- Puppies separated from their mothers too soon may suck on blankets for comfort.
- Adult dogs of any breed can enjoy sucking on a blanket or soft toy.
- Unless the behavior becomes extremely compulsive, it’s not at all destructive.
Whenever I get ready to go out, my Portuguese Water Dog runs to our bedroom, grabs his blanket, and carries it downstairs – where he proceeds to quietly knead and suck on it.
According to their owners, some Bulldogs, Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Standard Schnauzers, Great Danes, Plott Hounds, Chihuahuas – you get the picture – a wide variety of breeds — suck on their blankets or stuffed toys.
Is this a behavior that dog owners need to be concerned about?
Sucking Begins in Puppyhood
Puppies are born with an instinct to suckle at their mother’s teats. All things being equal, they are provided with this opportunity and will nurse to their little heart’s content until, at some later stage of development, the mother, in her wisdom, begins to rebuff their attempts.
Even when the milk supply has virtually dried up, some pups will try for an occasional comfort suckle if they become unnerved by surrounding events. This is an activity that makes puppies feel safe, secure, warm, and comforted.
Animal behaviorists believe that some dogs that go on to suck on blankets and other objects as adults were deprived of the opportunity to experience enough comfort suckling when they were puppies. The mother dog may not have welcomed them to continue nursing, may have been unwell, or the pup may have been separated from the litter very early and fed from a bottle by a human.
So Why Suck on a Blanket?
We’ve all seen human babies suck on their thumbs, pacifiers, or lovey blankets to help them calm down when they’re upset. This is a habit they usually outgrow by the time they reach toddlerhood.
But puppies who look to blankets for comfort and security don’t usually outgrow the habit – and they continue doing it throughout their lives. Blankets are soft and warm like their mothers.
Some dogs even knead the blankets in an affectionate way to help move them into a close position they can lie on. Stuffed toys, pillows, or a piece of their owner’s clothing will also do the trick.
Is Blanket Sucking Harmful?
Normal, occasional blanket sucking is not considered to be obsessive-compulsive behavior, also called canine compulsive behavior, because it’s not so all-consuming that it can’t be interrupted, and the dog doesn’t do it to the exclusion of other activities for hours on end. Therefore, there’s no harm in doing it.
There is a sucking behavior that can be harmful to a dog, and that is called flank sucking. Researchers have found a genetic marker that causes some Doberman Pinschers to perform this behavior. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “The problem may first arise as a displacement behavior when the dog is frustrated, conflicted, or highly aroused.”
The Doberman Pinscher Club of America says that flank sucking behavior in dogs is almost exclusive to Dobermans. “In some dogs it remains a mild coping relaxation behavior, and in others it becomes obsessive and chronic.“
“Dogs that don’t suck on their flanks, but instead on blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, and other soft objects are doing it not to be destructive, but as a relaxation mechanism,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer. “They can be perfectly healthy dogs, who find that the sucking and licking provides comfort by releasing endorphins.”
What Should You Do?
When my Portuguese Water Dog sucks on his blanket, he’s calm and will wag his tail – and he’ll even stop and come when I call him. Yet it seems to give him some comfort when I leave him home alone, and it helps him tone down his energy level at bedtime.
If your dog feels safe and sucks on a blanket or toy to relax, he’s not being destructive to himself or to your possessions. There’s really nothing wrong with what he’s doing.
In order to make sure the behavior doesn’t escalate or indicate an underlying problem, you can:
- Look for triggers, such as thunderstorms, your leave-taking, or visitors.
- Make sure your pup gets plenty of mental and physical exercise.
- Spend quality time with your dog and take him with you when you can.