If your dog loves to suck and nibble on pillows and blankets, they're probably performing suckling behavior, like puppies do when they're with their mother. It's a deeply ingrained instinct that some dogs can't give up later in life. It can be annoying, especially if you don't want your dog to damage your bed spread or get drool all over your favorite pillow, but most of the time it's nothing to worry about.
Cause of the Behavior
The reason dogs nip and suck on blankets can be difficult to pinpoint. Some dogs may do so out of boredom or because they've been left alone for too long. Other dogs might exhibit stress-related behaviors because of being abused as puppies, having been separated from their littermates early in life, or experiencing some other type of trauma.
1. Early Separation From Mother
Dogs who were separated from their littermates and mother early in life may also exhibit this behavior. If your dog was abandoned or taken away from their mother before they were weaned, they may be more likely to suck on blankets. This is how they have learned to comfort themselves.
2. Anxiety Problems
Dogs and puppies see their blankets and pillows as sources of comfort, similar to how a baby sees their pacifier. It's an object to calm them when they're feeling upset. You may notice your dog sucking on their blanket when there's a change in the household or you have guests over. Puppies who use security blankets rarely grow out of the behavior, which leads to an adult dog suckling and nibbling their blankets.
Your dog should have a quiet place to escape to when they're stressed, such as a crate, closet, or bedroom. This can help reduce anxiety-induced behaviors.
If your dog is constantly sucking on blankets, there's a chance they were abused as a puppy. Or, it could be a sign that the mother neglected the puppy when they were young. Puppies who haven't been treated properly, whether by their mother or a human, may suck on blankets to diffuse their negative feelings, leading to behavioral problems later in life.
Why Dogs Pick Certain Items
Dogs pick certain items, such as blankets and pillows, because they're soft and hold warmth. In addition to bedding, your dog could also have a stuffed animal they carry around. Dogs choose objects based on:
- Scent: If the item carries your scent or the scent of their mother, they are more likely to carry it around.
- Texture: Like you, your dog may prefer some textures more than others.
- Comfort: Your dog is often searching for comfort when choosing an item. They will choose an item that's comfortable for them to carry around.
This Is Often Normal Behavior
If you only notice your dog sucking on a blanket or pillow occasionally, it's generally nothing to worry about. This behavior is known to release endorphins, which can comfort your pup. Unless it becomes obsessive, it's acceptable to allow it to happen.
Some dogs who exhibit this behavior may also engage in pica, or eating non-food items. Also, make sure your dog isn't flank sucking, which is an obsessive-compulsive behavior where dogs suck on a piece of their own skin.
Addressing the Behavior
If the behavior becomes an issue, it's time to put a stop to it. First, attempt to determine why your dog is experiencing the behavior. Look for any triggers. Then, try preventing this behavior yourself with these tips:
- Address your dog's trigger, if possible. Stress, anxiety, and long separations can all be triggers.
- Spray your dog's blanket or pillow with something they don't like, such as chewing deterrent.
- Put the blanket inside your dog's bed.
- Redirect your dog's attention to an appropriate object.
- Teach the "Leave it" command when they attempt to suck on their blanket.
Use positive reinforcement when addressing this behavior. Don't scold your dog or get angry with them.
Observe the Behavior
Keep an eye on the behavior to make sure it doesn't become a bad habit. As long as it's used for occasional relief, there's no harm in it. But if your dog starts licking and suckling most of the day, it's time to visit your veterinarian to determine what's going on. If the vet says your dog is in the clear, you can start addressing this from a behavioral standpoint.