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Object Sucking In Dogs

The image of a human infant clutching their comforter and sucking their thumb is a familiar one. Blanket, bed or toy sucking in canines seems to be the doggy equivalent, and the behaviour seems to occur at a time when they are getting ready to sleep as in human infants. This phenomenon only occurs in a handful of dogs, but, unlike human infants, it seems to be something they do not grow out of as they get older.

 

 

Sucking behaviour

Dogs that do this usually select something soft and cuddly, often a soft toy, a piece of their bed, fur fabric, or other soft material and curl up with it in their beds.  If it is not quite the right shape, they may push it around with their paws and mould it until it fits into their mouth.

 

Some just hold their favourite object in their mouths, while others actively suck on it.
A few dogs will even knead with their paws while they do this. This continues until they fall asleep. 

Harmless activity

Owners who try to get them to kick the habit are often unsuccessful.  Dogs deprived of their favourite 'cuddle' will often substitute another object if they can and, if deprived of everything, will go without, but will go back to doing it as soon as they can get hold of something suitable. 

 

There seems to be nothing wrong with allowing dogs to carry out this behaviour.  The object used may need to be washed occasionally to prevent it becoming unhygienic, but no long-term damage seems to be done, the behaviour is not disruptive, and, if the dog is comforted by the action, why not?

 

It may even be necessary for these dogs to do it since actions are seldom performed without good reason.  Without knowing what that reason is or why it comforts them, preventing it may result in unnecessary deprivation and distress.

  • Object sucking

Not obsessive or a breed issue

Object sucking when getting ready to sleep should not be confused with obsessive behaviours, such as flank-sucking in Dobermans.  Obsessive behaviour are done more often, more obsessively, and can cause physical damage to the skin.  Blanket or bed-sucking is, in contrast, not harmful, but it may be a less exaggerated manifestation of the same behaviour. 

 

Object sucking can occur in any breed of dog; it has been known in working dogs like Border Collies, gun dogs like Springer Spaniels, terriers like Westies, hounds like Daschunds as well as crossbreds.

  • Object sucking 3

Scent and sucking

Scent seems to play a role in this behaviour.  Items which smell of the family or an individual are more likely to be chosen and a clean object may hold less attraction than a smelly one.  Dogs that become fearful when left alone will often collect items that smell of the owner and may chew them until there is enough material to surround themselves with.  Perhaps sucking or holding something that smells of a family member or of something familiar is comforting for animals who sense of smell is so much more sensitive than our own.

Sensitive characters

Sweet-natured, gentle dogs seem to be more likely to display this behaviour than those with stronger characters.  Sensitive dogs also seems to be more prone to anxieties generally, especially those that occur when they are separated from their owners for short periods. They tend to be more clingy and are likely to follow their owners everywhere in the house, rather than being more independent and happy with their own company.

Comfort blanket

Object sucking or holding seems to provide the comfort needed by such dogs at a time when they are tired, perhaps in a similar way to puppies who feed first before sleeping.  Whether or not this action is a substitute for the comfort once provided by the mother is not clear, especially for those that were removed from the litter early.

 

Human infants often select their 'cuddle' even if they have ready access to their mothers so perhaps it is one of the steps towards independence that is necessary for some individuals.  The fact that many humans can remember the name they gave to their 'cuddle' when they are adults, and that many children show acute distress if forcibly parted from it, is an indication of the importance they attached to the article of their choice.

 

Although humans usually leave behind their dependence on such things in the nursery, plenty of children suck their thumb and may even continue to do so into adulthood.  The fact that many adult bite their nails, smoke cigarettes or overeat points to the possibility that maybe some humans do not grow out of it after all but merely find more socially-acceptable substitutes!

Mother substitute

The behaviour surrounding cuddles or comforters in both dogs and humans seems to resemble the feeding behaviour in young animals, even down to the kneading action of the paws in puppies, which adds further weight to the idea that it may be a way of getting comfort that was once provided by the mother.

 

Dogs that have left their mother and littermates at an young age after being taken away too early, or have been hand-reared, seem to be most likely to develop into object suckers in adulthood. 

 

Puppies which have been orphaned, or removed from their mothers at an early age, are more likely to have needed to develop strategies for acquiring comfort from elsewhere, and perhaps this is why they seem to be more likely to show this behaviour than others.

 

Similarly rescue dogs, especially those that have been through many homes as puppies, will have had to get used to being separated from their attachment figures and may have needed to find comfort elsewhere in a similar way.

Your stories

Michelle Stanton - I just read your very helpful informtaion about why my dog still sucks on things.  She sucks on the throw pillows of my sofa! We took her into our home at almost 1 year of age. Only had one previous owner. She is a very loving, sweet, and smart pampered yellow lab female. Lucy, is her name and is very attached to my two young boys and my husband and I. I have never read or seen this in a laborador? I do know that she was the runt of the litter. Wonder if that has something to do with the behavior? She's 5 years old now and still sucking on the pillows until she falls asleep. I have also seen her mold the pillow with her paws. I now have to keep these two pillows forever. Especially if it brings her comfort! Even if they are looking tattered and worn. Thanks for your helpful information. Now I know she's normal and just sensitive. 

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