We’re all familiar with the image of a toddler sucking their thumb. We’ve probably even seen kids who suck on their favorite stuffed animals or blankets.
And while this compulsive behavior adds to that toddler cute factor, most kids grow out of it even before they learn to tie their shoes. When it happens in the dog world, however, it’s a different story.
Seeing a dog suck on blankets or other soft objects isn’t as common as seeing a toddler suck their thumb, but it still happens. Unlike toddlers, however, dogs don’t grow out of it.
Blanket sucking typically starts in the puppy stage, and once a puppy starts, they don’t stop. It’s something they’ll do well into old age if that’s what they prefer. This type of dog behavior can be concerning.
Is it a medical problem? Or a cry for help? Should you break the habit?
These are all important questions, and you can find their answers by learning a little more about canine behavior and psychology.
It All Goes Back To Mom
According to the American Kennel Club, it is generally understood that sucking behavior in adult dogs stems back to their earliest weeks in puppyhood.
Puppies are born with a natural instinct to nurse.
They seek out mom for nourishment, but nursing isn’t only about getting fed. While they’re filling their little tummies, they also experience strong feelings of comfort and safety.
That special time with mom is essential for a puppy’s emotional well-being during those critical first weeks of life.
Sucking For Comfort
As the puppy grows, mom will eventually wean her offspring off her milk. She’ll block her litter from nursing as her milk dries up. She might make exceptions, however, if she knows a puppy is feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
The concerned mama dog might let that stressed-out pup go through the motions of nursing even though there’s no milk.
Why does she do it?
Because she knows nursing is a way the puppy can soothe itself.
The mother dog won’t allow these “comfort suckles” forever, but they’re helpful during a puppy’s major developmental stages.
The world can be an overwhelming place for a young puppy, and comfort from mom can help them cope with new experiences.
There are few studies on the topic, but behaviorists generally believe that puppies that are given those opportunities to comfort suckle rarely resort to sucking on blankets later in life.
Experts also say that dogs with emotional issues such as separation anxiety or high levels of fear (loud noises) can adopt this self-calming behavior, in the form of sucking or nibbles on blankets.
It’s understood that dogs are instinctively driven to sucking on blankets or other soft toys because it reminds them of the comfort that comes from nursing. The soft texture of a blanket is like the feeling of a mother dog’s fur and skin.
What Does This Mean For Your Dog?
So, why does my dog suck on blankets?
If your dog sucks on blankets, it’s likely he/she was deprived of those puppy comfort suckles. It could be that your puppy was taken from their mother too soon, or it could simply be that your dog’s mother didn’t allow comfort suckling after she decided to wean her pups.
It’s also common for puppies that were bottle-fed by humans to grow up to be blanket suckers. Even the best bottle feeders can’t replicate the same emotions that are associated with time spent with mom.
Dogs of all breeds can keep sucking their blankets even in adulthood, but some breeds, including Spaniels, Dobermans, Border Collies, and Terriers, are more prone to this activity.
Some dog breeds, including Doberman Pinschers and Dachshunds, are known for suckling on themselves when they feel overwhelmed.
This behavior is referred to as “flank sucking,” and it’s not exactly the same as sucking on blankets. Flank sucking can hurt the pooch, but if your dog sucks on its favorite blankets like a pacifier is harmless.
The sucking behavior can turn into an obsessive/compulsive disorder, too, or be a component of pica (eating inedible things)
If you suspect your pup has a compulsive disorder, it is best to consult your vet. Compulsive disorders, when left unchecked, can become harmful and may lead to self-injury.
Should You Stop Your Dog From Sucking On Blankets?
A lot of pet parents who see their dogs sucking on blankets assume they’re doing something wrong as canine caretakers. But the truth is, blanket sucking is both natural and harmless.
Owners who try to get them to kick the habit are often unsuccessful. Dogs deprived of their favorite ‘cuddle’ will often substitute another object if they can.
Aside from letting a puppy stay with its mother for longer, there’s most likely nothing you could have done to prevent the behavior. Your doggie does it because it makes them feel safe and relaxed.
They’re not hurting themselves (as long as they aren’t trying to swallow the blanket), and they’re not making the situation worse. All they’re doing is making themselves feel better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You want your dog to always feel safe, and if that means they need to suck on a blanket, most behaviorists say there’s no reason to prevent the behavior.
You should wash the blankets regularly to avoid bacteria build-up, but there’s really nothing to be concerned about.
If you’re still worried about your dog sucking on blankets, making sure they live in a safe, comforting environment might reduce their need to self-soothe.
You might be able to learn what triggers the sucking at an early age, like thunderstorms or having guests at the house. Helping your dog cope with those scenarios in other ways could help stop the sucking.
You can try to distract with dog training skills and introduce soft toys or a stuffed animal as an alternative.
In general, once a dog starts sucking on blankets, they won’t grow out of it. They might stop without incident if you take away all the blankets, but they’ll start up again as soon as the blankets are returned.
If that happens, don’t blame yourself. Sucking on blankets likely has nothing to do with your role as a dog owner.
As long as your dog is happy with a good quality of life, you know you’re doing your job.