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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Beds? Unravelling Our Pooches' Quirky Habit - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Beds? Unravelling Our Pooches’ Quirky Habit

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why do dogs lick their beds

You might notice your dog routinely licking their beds, but it is not just because they spilled some of their dinner there. Dogs do this instinctually, and it can tell you about their well-being.

Licking is a natural way of acting for dogs — they use it to explore the world, to show affection, and sometimes just because it feels good. But when it comes to their beds, the reasons can vary widely from the scent marking to easing anxiety or simply because they’re trying to clean up.

Each lick tells a part of your pet’s story. To understand if a habit is harmless or a sign of an issue, we need to consider the context. So we’ve consulted, Canine Behavior, Insights and Answers by  Dr. Bonnie Beaver, DVM, can help us give an expert explanation for this slurpy behavior.

Dogs lick everything for different reasons. They show affection and bond with owners or other dogs. Licking also shows submission and seeks attention or comfort. It helps them explore and interact with their surroundings.

Licking is important for dogs. It helps them with many things. They can learn, groom themselves, and show their emotions and needs. Dr. Rooney and Dr.  Bradshaw explain this in their book, The Domestic Dog.

You can learn about your dog’s well-being by observing how often and in what situations it behaves this way.

Possible Causes Of Dogs Passing Their Tongue On Their Bed

Dogs are curious and often lick their bed, which could mean a few things:

1. Instinctual Actions Related To Grooming & Texture

Dogs might pass their tongue over their beds due to a combination of instincts and behaviors ingrained in their nature. One natural behavior is licking their paws at night and grooming themselves before they go to sleep. This is a natural and self-soothing behavior, and it’s one of the many ways that dogs act like cats.

Licking is a similar motion to stroking, which studies show releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin in dogs. So when dogs lick themselves at night, they get a small “high”. It makes them feel relaxed and happy, ready to go to sleep.

And, dogs can get so lost in the process of licking that they just start licking their bed. This is especially true if the dog bed’s fabric is soft and fur-like. Our dog licks the bed because it feels like fur, which is part of their grooming instinct.

2. Boredom

Dogs get bored if they don’t exercise, play, or have mental challenges. They may do repetitive actions on the bed or other surfaces to feel better. You can see more about this issue in how to stop a dog from licking.

Remember dogs who do this from boredom are more likely to engage in abnormal and repetitive behaviors.

3. Communication 

Dogs might pass their tongue over their beds due to a combination of instincts and behaviors ingrained in their nature. One natural behavior is licking their paws at night and grooming themselves before they go to sleep. This is a natural and self-soothing behavior. 

Licking is a similar feeling to being stroked. And, studies show releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin in dogs. So when dogs lick themselves at night, they get a small “high”. It makes them feel relaxed and happy, ready to go to sleep.

And, dogs can get so lost in the process of licking that they just start licking their bed. This is especially true if the dog bed’s fabric is soft and fur-like. Our dog licks the bed because it feels like fur, which is part of their grooming instinct.

4. Compulsive Disorders & Blanket Sucking

Canine compulsive disorders are repetitive, uncontrollable manners that don’t have a clear purpose. They often result from underlying stress, anxiety, genetics, or insufficient mental stimulation.

These actions can manifest as incessant licking, tail chasing, or pacing, causing and disrupting normal life.

You know how some dogs, especially Dobermans, sometimes suck on blankets? Blanket sucking actually kind of a habit they’re born with (it’s genetic). When they’re puppies, sucking helps them eat, but as they grow up, some keep doing it as a way to feel calm and happy. It’s like a comfort thing for them. But it also becomes a sign of a obsessive compulsive disorder.

5. Taste and Texture Exploration

Passing their tongue over surfaces can be a form of taste and texture exploration for them. Dogs are attracted to different smells, tastes, and textures in bedding materials. This makes them want to investigate and understand their surroundings by licking.

6. Health and Hygiene

Dogs may think their bed is part of their space and lick it to stay clean, like how they wet their fur. For instance, when a dog is on heat, she may clean up any discharge on her bed this way. This also goes for dogs that may pee in their bed while they sleep.

If dogs smell dirt, spills, or residue on the bedding, they might try to clean it. This is also seen when a dam licks the puppy’s excrement to keep their nest clean.

7. Dental Issues

Dogs might struggle with eating if they have gum infections or dental disease. These issues can cause ongoing discomfort. When they feel uncomfortable, they may lick their bedding to ease the pain and soothe their mouth.

8. Skin Irritation or Infection

Dogs with skin infections may lap their bed repeatedly because they feel uncomfortable or irritated. Skin conditions such as dermatitis, fungal infections, or allergic reactions can make their skin feel itchy, red, or sore. This can cause a lot of lapping and they may eventually transfer this to their sleeping are.

They brush their tongue on their bed to relieve itching or discomfort. It’s a kind of displacement behavior.

9. Gastrointestinal Issues

Conditions like gastritis, acid reflux, or gastrointestinal discomfort can cause nausea, stomach upset, and discomfort. Dogs sometimes do strange things, like licking their bed, to feel better or stop feeling sick. Dogs with tummy problems often lick excessively, which happens in about 50% of cases.

10. Anxiety and Stress 

Dogs can feel anxious when they get worried, stressed, or scared in certain situations. According to Dr. Barbara Sherman, it can cause behavioral changes like barking too much, panting, shaking, pacing, being destructive, or soiling the house.

Dogs might resort to licking their bedding to comfort themselves and alleviate stress. This could stem from various factors, including genetics, past experiences, or insufficient socialization. 

However, dogs can get stressed by changes in routine, loud noises, new places, or past trauma. This can cause them to develop different ways of dealing with stress.

11. Medical Conditions

Medical issues, like problems with the brain or hormones, can make people behave strangely. For example, psychomotor seizures can cause this issues, as can hormonal issues that lead to skin problems.

If you notice this behavior often or if there are other signs like redness or swelling, consult a vet.

Anxiety Alleviation Techniques

Among 78 million dogs in the US, 17% are reported to suffer from anxiety, says Malena DeMartini. You can help dogs feel less stressed and anxious with patience and some assistance. Here are several techniques that can help:

  • Routine and Consistency: Dogs thrive on routine, so maintaining a consistent schedule for feeding, exercise, playtime, and rest can give them a sense of security and reduce behavioral problems.
  • Safe Spaces: Provide a designated safe space or crate where your dog can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. Make it comfortable with their bedding and toys to create a relaxing haven.

You can also use products like pheromone diffusers, calming vests, or music designed for pets, which can help soothe anxious dogs by creating a more relaxing environment.

  • Training Techniques: Implement positive reinforcement training methods to build confidence and redirect anxious behaviors. Reward calm and relaxed manners to reinforce a positive mindset.
  • Desensitization and Counterconditioning: Gradually expose your dog to stress triggers in a controlled and positive manner to reduce their sensitivity. Pair exposure with positive experiences to change their association with the trigger.

Combining these techniques while being patient and observant of your dog’s responses can significantly help manage stress and anxiety, providing them a happier and more relaxed life.

Modifying Licking Habits

Preventing or modifying a dog’s behavior involves understanding their actions, identifying the underlying causes, and implementing strategies to encourage more desirable manners. Here’s how you can change their behavior and establish healthier routines.:

  1. Identify the Cause: Observe when and why your dog engages in the behavior. Is it after eating, when anxious, or during certain times of the day? Understanding the root cause helps tailor the approach.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog when they refrains from the action and use treats or verbal praise to reinforce your desired behaviour.
  3. Establish Routine: Consistency is critical. Create a routine for feeding, exercise, and playtime. Dogs often feel more secure and less anxious with a predictable schedule.

Keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated with toys, games, and activities. A tired and occupied dog is less likely to engage in excessive licking.

  1. Avoid Punishment: Scolding or punishing your dog might increase stress and exacerbate the behavior. Instead focus on positive reinforcement, reinforced behaviors tend to be repeated more in the future. However, some studies show that appropriate scolding can be successful.
  2. Seek Professional Help: If the licking persists or is causing harm (like hot spots or skin irritation), consider seeking advice from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. Check out our article on how to stop dog licking for more professional tips.

Remember, every dog is unique, so what works for one might not work for another. Adjust your approach based on your dog’s responses, and always prioritize positive reinforcement and patience in your training efforts.

When To Consult A Vet

While occasional lapping can be normal, excessive licking might indicate an underlying issue. It’s imperative to seek veterinary advice if other symptoms like skin redness, inflammation, hair loss, changes in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or any signs of discomfort accompany the behavior.

These could indicate various health issues ranging from skin problems to gastrointestinal concerns or dental issues. A vet can thoroughly examine the cause and provide appropriate treatment, ensuring your dog’s well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is my dog licking their sleeping spot before settling down?

Dogs might brush their tongue over their sleeping spot before settling down because they instinctively need to mark territory with their scent, making the area feel more familiar and comfortable. This behavior could also stem from a nesting instinct, as moistening the spot may help create a more comfortable environment or provide a calming effect before sleep. 

Why is my dog licking my sheets?

Dogs licking sheets might stem from a variety of reasons. It could respond to residual scents left behind on the sheets, such as food particles, sweat, or familiar scents from their owner, as dogs use licking to explore and gather information about their environment.

Can we say that dogs have a ‘lick-happy’ obsession with fabrics?

Your dog’s love for tasting fabrics isn’t so much an obsession but a sensory exploration. Fabrics have various scents and textures that can intrigue your dog’s senses.

Why is my dog licking everything suddenly?

Sudden licking in dogs can signal various reasons. It might stem from discomfort due to skin irritation, allergies, or pain, prompting them to lick to alleviate the discomfort. Additionally, stress or anxiety triggered by changes in routine, new environments, or underlying fears can lead to increased self-soothing behavior.

Why is my dog licking their paws?

Dogs wetting their paws is a natural behavior for dogs to groom themselves, but excessive paw wetting might indicate an issue. Common causes include allergies (such as food or environmental allergies) that irritate, leading dogs to engage in the action to soothe discomfort.

Why does my dog lick my bed excessively?

Dog excessively passing their tongue over the bed could be due to residual scents left on the bed, such as their owner’s scent or any food particles, sweat, or other odors that attract their attention.

Sometimes, a dog has associated the bed with positive experiences or attention from their owner. In that case, they might pass their tongue over it to seek attention or reinforce that behavior.

Final Thoughts

Dogs might lap their beds for various reasons rooted in instinct and behavior. This behavior often serves multiple purposes, including exploration of scents and textures, self-soothing during times of stress or anxiety, mimicking grooming instincts, investigating residual smells or tastes, or in some cases, indicating underlying medical issues. 

Understanding your dog’s specific habits and behaviors can help decipher the reasons behind their actions. If the licking behavior seems excessive or causes damage to the bed or distress to the dog, consulting a veterinarian or a professional dog behaviorist might be beneficial to address any underlying issues.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.