We all have our special bedtime rituals — and so do our pets. If you’ve spied your dog scratching, pawing or even biting at his bed before lying down, it may seem like an odd way to settle in for a nap. But just as we slather on face cream, sip a mug of hot tea or prop open a book before bed, dogs have their reasons for this pre-sleep behavior.
So why do dogs scratch at their beds? The reason most likely goes way beyond just getting cozy …
While it’s hard to believe a Shih Tzu or poodle ever ran with the wolves, some habits are particularly hard to break, even after thousands of years.
Some experts suggest that a dog scratching at his bed may be an evolutionary holdover from the days in the wild, before domestication. If so, this behavior was an important part of helping wild dogs and wolves stay comfy, safe and warm, becoming so ingrained that dogs perform the behavior even when it’s not necessary.
“There has been some conjecture that digging at bedding, upholstered furniture or soft flooring (such as rugs or carpets) is akin to digging a hole or spreading bedding to make a nest,” Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, chief of animal behavior services at the University of California, Davis, told The Dodo. “This is the most likely purpose when the dog then lies down in the specific spot it was scratching.”
Dogs dig holes for protection from extreme heat and cold, and other predators. If your pup is scratching up a storm, he may be hardwired to go through the motions of transforming his soft bed into a nest or den before he feels truly safe.
Dogs, like wolves, have scent glands on the bottom of their paws and between their toes that secrete pheromones. Spreading their scent helps dogs communicate on a nose-to-nose basis, and the scent produced from these glands can be long-lasting.
If you have ever noticed your dog kicking the dirt after defecating, he is most likely leaving a chemical message for other canines to find — and if your dog scratches at the floor indoors, he may be attempting something similar. However, this theory has one catch.
“Some people think that dogs are mainly spreading scent on those areas and establishing territory,” Stelow said. “I would think this is more true of scratching or pawing on hard flooring, as the ‘digging the nest-hole’ theory has less credence on tile or wood.”
If you find your pup scratching at the kitchen floor, he’s most likely claiming territory, but the living room carpet may not have anything to do with spreading scent at all.
Though less likely, digging inside can also be a way for your dog to investigate something that sparks his interest — whether it’s a delicious smell or a fascinating sound.
“Some dogs will dig at the floor or a wall if they sense rodents or other animals living in crawl spaces in the house. This is uncommon, but I’ve seen cases of it,” Stelow explained. “The odor of dropped food or other interesting scents in the flooring or furniture may also elicit scratching/pawing/digging to find the source.”
Fingers crossed, the source of the scratching is a few crumbs, rather than a mouse.
My dog decided to tear up her bed while I was gone pic.twitter.com/pAs2gZW72l
— nat 🦋 (@NATLAHERA) January 2, 2015
Compulsive digging or scratching at the floor or furniture with no relaxation to follow could be an indication that something more troubling is going on with your dog. “Some dogs dig as part of a displacement behavior when they are anxious or otherwise excited,” Stelow added. “This type of pawing/digging/scratching would not then be associated with the dog curling up in the area it was scratching. These dogs should be treated for their anxiety or over-arousal.”
If your dog’s scratching has become an issue, chat with your local veterinarian about treatment options to minimize your pup’s stress.
There are quite a few possible causes for a dog’s digging, and while the exact reason can be difficult to pin down, one thing is for sure:
The adorable habit can come at a cost.
Oof. Looks like it’s time for a new bed … again.