Pregnancy is a phase of your dog’s life that not only comes with various physical changes but behavioral changes that help your dog adapt to her new life with her adorable puppies. Maternal instincts like digging, grooming, play, and protectiveness are very typical of an expectant mother dog. But we would like to focus on digging in this article.
So, why is my pregnant dog digging?
It’s common to see pregnant dogs dig anything from pillows, blankets, beds, and carpets to the garden. The digging habit in pregnant dogs is a manifestation of nesting behavior, influenced by pregnancy-induced hormonal changes. The purpose of nesting in dogs is to prepare for birth by creating a secure and comfy area for the new litter. While digging is typical nesting behavior, it can sometimes indicate discomfort, boredom, or anxiety.
To better understand your pregnant dog’s behavior, let’s dive deeper into the reasons behind the digging and what actions you can take to support your dog during this time.
Nesting is the most common reason why your pregnant dog may be digging holes. Similar to human mothers-to-be organizing and preparing a nursery, dogs have the instinct to prepare a safe and comfortable space for their puppies. Your pregnant dog may dig in the garden, on furniture, or even in her bed, in an attempt to create a cozy, secure nest for her upcoming litter.
As part of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, foxes, and other wild dogs, domestic dogs have inherited an instinctual drive to create a den. In the wild, a den serves as a safe, hidden refuge to protect vulnerable newborns from predators, and also provides shelter from harsh weather conditions.
In a domesticated setting, your dog doesn’t face the same threats as her wild counterparts, but she still carries this deep-seated instinct to prepare a den. This is where the digging behavior you’ve noticed comes in. Digging is your dog’s way of replicating the den preparation process within her current environment.
Nesting behaviors are stimulated by hormonal changes that your dog experiences during pregnancy. The hormone progesterone plays a critical role in these changes. As progesterone levels rise, your dog’s body prepares for pregnancy, and this influences her behavior to start nesting or digging.
Providing a comfortable and safe nesting spot for your pregnant dog to nest can strengthen your bond with her during this time. It offers her a sense of safety and shows her that you respect her instincts.
As fascinating as nesting behavior in dogs can be, it’s important to remember that not all dogs will exhibit these behaviors in the same way or even at all. Each dog is unique, and their behaviors can vary based on their breed, individual personality, and environmental factors.
Other Reasons Why Your Pregnant Dog Is Digging
Seeking For Comfort
During pregnancy, a dog’s body undergoes substantial physical changes. Her increasing body weight and size could put extra strain on her joints and spine, leading to discomfort. She may dig into cool surfaces or rearrange bedding materials to create a comfortable spot to rest, which can help alleviate these discomforts.
Besides the physical strain, pregnant dogs also experience hormonal changes which can impact their body temperature regulation. If you notice your dog digging holes in the garden, it could be her trying to reach the cooler soil underneath to soothe herself.
To support her during this time, you might consider making a few adjustments to her living environment. This could include keeping your home at a comfortable temperature, providing extra cushioning or orthopedic bedding, and offering cooler areas in your home or yard for her to rest. Regular gentle massages can also help her feel more comfortable.
Just like humans, dogs can experience a wide range of emotions during pregnancy, including anxiety and boredom. The reduced level of physical activity, coupled with hormonal fluctuations, might lead to these feelings.
In this case, digging serves two purposes. It not only acts as an outlet for her stress, but it also helps keep her mind engaged and staves off boredom.
To help alleviate boredom or anxiety, try to keep her mentally stimulated without overexerting her. You could introduce new toys, especially those that challenge her mentally like puzzle toys. Additionally, spending more time with her, providing gentle affection, and maintaining a calm, stable environment can help reduce anxiety.
If her anxiety appears high or doesn’t reduce over time, it’s worth considering professional advice from a vet or a dog behaviorist. They can offer techniques to help alleviate stress or suggest safe, dog-friendly calming products.
Despite the physical limitations of pregnancy, a dog’s innate predatory instincts can still trigger digging behaviors. For instance, if your dog senses a rodent or another small animal in your yard, her instinct might compel her to dig after them.
While these instincts cannot be entirely suppressed, you can manage them. Regular yard maintenance can discourage potential prey animals from nesting near your home, which will in turn minimize your dog’s urge to dig holes.
Even though strenuous activities are discouraged during dog pregnancy, it is essential to ensure your dog continues to get gentle, regular exercise. Digging serves as a form of exercise, helping your dog maintain muscle tone and providing a physical outlet for any residual energy.
However, to ensure her physical health is kept in check, it’s essential to balance her digging with other forms of low-impact exercises. This could include short walks or gentle playtime. Always remember to monitor her during these activities to prevent any overexertion.
What To Do If Your Pregnant Dog Is Digging?
Let’s explore some measures you can take to support your dog and manage this behavior during her pregnancy.
Create a Comfortable Nesting Area/Whelping Box
A dedicated space, like a whelping box, serves as a safe and convenient place for your dog to give birth and care for her pups. The box should be spacious, allowing your dog to stretch out and move comfortably, yet secure enough for the puppies not to wander off. The sides should be high enough to keep the puppies in but low enough for the mother to get in and out easily.
The material used for the box should be durable and easy to clean, like plastic or wood. Inside the box, provide bedding that is soft but also disposable or easy to clean. Some people use layers of newspaper topped with clean towels. Remember to change the bedding regularly to ensure a clean and comfortable environment.
Position the whelping box in a quiet and warm area of the house. Allow your dog to get used to the box a few weeks before she’s due, encouraging her to sleep and rest there.
Provide Sufficient Exercise
Just because your dog is pregnant doesn’t mean she doesn’t need exercise. Regular, gentle physical activity is beneficial for maintaining her overall health and managing her energy levels, which can, in turn, reduce unnecessary digging. Short, leisurely walks are often a good choice, as is gentle play. Always be guided by your vet’s advice on suitable exercise during pregnancy, as over-exercising could potentially harm the mother or her unborn puppies.
Shower Them With Attention
Pregnancy can be a stressful period for dogs. Providing extra attention can help alleviate anxiety and create a stronger bond between you and your pet. Simple gestures like petting, gentle grooming, or even just sitting near her can make a significant difference. It’s also a good time to monitor her closely for any signs of distress or changes in behavior.
Consider Fun Toys and Games
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical activity during your dog’s pregnancy. Interactive toys and puzzles that engage her brain can be a great way to keep her occupied and reduce boredom-related digging. Consider treat-dispensing toys or puzzles designed for dogs. These can stimulate her mind while providing a rewarding snack. Remember, however, to keep a close eye on her weight – she mustn’t gain too much weight during pregnancy.
Digging is natural nesting behavior in pregnant dogs and you can’t stop this behavior. However, if your dog still exhibits this behavior after delivery, positive reinforcement can be used as a tool to minimize this behavior and channel her in an acceptable direction. Here’s how you can do it:
First, determine the behaviors you want to encourage. For example, if you’ve provided a whelping box for your dog, a rewarding behavior could be choosing to rest or dig in the box instead of your furniture or garden. Dogs can be motivated by different things, including treats, toys, praise, or petting. You might already have an idea of what your dog values the most. If not, try out different rewards to see which one gets the best reaction.
The reward should be given immediately after the desired behavior is performed, ideally within seconds. This helps your dog make a clear connection between her action and the reward. Consistency is critical in positive reinforcement. Every time your dog performs the desirable behavior, she should be rewarded. This consistency helps strengthen the association between the behavior and the reward.
Once the desired behavior becomes a habit, you can start to reward her less frequently. At this stage, your dog should be able to perform the behavior even when a reward is not guaranteed. Positive reinforcement is about rewarding good behavior, not punishing undesirable ones. Negative reactions can lead to fear and anxiety, which can lead to further behavioral problems.
Consult Your Vet Or Animal Behaviorist
If your dog’s digging becomes excessive or appears to be linked to anxiety or distress, it’s important to consult a professional. A vet can rule out any medical issues related to her pregnancy that might be causing the behavior, while an animal behaviorist can offer strategies to manage the behavior based on your specific dog’s needs and behaviors.
How long after digging will a dog give birth?
Dogs will typically begin displaying nesting behaviors like digging or licking around one week before the onset of labor, though it’s not uncommon for some dogs to start this process earlier or later. This timeframe is an estimation and not a hard or fast rule. Nesting is triggered by hormonal changes in the body as it prepares for birth, particularly an increase in the hormone progesterone.
Factors like breed, age, the number of previous pregnancies, and individual personality can all influence when a dog begins to nest.
Besides nesting, there are several other signs that labor is imminent. These may include:
- Loss of appetite: Many dogs will refuse food in the 24 hours leading up to labor.
- Changes in behavior: Your dog may seem more anxious or restless than usual. She may also seek out extra attention from you or, conversely, prefer to be alone.
- Drop in body temperature: A dog’s body temperature will usually drop by a degree or two approximately 24 hours before labor begins.
- Physical signs: You may notice your dog licking her genital area more often. There could also be a clear or mucus-like vaginal discharge, signaling that labor is near.
Dog digging in the whelping box
If your dog is digging in her whelping box, it’s a sign that she is preparing for the birth of her puppies. She’s trying to make the area as comfortable and safe as possible. It’s best to let her do this, as it’s a natural part of the nesting process and it helps her feel secure and ready for the arrival of her puppies.
To support your dog during this time, you can ensure the bedding in the whelping box is warm, comfortable, and easy to clean. Be mindful of the materials you use, avoiding anything that could fray or break apart, which could pose a risk to newborn puppies.
Secondly, while monitoring your dog’s behavior is important, also remember to give her space. This is her way of preparing for her new family, and too much interference could cause unnecessary stress. However, let her know you’re there for support.
Cleanliness is crucial for the health of both the mother and her puppies. Regularly change the bedding and clean the box to maintain a hygienic environment. Always consult a vet if your dog seems distressed or if the digging behavior becomes excessive.
Final Thoughts: Why Is My Pregnant Dog Digging?
The most likely reason for digging behavior in pregnant dogs is nesting, the desire within the mother dog to create a comfortable space for the expected litter. It’s influenced by hormonal changes occurring during this period. Exactly why this behavior is also often seen in canine false pregnancy.
It’s also essential to remember that while these behaviors are typical, they can sometimes indicate discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Providing a comfortable nesting area, offering adequate physical and mental stimulation, showering her with extra attention, and employing positive reinforcement can all contribute to a more relaxed and happier pregnant dog.
Seeing your beloved pet through motherhood can be a heartwarming and rewarding experience. To achieve that, ensure you provide a supportive and nurturing environment for your dam and her puppies to enjoy the best possible start to their new lives together.