What the heck was that noise?
I leaned over my bed to see what that odd, ruffling-fluffing sound was, never having heard it before. It was dark, so after grabbing my cell phone for minor illumination, I peered down at my beloved Border Collie/GSD, who was nestled comfortably in her bed. Low and behold, she had crumpled her blanket between her paws and was kneading it like dough. What most intrigued me was the fact she wasn't ripping it apart like a toy, she was suckling it.
*_* <--- That, friends, was my bewildered face.
I've had three dogs in my life and it wasn't until adopting my dear Leia that I witnessed the behavioural phenomenon of "object-sucking". I wondered if it was related to the same behaviour found in human children, blanket/thumb/finger sucking for comfort related reasons. I wasn't really sure of this, until I saw her doing it again later the next day around the time she takes an afternoon snooze.
What I hadn't seen in the dark was the expression coming out of her adorable face - it was timid and tired looking. Her eyes were almost half closed as if she was falling asleep and her furry expression was one of pure calm. That had to be it, I thought. It had to be a self-comforting mechanism.
She had quite a bit of anxiety when I first took her home and I knew little about her previous life. I was worried this might be a behaviour indicative of stress or some illness, so I took to the web. There wasn't much concrete evidence available to explain the behaviour, but what little information I did find, the consensus seemed to be that dogs do this to help them relax and eventually fall asleep. They also all seem to paw or "kneed" the blanket, as if they once did when suckling from their mother.
Do your dogs do this, too? Let me share what I discovered:
The more gentle your dog is, there is increased likelihood that this habit may develop
Dogs that are extremely loving and sweet-natured, those who seem to be more dependent on their owners companionship/those who show distress when parted from them, are more likely to exhibit this behaviour. This made much sense for my sweet Leia - of all my dogs, she is the most gentle-natured and least temperamental. She was also surrendered, and thus forced to leave the family that reared her before I became her lucky owner.
The habit doesn't go away in adulthood. It will last throughout their life.
Though this habit can begin in puppyhood, there doesn't seem to be any detriment to it continuing in adulthood. However, some owners make the mistake of thinking by removing the object, the habit will cease. This is not the case. Your dog will simply find another object suitable enough for his/her liking and continue on. Removing it may also needlessly cause anxiety in your pet, thus furthering the need for them to replace it (and ultimately, the dependency).
Scent of the object seems to play a role
I noticed Leia had chosen fabrics and blankets that I would use more than her own blankets, which suggests that cuddling with something that smells of her "pack leader" was more comforting than her own scent, but there is only anecdotal information to support this theory. I was concerned that if I washed them, she might not wish to use them anymore or that it would cause her stress, but she seemed to be fine and continued using them after I would launder whatever item was of interest.
Does your dog suck on objects? If so, we wanna hear about it and we'll feature you in our Part II blog!
If you think your dog is suffering from acute anxiety and they're not self-soothing, check out HomeoPet's Anxiety and Separation Relief Solution.