Many pet parents have asked themselves the same question: do dogs knead? Since this behavior is commonly associated with cats, it seems strange for dogs to do it too. But as a matter of fact, dogs do knead, or at least some of them do. So if you have ever stared at your dog and thought “is my dog kneading?”, the answer was probably yes.
Now that we have set that straight we can learn why dogs display this cat-like behavior, and how we can stop dogs from kneading, given the case that it is causing damage to your house, furniture or garden.
Why do dogs knead?
As it usually happens with every canine behavior, there are many reasons why dogs knead. And of course, as we do in every article, we are going to share all of them so you have the tools to determine what is the reason behind your dog’s kneading.
1. Marking territory
In this article called Why do dogs cover their poop, we explained how dogs’ paws release pheromones that produce a unique smell that’s transferred to the ground whenever they scratch it after doing their business. One of the reasons why they do this is so that other dogs will catch that smell and know who they are, and that they were there. This also allows dogs to mark the territory with their scent.
The same happens with kneading. When they do so, the scent glands on their paws release pheromones that leave a smell on the place they are kneading, whether it is a pillow, a blanket or the grass of your backyard.
By marking their territory, dogs ensure that a specific spot is theirs and won’t be trespassed by possible predators. Of course, we know there are no predators in our house that will steal their marked spots. But dogs still maintain some wolf-like behaviors (like this one), which may have helped them in the wild.
What is more, by kneading, dogs make sure that there are no objects or other animals on the spot where they plan on sleeping or settling down. Once again, this makes no sense for us because we know a squirrel won’t pop up in our living room. But this is an instinctive behavior dogs can’t help but do.
Dogs also knead in order to control their temperature both when it’s hot and cold. Sine pups don’t sweat like humans do, they can use kneading to control their body temperature. Kneading will help your dog to cool off during summer and to create a comfortable cozy spot for winter.
Dogs who experience separation anxiety might use kneading as a coping mechanism. When they are left alone and start to feel anxious, they gather pieces of clothing from their parents and take it to their safe spot, and can, occasionally, knead it. This makes them feel less alone and calms their anxiety.
5. Maternal instinct
Female dogs can also knead as a result of a maternal instinct. They are trying to create a nest, that’s why they will probably knead on their bed or yours. They don’t need to be pregnant or in heat to have this maternal instinct.
Puppies have the instinctive need to nurse from the breasts of their mothers. If deprived from this opportunity, dogs might develop a behavior that will fulfill that need. When dogs knead and meanwhile suck on something like a blanket, they might be doing so because they were deprived of nursing in their first weeks of life.
Some compare this dog behavior with the human one of sucking their thumbs or pacifiers. We obviously outgrow this behavior and sometimes replace that need with gum, a pencil or even our own hair. Dogs, nevertheless, don’t evolve from this behavior and are stuck with sucking and kneading their blanket.
How to stop dogs from kneading
Although kneading itself doesn’t have a bad effect on your dog, you might want to control this behavior because they are destroying some of your favorite clothes or creating holes in your backyard. If that’s the case, there are some things you can do to prevent your dog from kneading. Or, in other words, to establish a safe and controlled kneading environment.
One of the reasons why dogs knead is due to separation anxiety. The good news is that there are many things you can do to help your dog deal with this feeling. The main thing to do is to give your dog calming treats half an hour before leaving them alone. This will help them feel relaxed when you’re gone.
You have to always make sure your pup is neither too hot or too cold. In summer, they should have a bowl of fresh water available 24/7, you shouldn’t take them for walks during the hottest hours of the day, and you can also give them frozen treats, which will help them cool off. In winter, just make sure your house isn’t freezing. You can also give them an extra blanket and even a dog sweater.
This will prevent your dog from kneading because of temperature control.
If your dog is a passionate kneader, you shouldn’t restrain them from doing so. What you can do instead is create a controlled kneading environment.
If your pooch likes to knead outside, you can create a designated space for them to knead in your backyard and train them to only do so in that specific area. By doing so, the holes will only happen where you allow it and your dog will still get to do an activity they truly enjoy.
If, on the other hand, your pup is a passionate clothes and blanket kneader, you should give them certain clothes they can knead on without a problem. Try to give them something that has your smell on it.