At best, dog behavior can seem just a little odd to the rest of us humans; among these odd behaviors, you might’ve spotted your beloved furry companion doing their scratching-ritual before picking a suitable place to nap.
Sometimes, they’ll wake up, circle around a little before lying down again; other times – unfortunately – they’re scratching at your couch, and it’s made from…gasp…leather!
Here’s our investigative efforts into just why dogs do it…
Dogs scratch and dig at their blankets, pillows, beds and general chill-out spots to regulate their temperature.
In hot climates, a nicely dug hole can protect you from the blistering heat (yes, even some scorpions and snakes will use this strategy in the sand) and in cold climates, it’ll keep you away from the storm.
Dogs know this, and one theory is that this behavior is a throwback to more ancient times before their domestication, when the temperature was a lot more crucial to their survival.
Another reason, maybe the most obvious one, is comfort; they do it for the same reason their owners will flip over a pillow twelve times in the same night!
Dogs (and many other animals) have a natural desire to spread their scent around.
This is their way of letting other animals know that this is their territory, and the same is true when they give their beds a couple casual scratches.
Scent glands can be found, among other places, at the bottoms of their paws. (Dogs scratching at trees and soil are often for the same reason.)
A common behavior accompanying the common bed-digging is the roundabout.
You’ve seen it before: Your dog gives the bedding a scratch or two before turning around a couple of times. Then, only when they’re completely satisfied with their spot, they’ll choose to lie down.
Again, the obvious reason is comfort – but they’re also doing this for safety. They’re checking out the territory and make sure it’s safe to lie down before they do.
Digging also accompanies this behavior, as digging down a bit deeper into the ground would in theory make your dog less visible to predators.
In nature, dogs will flatten the grass around their spot and dig a small hole before lying down; yes, your garden in this case will count as nature to your dog and you’re likely to spot this behavior when your dog is outside. i
It’s a common theory that they do this for camouflage – another proposed throwback to your dog’s ancient behaviors.
Female dogs will dig at their beds to prepare a comfortable nest for their puppies to spend their first couple of days in; you’ll spot this behavior in any dog that’s feeling a little broody, and even dogs that have been neutered might exhibit this behavior, too.
It’s worth noting that a pregnant dog doing this might be close to birthing, so keep a close eye when you see this. (In some rare cases, dogs will adopt other animals – check out this YouTube video of an “inseparable” dog and his unlikely best friend.)
Like the pirates of old, dogs often like to bury and hide their treasures – with an X marking the spot optional, of course.
If your dog is digging at the bed, he may be trying to hide some especially sweet booty (he’s not likely to get very deep, but bless his heart for trying)! This could be a favorite toy or a treat they’re just saving for later. Watch your dog to see where their favorite hiding spots are.
While perfectly normal, it’s a behavior best discouraged if they start burying things all over your neighbor’s vegetable garden – or take to carrying around your new shoes.
If you notice your dog’s scratching and digging becoming excessive, it might point to a sign of nervous behavior in your dog: Have any major changes occurred in your dog’s life or routine – or possibly yours?
If you can’t find the source of the problem, a visit to the vet might be in order to track down the root cause.
Need to stop your dog from scratching at your new leather couches or digging a hole in your wooden floor?
Your best options would be to
(a) Give your dog their own space with suitable bedding that they can dig at, if they don’t have their own bed already. You may want to consider getting your pooch a nesting, cave-style dog bed that lets your dog burrow and hide to his heart’s content!
(b) If your dog’s scratching is becoming excessively destructive, one tip we found is to always keep their nails trimmed. Short nails can’t do as much damage as long ones!
(c) If the digging is becoming obsessive, it’s recommended that you distract your dog with a new favorite toy or chew. You may also need to consider taking your pooch to the vet for a check-up.
Have you spotted your dog digging at his bed? Share your stories in the comments!
Alex J. Coyne is a freelance journalist with eight years' experience writing for publications like People Magazine, Re:Fiction, Great Bridge Links and NB Publishers. Sometimes, his three dogs take him for walks around the neighborhood; they offer helpful feedback on his work and offer little to no comment on his singing.