Nesting is common for dogs who are pregnant. But there might be other reasons behind this typically maternal behavior.
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dog nesting in several blankets
Credit: Emely / Getty

A dog snuggled up among the blankets may be one of the cutest things pet parents can discover. But what's up with our pups' desire to surround themselves with our favorite bedspread or drape themselves all over our best pillows? Burrowing down into soft materials may mean your dog is nesting. But don't freak out. While nesting is a behavior we usually associate with dogs (and people!) who are about to give birth, it doesn't necessarily mean your dog is pregnant.

Nesting for Dogs: What Is It?

Nesting or the nesting instinct is typically defined as the motherly drive of a pregnant dog to prepare a safe location to have her puppies. That can mean dragging blankets to a new place, rearranging pillows, or squirreling away some laundry to lie on at the back of a closet.

We also sometimes see the nesting instinct in humans, who might get a burst of energy to clean the house (or their desk) in the days leading up to delivery. It's just that when dogs nest, they may untidy your home instead.

Alicen Tracey, DVM, of Den Herder Veterinary Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, says that nesting can take a variety of different forms for dogs. But the primary motivation is comfort—whether or not a dog is pregnant.

"Any dog can show nesting behaviors," Tracey says. "For instance, many people have dogs that feel the need to circle, paw at the comforters, or even have a blanket to help them fall asleep."

Why Is My Dog Nesting?

Pregnancy or "false pregnancy" are two common reasons that dogs may exhibit more nesting behavior than usual.

False pregnancy is simply when symptoms of pregnancy are mimicked in unspayed female dogs who have been in heat but are not pregnant. This may trigger the nesting instinct but not result in a new litter of puppies.

Other times your pup, female or male, may just be uncomfortable and need to rearrange their environment a bit. They may be feeling too hot, too cold, or too cramped in their current conditions.

"Many dogs prepare a little nest before bed—this is very normal!" Tracey says.

Dog Nesting Signs

Here are a few things your dog might do when she (or he!) is nesting, for whatever reason.

  • Repetitive circling
  • Gathering blankets
  • Ripping paper
  • Rearranging toys or pillows
  • Pawing at a couch cushion or comforter
  • Hiding away in a closet or other small space

What Should You Do When Your Dog Is Nesting?

Nesting is typically nothing to worry about, but Tracey says that any sudden uptick in nesting behavior should be talked over with your veterinarian. If your pup is a little lady versus a little man, you'll want to confirm or rule out a pregnancy.

"Especially if the dog is not spayed and is suddenly displaying an excessive amount of nesting behaviors, it would be best to visit the veterinarian to ensure she is not pregnant," Tracey says.

If the nesting behavior is new, but you're not sure whether to characterize it as excessive, give it a couple of days. If the nesting is taking over your dog's routine and interrupting important activities like dinner or playtime, then it's likely worth a mention.

You may also want to supply your dog with soft materials that you don't mind her using for her nest. If she starts by pulling off the couch cushions or dragging your comforter off your bed, put some old blankets, towels, or pillows in an easy-to-access spot and encourage her to use them instead.

What If My Dog Is Pregnant?

If you and your veterinarian suspect a pregnancy, your vet will take a blood test or conduct an ultrasound to confirm it—or rule it out. While a surprise dog pregnancy probably wasn't etched into your calendar, don't panic. Your trusted veterinarian can advise you on how far along your dog is and what next steps to take.

After your pup gives birth, keep a close eye on Mom to make sure she's adjusting well to motherhood and able to provide pups with care until they're old enough for adoption.

Ultimately, nesting is normal—whether or not it's related to a pregnancy. After all, we all like to be comfortable before we say goodnight! But as with all new behaviors, keep your vet in the loop about any sudden changes in how your dog acts.