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Why do dogs scratch and dig at their beds before lying down?

basenji scratching bed with red cover pink hearts and grey cushions

Scratching before lying down is a very natural and instinctual behaviour for dogs

© Yuri Kravchenko - Shutterstock

Have you ever noticed how dogs scratch their beds and twirl around before plopping down for a snooze? Ever wondered what that’s about? Well, we’ve got all the answers here.

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

If you own a dog, then you’ve definitely seen them scratching or digging at their bed, your bed, the sofa, or wherever they’re planning on lying down. This can seem like a very strange behaviour, but it’s actually very normal.

What does it mean when your dog scratches his bed?

Scratching and digging at their bed is most often an instinctual behaviour that has been passed on by your dog’s wolf ancestors! Here are the main reasons why your dog is scratching at the bed:

1. They’re acting on instinct to make their beds comfortable

In the wild, wolves often dig at the ground before lying down. In the winter, when there’s snow, this enables them to dig a small hole that they can hide in and that will protect them from the elements. In the summer, when it’s hot, digging in the soil makes them a nice cool spot to lie in. Plus, digging before lying down enables wolves to remove any uncomfortable things from their beds (like leaves or twigs), and also to kick out any dangerous neighbours, like snakes, for example!

So essentially, your dog scratching their bed is sort of like us fluffing our pillows before we put our heads down. Sure, they’re not likely to find any snakes or twigs in their beds nowadays, but it’s an instinctual behaviour passed down from their ancestors that they just can’t shake. 

2. They’re marking their territory

Dog’s paws are full of scent glands. By scratching on surfaces, your dog is depositing lots of pheromones that indicate “I was here, and this is mine.” In addition to making their bed comfortable, your dog is also making sure everyone knows this is THEIR bed.

3. They’re looking for something

You may notice your dog scratching energetically at strange times (i.e. when they’re not about to go to bed). This could be accompanied by some annoyed sneezes! In this case, why not check if there’s something hiding under your dog’s bedding. We bet you they’ve lost something in there and are trying to find it!

4. They’re excited

Sometimes you’ll see your dog scratching like crazy and then jumping into “zoomie” mode. This often means that your dog has some pent-up energy that they’ve had to contain and that just needs to come out. Maybe they haven’t had a very long walk today?

5. They’re feeling anxious

In some cases, excessive scratching can be a sign of anxiety. Indeed, if the scratching seems to be compulsive, you should consult a vet for advice.

How can I protect my dog’s bed from scratching?

In most cases, digging at the bed is just an instinctual behaviour that helps dogs make their sleeping areas more comfortable. However, this behaviour can be quite destructive - it starts with a small rip or holes, and the next thing you know, you’ve got stuffing all over the house. Here are a few things you can do to protect your dog’s bed:

1. Trim their nails

The longer the nails, the bigger the damage. You can trim your dog’s nails every month or so, but be careful not to cut the quick. If you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself, you can ask your dog’s vet or groomer to do it for you. If, even after a trim, your dog’s nails are quite sharp, you can file them with a nail file.

2. Invest in a sturdier or more comfortable bed

If your dog is an avid digger, flimsy beds with cheap stuffing inside might not survive for a very long time. Consider a more durable bed (even if these might be a little more expensive).

If your dog is scratching because they seem uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to invest in a bed more suited for them. Short-haired breeds like Dachshunds and Italian Greyhounds love to burrow and stay warm at all times. These dogs do best with pita beds! Older dogs with joint problems might prefer memory foam beds. And dogs with lots of fur, like Samoyeds, for example, might be more comfortable on cooling beds. If you find the perfect fit for your dog, then there will be less scratching!

3. Wear out their excess energy

If they’re scratching out of excess energy, you’ll need to think of ways you can mentally and physically stimulate your dog more. Maybe you need to take them on longer walks? Or perhaps when they start to get a little worked up, get a toy out and engage in a game of fetch or tug-of-war. After a little play, your dog will be ready to settle down more calmly. 

4. Make your dog’s bed a safe space

If your dog is digging out of anxiety, you should consult a vet. However, consider where your dog’s bed is placed. Is it in a busy part of the house where there’s lots of coming and going? If so, move the bed to a quieter part of the house where your dog can really relax and unwind. Better yet, get them several beds and let them choose where they’d feel more comfortable sleeping.

Don’t wash their bedding too often; dogs like to have their scent where they sleep. If they have several pillows and blankets, you can alternate when you wash them, so your dog always feels at home in their bed.

So, why do you think your dog scratches the bed?

Frequently asked questions

Why do dogs dig on beds and couches?

Why do dogs dig at the carpet before lying down?

Why does my dog scratch his bed like crazy?

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