• The Red Dog Company

Why Do Dogs Pull Their Beds Around?

If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ll most likely have caught them making and remaking their bed. Some people consider this as much of a night time routine as brushing your teeth or washing your face, others post videos of their dogs on online forums wondering if they’re weird. Your dog, on the other hand, probably doesn’t give a hoot what you make of it, because of their own innate instinct to nest.

What is nesting?

Nesting can present itself in a few different ways - some of which we’ll get into a little further down the page - but first we need to understand what exactly the term means. We spoke to our resident veterinary expert, Alison Lambert, who said:

“Dogs often circle in their beds before finally choosing to lie down and rest. This behaviour is thought to be a hangover from their ancestors in the wild, being an inherited trait of self-preservation. It’s believed the animals would have claimed a territory by flattening down an area of grass, making it obvious that site was taken. The act of circling and flattening the vegetation would leave their scent in the area to ward off others but also act to drive out any insects or snakes lurking in the vicinity. The very act of flattening the vegetation and rooting out stones and thorns would make the site more comfortable.

In addition, the act of circling allowed wild ancestors to survey the area around them for danger before settling and gave a chance to check on other pack members. Some experts believe the wolves would finally settle in a wind direction that allowed them to scent any potential danger quickly for a rapid response.

Circling and nesting before settling is a common and normal behaviour but if your dog is excessively circling and seems to have difficulty in finding a comfortable position, it could be that they are suffering with pain. A vet check could help to identify possible causes such as arthritis.”

Okay. So dogs circling their beds is natural, good to know, but why do dogs pull their beds around? Well, there’s a pretty similar explanation for many of the things you might see your dog do before they eventually settle down. Let’s get into some of them now.

My dog pulls their bed

Most of why dogs fuss with their beds and blankets stem from nesting and their ancestral instinct to find the safest position possible, but if your pooch is pulling their bed from room to room it could also be because they’re looking for a change in temperature. Considering dogs sleep up to fourteen hours a day, you can see why they’d choose to be comfortable before catching 40 winks by moving to a cooler or warmer position depending on their needs.

Or, perhaps a sweeter reason is that your dog’s looking to get closer to you. They are after all pack animals and by dragging their beds into your bedroom, they’re not only showing you affection but also that they consider you part of their pack. This is, once again, a hangover from their ancestors who would snuggle together for warmth and safety, but it’s also leftover puppy behaviour. If you’ve ever seen a litter, you’d know the dogs usually pile together and your dog might just be trying to replicate that same coziness by sleeping close to you now.

My dog digs

Completely natural when they’re digging into your flower beds against your will, but a little more strange when they’re trying it on hardwood floors, carpets, and in their beds. If nesting has taught us anything, it’s that although it might not look completely normal, it’s actually pretty instinctive. Your pooch could be digging for the very same reason they’re dragging their beds - temperature control. Soil right below the surface is always slightly cooler to the touch because it hasn’t been exposed to the sun’s rays for an entire day, so when dogs need cooling down, they tend to scratch away the warm soil to lie down on the cooler patch.

In other cases, your dog might just be playful and curious. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve seen many treats and toys go missing in the folds of a dog bed - not too dissimilar from the television remote disappearing into the couch - and digging is a good way to uncover it. Alternatively, your dog might be trying to get rid of a little pent-up energy. A lot of larger breeds, especially Labradors, have heaps of it and digging not only spends some energy, but it also forces them to use muscles they might not be flexing when they’re simply running around.

Regardless of how domesticated your dog is, it’s important to remember that they’re still animals and that that usually comes with territorial tendencies. Cats, foxes, wolves, dogs, and most other four-legged animals are likely to claim their areas as their own and although it tends to happen by urination, some also secrete distinct pheromones from the glands on their feet. By scratching around in their beds, your dog might just be putting their own little ‘do not touch’ sign on it.

My dog circles before lying down

Alison Lambert, our resident vet, already covered dogs’ genetic disposition to circle in her explanation of nesting, which can be summarised in three bullet points:

  • Comfort

  • Safety

  • Territory

However, what’s even more interesting about dogs circling, is the fact that, according to this Psychology Today study, they are more likely to do so on uneven surfaces. As we know, a dog bed isn’t exactly a smooth surface, so your dog could be trying to suss out what the best way to proceed is. Either way, whether or not they’re thinking about how to make it comfortable and safe, whilst also marking their territory and protecting their pack (that’s you), there’s no need for concern. Unless, as Alison said, your dog is excessively circling or it seems as though they’re uncomfortable, in which case it’s a good idea to consult a vet.

My dog drags their blankets around

Guess who we can thank for this type of behaviour? That’s right, it’s believed dogs’ wild ancestors would move leaves, dirt, pine needles, and anything else they could find, together to create a comfortable mound. As another form of nesting, this behaviour once again comes down to your dog’s internally wired habits. By piling and rearranging the blankets in their bed, they’re probably just trying to create the most comfortable environment for themselves, but there might also be one or two other reasons for this behaviour.

One being maternal instincts in female dogs. Expecting mothers are likely to arrange and rearrange blankets until they’re satisfied it would be a safe and comfortable place to give birth to their litters. This could mean digging, carrying blankets or even moving them to an entirely different location.

Another comes down to territory and in much the same way as digging, your pooch could be wrangling their blankets because they’re eager to put their mark on it, or they could simply be burrowing to keep warm and feel safe. There are also a number of smaller breeds, including terriers, who instinctively burrow because they were originally used for small prey hunting, often in tunnels.

If your dog’s trading new blankets for the same shabby one, they’re probably just hanging on to what feels familiar to them. Some dogs didn’t exactly like new scents and would persistently go back to the same blue blanket we put in his bed when he was a pup.

Speaking of pups, younger dogs could be bored and looking for a way to play or get your attention, but if your dog - of any age - repeatedly drags their blanket out and goes to sleep without it, it might be a sign that they don’t like that particular one.

A few other reasons for strange bedtime routines

  • Whatever the behaviour, it could come down to your dog copying another. This can often be seen when puppies mimic older dogs, but older dogs can be guilty of it as well. Contagious behaviour - officially called allometric behaviour - can often result in your dog imitating another when two or more are together in one space.

  • Simple genetics. Certain types of dogs were bred for certain behaviours. For example, Dachshunds, and Jack Russell Terriers were kept for flushing out vermin by digging, whilst Labradors and Golden Retrievers like to bring you things because they’re natural retrievers.

  • Amusement. It could be that your dog is digging away or careening their bed all over the lounge because it’s all one big game to them.

So why do dogs pull their beds around? As you can see from the above, dogs exhibit different kinds of behaviours for different reasons, but it almost always comes down to instinct and their need for warmth, comfort, and safety. If it’s not harmful to you or your dog, it’s probably easiest to let them be. We all have our quirks after all.