For those of us who share a bedroom with a furry friend or two, it’s not necessarily a strange sight to see them burrow under their (or our) bedcovers at night. But why do dogs tunnel under blankets, and is this behavior safe?
Certain breeds of dog are more inclined toward creating little warrens in their bedding, and in general, such denning is not detrimental to their health. But some blanket options are safer than others, and dogs of certain ages and breeds need to be more closely monitored when they hunker down this way. With just a little know-how about dogs’ burrowing behavior, we can rest more easily alongside our comforter-covered canines.
Which breeds are prone to burrowing?
If you live with a Terrier or Dachshund, you’ve probably witnessed at least some blanket-digging behavior. These types of dogs historically were bred to drive vermin out of underground dens, and their ancestors were accustomed to creating and squeezing into tight spaces in order to flush out rodents. Therefore, they instinctively feel comfortable within, say, a dark and cozy duvet enclosure. Huskies, too, are apt to burrow under the covers, as their Arctic ancestors dug holes in the snow and nestled in them for insulation (as do current-day sled dogs when on the trail). However, though specialists in dog behavior tend to name these three breeds as poster pups for denning, any dog can exhibit blanket-burrowing behavior.
Why do dogs burrow?
Ancestors of the domesticated dog settled in tunnels and caves to protect themselves and their young from predators and inclement weather, and today’s canines intuitively seek comfort in spaces they associate with the coziness of a den. Because they’re pack animals, dogs also tend to search for modern-day equivalents of the warmth and sense of security derived from curling up against littermates in the underbrush. They find these comforts in the act of sleeping alongside their human “pack members” and nestling beneath blankets that smell soothingly of themselves and/or their owners.
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Dogs also burrow as a way to recharge after a day’s worth of stressors. “By removing exposure to the sights and sounds of an active household, the dog feels more secure,” says JustAnswer veterinarian Jo Myers, DVM. “After all, it’s your dog’s job to keep an eye on everything going on in and around the house so she can make sure her family is safe. When she is buried under the blankets in your bed, she can turn off that vigilance and take a break.”
In addition, being under the covers places a barrier between the pup and any loud circumstances going on outside, such as fireworks or rainstorms. Like a Thundershirt or similar swaddling vest, bedcovers can provide anxiety-reducing pressure to the body of the nervous animal.
Is burrowing safe for dogs?
For the most part, yes. Healthy adult dogs will thermoregulate—that is, remove themselves from beneath the blankets—when they become too hot. As long as they have an easy exit out of their “dens,” there is little danger in allowing them to dive under the covers. This said, it may be difficult for puppies and smaller breeds to vacate certain types of bedding. In addition, older canines and those with respiratory issues (including flat-faced dogs like Pugs) can have a difficult time disengaging from especially big or heavy blankets. To minimize the opportunity for overheating or entanglement, it’s best to avoid such coverings.
Which blankets are potentially harmful to burrowers?
Any blanket from under which a dog cannot easily remove herself is a no-no. An oversized or weighted blanket could hinder pets from vacating their self-made dens when they became too toasty, as might a blanket with pockets or openings in which pups could become trapped (duvet covers, for instance). Also, dogs’ teeth or nails can snag in blankets with holes or loose ends, causing the canines to become stuck in their hidey-holes. “Avoid allowing your dog to burrow in blankets that have become so worn that they’re stringy and look more like a net than a blanket,” warns Myers. Of course, heated blankets and heating pads, with their electrical cords and quick-warming properties, may also lead to a dangerously sweltering sleep environment and even thermal burns. Experts recommend choosing bed covers made from breathable, hard-to-chew fabrics like fleece, microfiber and mesh.
Can burrowing indicate anxiety issues?
Blanket-burrowing in dogs generally is nothing to worry about. However, if the digging seems obsessive or is partnered with panting or crying, separation anxiety could be the culprit. You can help release your dog’s tension by providing her with ample exercise and toy stimulation before leaving her on her own. Utilizing dog-sitters or a doggy day care also may prove useful in minimizing your pup’s attachment issues. This said, if excessive burrowing persists even after the animal’s fear trigger has been identified and removed, the behavior could point to a larger phobia. Ask your vet for recommendations on behavior modification techniques and/or medications based on her assessment of your dog’s compulsive conduct.