Dog pawing at the ground to make a "nest"
I have a 14 or 15-yr-old Maltese who has early stage dementia (gets "stuck" in hallways and behind furniture, hooooooooowls at night, walks in large circles).
He sometimes scratches at the floor in the way a dog would if there were a blanket there and he were trying to prepare his bed. Unfortunately there is no blanket where he is pawing, just linoleum. He will paw at this for fully 5 minutes or more, trying to get the linoleum "just right" so he can lie down. When he gets tired he switches paws and continues to scratch at the linoleum instead of giving up.
If I bring a blanket and put it directly under where he is already scratching, he promptly paws at that for 15 seconds to bunch it up, feels satisfied, and immediately curls up to sleep. However he will not give up and go find a blanket somewhere else in the room on his own. (We have perhaps 10 or 15 scattered around the room, plus some throw rugs.)
Is this part of his dementia or just something that some dogs do? The place he was scratching at tonight did indeed have a blanket exactly there before I did the laundry this evening.
My 15 year old dog does this too, and has for a few years now. Occasionally she gets really bad with her pillow and will dig away at it and circle until I snap her out of it. The digging and pawing and rooting at a bedding area will drive you nuts after a while.
She also fake buries bones and food. i.e. moving her head through the air and over her food or bones as if there were a pile of dirt there.
She has always done some variation of these behaviors I think, but they have definitely gotten more severe with age (and yeah mine is going a bit senile too I'm pretty sure).
One thing I have noticed is that she does it less so in different beds, which all have adequate cushioning. I guess it is situational for them, and they also forget certain steps in the whole laying down process. Mine does this too if I have to wash one of her beds (she has three scattered around the house), she will not go lay down on the other one but will wander around the area of the missing bed.
Young dogs do this too. My 4 year old Cocker Spaniel will dig the area rugs and mats that I have scattered around the house. She will also dig the carpet in the back seat of G-Man's truck. Once she'd decided that she's not going to make it all the way through to China this time, she stops and goes back to what she was doing before.
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