Why Do Dogs Knead?

Dog kneading while licking a pillow

Many of us associate kneading behaviors with cats who softly paw at blankets and other soft objects to mimic feeding time with their mothers. This behavior commonly occurs when a cat is feeling relaxed or winding down for bedtime, but for dogs, it’s slightly different.

One of the most common ways a dog will “knead” is through digging. This behavior often occurs from a mixture of instinct and habit and can be cute to witness. The only problem is that this trait can lead to “bad” or “destructive” behaviors with your pup, leaving a trail of disaster in their wake.

Continue reading to discover the common signs of kneading, why dogs engage in this behavior, and the steps you can take to prevent any destructive behavior.

Why Do Dogs Knead?

There are many reasons why dogs knead objects, including those outlined below.

  • Dogs knead to cool themselves down

Dogs possess far fewer sweat glands than humans, so they utilize kneading to regulate their body temperature. When they’re too hot, they increase the surface area allowing them to cool off; when they’re too cold, they knead the surrounding area to carve a warming cocoon for their body.

  • Dogs knead the ground to satisfy their maternal instincts

Female dogs possess the maternal instinct to nest, which could result in kneading to ensure that an area is a safe place for their puppies.

  • Dogs knead in order to self-soothe

Dogs, particularly sensitive ones, may knead their favorite objects for comfort. This behavior is prevalent among puppies who are separated from their mothers too early.

  • Dogs knead when they feel anxious

When dogs are left alone, they can start to feel anxious. If this happens, they may gather objects around themselves that provide them with comfort. These objects include their favorite toys, blankets, and materials that hold their owner’s scent. Once they’ve gathered these objects, they may start to knead them as a way to provide comfort to themselves.

  • Dogs knead as a part of their bedtime routine

Some dogs knead as a perfectly normal part of their bedtime routine. You may see that your dog engages in the same behaviors every night before they go to sleep. This ritual can provide them with a soothing wind down before they prepare for sleep, like us taking a hot shower or sipping a warm drink.

Why Do Dogs Knead The Ground?

Dogs often knead – or dig – at the ground as a form of instinctive behavior driven by a need to protect themselves and their territory.

Wild dogs dig dens and gather leaves to create their beds. As they dig, they transfer scent from the glands in their paws to the area below, thus marking the territory as their own.

And this pawing behavior also serves another function; by digging out their sleeping area, dogs ensure that they do not lie down on anything dangerous that could cause them harm.

Female dogs, in particular, may utilize this behavior to check that a sleeping area is safe. When dogs do this, they don’t necessarily realize the value of items such as your lawn or furnishings and will inadvertently tear them apart as they attempt to make an area safe for themselves.

Why Do Dogs Suckle When They Knead?

If you’ve watched a dog knead bedding or other soft objects, you may notice that they suckle as they do it. Like cats, many people compare this behavior with the instinctive need to get milk from their mother. As puppies, many dogs would knead their mother’s stomach to stimulate her to produce milk.

Some dog breeds – such as Border Collies, Dachshunds, or Westies – are more likely to engage in this behavior. And dogs who are more sensitive in nature are increasingly likely to gather objects that bring them comfort.

These items can include clothes and blankets that carry the scent of their owners and help them feel less alone when they have the house to themselves. Several experts compare this behavior to thumb sucking in humans, which starts as a means of comfort in early life.

While humans may transfer this behavior to other objects such as pencil chewing, or chewing gum, dogs can maintain the need to knead throughout their life.

Are Some Dogs More Likely To Knead Than Others?

Yes, some breeds are more likely to engage in kneading behaviors than others. These include crossbreeds, working dogs, hounds, and terrier breeds. Additionally, anxious or sensitive dogs are more likely to engage in kneading behaviors as a way to self-soothe.

Should I Let My Dog Knead?

In general, yes. Kneading is a way for your dog to relax, find comfort, and express their emotions. As long as your dog is safe (i.e., not in danger of harming themselves or ingesting something they shouldn’t) and they aren’t destroying areas of your home, leave them be with this soothing behavior.

When Is It Bad For Dogs To Knead?

In many cases, dogs kneading their favorite blankets or toys is a harmless way for them to self-soothe, bringing them comfort in a harmless way. However, there are some circumstances where you may need professional help to curtail damaging behaviors.

If your dog’s behavior becomes destructive, though, and they start to damage furniture or rip holes through blankets or clothes, it’s best to talk to your vet for guidance on the best way to address this behavior.

And the same applies if your dog’s behavior starts to become obsessive and leads to them harming themselves. 

If you notice any harm to your dog or its surroundings through kneading behaviors, consult with your vet, who can offer medication and practical tips to help your dog reduce their habit and stay calm while kneading.

What Should I Do If My Dog Kneads My Furniture?

There are many products on the market for cat owners who can use a scratch pole to limit the damage to their home and furniture, but there aren’t many alternative options for dogs.

One of the best ways to combat this issue may be to give your dog their own small “kneading area” to do as they please. This could be in the form of an old blanket or a small patch of garden. You can then encourage your pup to use their own areas for kneading by engaging in positive reinforcement training.

You could offer them a range of old blankets to choose from, remembering they will prefer used material that carries their scent instead of new and strange-smelling fabrics.

If you remove your dog’s favorite items, you risk exacerbating the behavior further. Imagine when you were a child and used soft toys to comfort you when you felt scared – how do you think you would have felt if someone suddenly took those away from you?

Well, that’s how your dog feels too. Taking their comforting items away could lead them to experience increased amounts of anxiety, which is their reason for engaging in the behavior in the first place.

How Can I Stop My Dog From Kneading?

You might not be able to stop your dog from kneading entirely; you might not need to if it’s a harmless behavior and they find it comforting. Still, there are a couple of reasons why your dog may knead in an unhealthy way, and understanding these is key to maintaining their well-being.

Firstly, if you’re adopting a puppy, allow them sufficient time to wean off their mother before bringing them home. In general, you’ll want to enable a young pup to spend the first eight weeks of their life alongside their mother to prevent any undesirable behaviors in the teen and adult life.

In addition, it’s essential to understand the difference between kneading and other obsessive behaviors. While occasionally pawing at their favorite blanket is no big deal, behaviors such as flank sucking can damage your dog’s skin.

Understanding your dog’s needs is one of the most critical elements in maintaining their well-being. Ensure you provide them with their own set of comforting objects and maintain a healthy level of human interaction with them daily.

How Can I Stop My Dog From Causing Damage When He Kneads?

Taking away all of the items that make your dog feel comfortable and secure is not the solution. Instead, try some of the hints and tips below.

  • Keep your dog’s nails trimmed and short to reduce any damage that your dog creates through kneading.
  • Provide alternative options for your dog to knead, such as their own bed or soft blanket. If using new objects, rub them in your hands to transfer some of your scent and allow your dog time to get used to them.
  • Create positive bonds between your dog and their possessions. It helps to do this from a young age, so they know what belongs to them and can knead their favorite objects to their heart’s content.

Final Thoughts

Dogs knead their favorite objects to find comfort and self-soothe; in addition, they may paw at the ground out of instinct or to regulate their temperature.

In general, these are healthy behaviors that can help your canine to express their emotions.

However, if your dog begins to cause damage to themselves or your home, seek help from a professional who can provide practical guidance on reducing the destructive elements of this behavior.

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