behavior of his wild ancestors. This circling helps them feel safe, regulates their body temperature, and helps them feel like they're hiding from any possible attackers.
This accompanies the digging, and as mentioned, it's a way to fluff up the bedding for maximum comfort. Your dog probably wonders why you don't do the same!
Dog Scratching on the Bed
This is one of the more adorable behaviors that you probably love. You've likely seen those cute little puppy piles before, and that's essentially what your dog is doing when he snuggles up with you or other family members. This is likely associated with your dog's pack mentality and you're one of the pack. It feels cozy and safe for him, and research shows that adult women sleep better when they share their bed with their dog than they do if they share it with a cat or human partner.
Once they're comfortable, you're likely to hear your dog let out a huge sigh of contentment. It's their way of letting you know they feel happy and are ready to rest.
How to Get Your Dog Out of Your Bed
While sharing a bed with your dog can help you sleep better, there are many reasons why pet owners may not want to share their bed with their furry family members. They can cause allergies to flare up, make the bedding dirty, and dog's nails can damage the bedding when they're digging.
For all these reasons and perhaps others, you may want to get your dog his own bed, but getting him his own bed is the easy part. Then, you have to train him to use it. This might be hard if he is already accustomed to sleeping in your bed. Here are some tips that can help.
Start with a Comfortable Dog Bed
You'll have more success if your dog's bed is comfortable for him. Before you buy, walk a mile in your dog's paws. If he's been sleeping in your bed and is suddenly kicked to the floor, he's going to be resistant to that idea.
That's why you need to get him a comfortable dog bed where he can feel secure. To decide on what will be comfortable for him, first observe how he sleeps. Does he curl up in a ball or sprawl out?
If he curls up in a ball, you'll want a dog bed that's just a little larger than his body size. This will make him feel secure and warm. If he sprawls all over your bed, then he'll likely be more comfortable in one of those large, flat dog beds.
The reality is that your dog's comfort is important, and if he's got a bed he likes, you'll have much better luck in getting him to make the move from your bed to his.
Put Familiar Items in Your Dog's Bed
Your pooch doesn't just want a comfortable spot to sleep, he wants to make it his own. He's your best friend, after all, so make his bed a place he can call home while he's resting. Put familiar items in his bed like toys or a special pet blanket that's all his own.
By stocking your dog's bed with some of his favorite things, you'll make it a place he wants to go rather than someplace he has to go. Your dog's bed will be someplace welcoming, warm, and safe.
Include Essence of You
Your best friend doesn't just want his stuff in his own bed, he also wants something that reminds him of his favorite person -- you! This is particularly true if he's already accustomed to sleeping with you.
To give him 'essence of you', try adding something to his bed that smells like you. You can use an old T-shirt or a blanket that you've used before; it can really be anything that has your scent on it. It will make him feel like you're right there with him in his new dog bed.
Teach Basic Obedience and Use Positive Reinforcement
You should always teach your dog basic obedience to help prevent any behavioral problems. While digging in your bed is not a behavioral problem, if you're trying to get him to move to his own bed, basic obedience dog training will help.
You can leash walk over to your dog's bed with him and place him in the down position on the bed. When he lays down, give him a treat as positive reinforcement for doing what you want. Over time, he'll associate loving his own bed with a reward.
It's also important to know that food isn't the only reward you can give your dog for behaving well. His favorite toy can be another reward as can your approval.
You don't want to have to give him a treat every time he gets in his own bed, but it can help him learn to enjoy it initially. Once the behavior becomes a habit, you won't need to always give him a treat.
If you love having your dog share your bed with you, but hate that he is always digging in your bed, it's important to understand that this is a natural instinct for your pooch. He's just doing what his wild ancestors did for survival.
When you view it through his mind, you'll see that he just views you as a loving family member and a valuable part of the pack -- someone he wants to snuggle up to. Still, there are reasons you might want to move him into his own bed.
If you'd like to get him to sleep in his own bed, choose one that's comfortable and make sure it smells like you. Use positive reinforcement to train him to sleep in it, and before you know it, you'll both be sleeping like a baby!