Why do dogs dig in their beds?
Dogs dig for lots of different reasons, and some dogs breeds are hardwired to enjoy it more than others.
Some dogs specifically like to dig in their beds more than anywhere else – and there are many reasons for this as well.
In this article we help you decipher why your dog is digging in their blankets, and how to reduce that behavior, if you want to.
Why Do Dogs Dig In Their Beds?
It’s easy to conjure up a mental image of a dog digging outdoors.
Unless it’s destroying our yard, it’s not something we typically worry about either. It’s an easily recognisable part of ‘dogs being dogs’.
But what about dogs digging in their beds?
Their bed is likely to be something we spent a bit of money on.
Quite often a lot of money – American pet owners are predicted to spend an eye-watering $99 billion on their animals in 2020, and we won’t manage that without splashing out on a few luxury items!
Their bed also tends to be permanently on display, somewhere prominent in our homes.
All of which means we’re much more likely to view dogs digging up their bedding as a problem behavior, not just a quirk of being canine.
Suddenly, when we ask ‘why do dogs dig in their beds?’, we’re not just curious.
We want answers. And ideally, solutions.
To get them, it helps to start by asking why dogs dig at all.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
Lots of dogs dig a little, or a lot, at some point in their lives.
Some breeds are more hardwired to do it than others. We’ll see why in a minute.
But a lot of the instincts which cause dogs to dig up their bedding are universal to all breeds.
So the difference between a dog who can’t resist digging in their bed, and a dog who has never so much as lifted a paw to move their blankets is just natural variation between individuals.
Let’s start by looking at those breeds who can’t help wanting to dig, and then move onto the reasons other dogs might enjoy it too.
Dog Breeds That Love To Dig
Some dogs love to dig because humans made them that way.
For generations, small dogs like Dachshunds, Jack Russell Terriers, Cairn Terriers, and of course Rat Terriers were bred and kept for flushing vermin out of hiding, and killing them.
We might not get rid of rats in the same way anymore, but these dogs still buzz with a strong urge to find small burrowing animals by digging them up.
Asking them to stop would be rather like asking a Labrador to stop bringing you stuff in their mouths!
Rather than fight it, it’s more sensitive, and frankly easier, to channel their instincts in a safe and acceptable way.
We’ve got some ideas for how to do that later in this article.
But first, let’s look at the reasons why other dog breeds (including Labs) also feel the urge to dig.
Why Other Dog Breeds Dig
Digging is a natural and normal part of a dog’s behavior repertoire.
Here’s why they do it:
1. To explore their environment
All dogs, to some degree or another, love to follow their nose.
Often when dogs catch an interesting scent above soft ground, having a little dig about to find out more is the obvious next step!
Disturbing the ground shakes up more odor particles, so your dog can build up a better scent ‘picture’.
It might – joy of joys! – even unearth the source of the smell.
2. To hide food
Who can’t picture a dog digging a hole in the yard to bury a juicy bone?
Dogs’ wild ancestors buried surplus food to stop other animals eating it before they had space to finish it.
Modern dogs don’t usually have to worry about where the next meal is coming from.
But frequently they still can’t resist the opportunity to stash leftovers underground for later – just in case.
3. To hide toys
In many ways this is an extension of hiding food.
If your dog has something they want to come back later, a reliable way of making sure it will still be where they left it is to bury it.
Some factors which can make this behavior more common are:
- Living in a multi-dog household – in this case, dogs are more likely to feel that they actually have a rival to hide ‘their’ belongings from.
- If you frequently take things off your dog, without incorporating a reward for letting it go. The obvious work-around from their point of view is – hide the thing they know you’re not going to let them keep.
Hiding toys can also be part of a larger problem with resource guarding, which is a whole other topic.
4. It’s a fun workout!
Labs are strong dogs with heaps of energy.
Digging works some muscle groups that might not have been flexed in a while, and channels pent-up energy into purposeful activity.
In other words, it satisfies a need to feel busy.
Labs are working dogs at heart, and they have a strong desire to be occupied with some kind of job.
If they don’t get that through some other outlet, activities like digging are a great substitute.
5. To get their bed ready
All of the reasons above can apply equally to digging in the yard, on the bed, and in their beds.
But here’s a reason which specifically answers the question “why do dogs dig in blankets?”
Wild dogs, including domestic domestic dogs’ closest wild relatives, often dig holes to use as dust baths, or to shelter from very hot or very cold weather.
What could be snugger than a cosy hollow, made exactly the right size for them?
Domestic dogs still have a leftover instinct to prepare a place to rest in this way.
Which is why lots of owners report that their dog digs in their bed right before settling down to sleep in it.
6. Expectant moms getting ready to whelp
Here’s another reason why your dog might have started digging specifically in their bed.
Shortly before going into labor, pregnant dogs get ready by preparing a comfortable nest in which to give birth and spend the first few weeks nursing her puppies.
It needs to be somewhere she feels completely secure, comfortable, and unthreatened. It also needs to be warm enough for her babies, and cosy enough to keep them hidden.
Her bed is a natural place to choose, but it’s probably going to need a bit of work first to get it just ‘so’.
So she’ll adjust it, adjust it again, and adjust it some more, right up until the birth.
7. Copying another dog
One of the most surprising reasons behind dogs digging in their beds is because they have seen another dog doing it.
The official term for this is ‘allomimetic behavior’.
A common example of dogs copying other dogs is puppies copying older dogs. But older dogs copy each other too.
In fact more than one dog sharing a yard will quite often team up to work on a big dig!
Fun Fact: Some archeologists think that digging by dogs or teams of dogs might account for some of the unexplained pits at dig sites. Which also gives us more insight into their earliest domestication.
8. Anxiety or boredom
Finally, digging is usually a normal part of dogs being dogs.
But occasionally digging in their bed can become an abnormal behavior.
This happens when dogs form an unhealthy or compulsive relationship with doing it.
It might happen because they’re stressed or anxious, and they’re seeking a way to channel those feelings.
Or they might be bored, lonely, or under stimulated.
If you’re worried that your dog has formed a compulsive relationship with digging in their bed, a professional behaviorist can help you work out why, and how to help them.
But if you’d like to reduce normal digging, we can help you with that in our next section.
How To Stop A Dog Digging In Their Bed
First, do consider whether they need to stop at all.
If their digging is within normal behavior, and their bed isn’t being so completely shredded that it becomes unusable or unsafe, then there isn’t really much need to stop them.
However, if they’re
- destroying one bed after another,
- or creating a risk to their physical health (such as tearing off small pieces they might swallow or choke on),
- or showing signs of an unhealthy emotional relationship with digging in the bed (perhaps spending an increasing amount of time digging up their blankets),
then you could try one of these ideas to change or deflect their behavior.
1. Redirect their digging activities
If you have a big enough yard, set up a sand or dirt box which they allowed to dig in.
Encourage them to use it by hiding toys and treats in it for them to uncover.
Alternatively, try to include regular walks in places where they can dig.
Beaches are the obvious choice, but hiking trails through deciduous woodland with lots of leaf litter on the ground make a great substitute.
Bear in mind that many dog parks and secure fields rented out for off lead exercise expressly prohibit digging.
2. Treat them to a snuffle mat
Dogs who use digging as means to explore and uncover information might get a similar sensory and mental work out from playing with a snuffle mat.
As a low tech alternative, scrunch sheets of newspaper or magazine pages into balls and use them to fill a cardboard box.
Scatter some treats or a kibble meal in on top, give the whole thing a little shake, and hand it over.
3. Remove leftover food at the end of meal times
If your Lab digs up their blankets to stash food underneath, take up any leftover food at the end of meal times.
4. Increase their activity
This means different things for different dogs.
Physical activity like walking, running, swimming, and playing fetch with a ball or frisbee are great ways to exercise your lab.
But physical exercise isn’t the only kind of activity dogs need.
Labs especially are clever dogs with an enormous capacity to learn complex tasks.
So if they’re hiking for miles everyday, but still restless at home, it could be that they need more mental stimulation.
Scent work, puzzle toys, gundog training and training games are all excellent ways to engage and stretch their minds, so that afterwards they settle into bed without turning it over first.
Buy a tougher bed
Sometimes the easiest way to peace of mind is accept that your dog is going to do something, but mitigate against the damage they can do.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the toughest, most chew-proof and dig resistant dogs beds on the market, and you can check it out right here.
Does Your Lab Love To Dig In His Bed?
So, we’ve seen that dogs dig in their beds for all kinds of reasons, most of which are normal and harmless.
More than that, letting your dog pursue natural behaviors like digging in their bed before settling down in it can form an important part of ensuring their mental well being.
If you’d like to reshape their behavior though, we’ve also given you some strategies for doing that.
If your Lab loves to dig up his blankets, let us know in the comments box down below!
Have you tried doing anything to stop him, or do you let him get on with it?
Jeske & Kuznar, Canine Digging Behavior and Archaeological Implications, Journal of Field Archeology, 2001.
Odendaal, An ethological approach to the problem of dogs digging holes, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 1997.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website