While you’re going through your bedtime routine of brushing your teeth and setting out your clothes for the following day, you may notice that your pup has a routine of his own: scratching at his bed before lying down. There are a few reasons dogs scratch at their beds. Most do it out of instinct to make the space safe and more comfortable, but it could also be a sign of anxiety or distress. We’ll explore these possibilities below to help you figure out if your pup’s behavior is perfectly normal or cause for concern.
It Could Be Territorial
You may have a pampered Poodle or an adorable and fun-loving Labrador in your family, but all domesticated breeds are descendants of wolves and other wild dogs. It’s likely that your pup has inherited the instinct to scratch its beds from their ancestors who lived in the wild.
Dogs have scent glands in their feet which help spread their distinct aromas onto the ground. Just like your dog will urinate on things to “mark their territory,” your dog may be scratching at their bed to mark it as their own. You may find that bed scratching intensifies if new animals are brought into your home or if you and your dog move to a new place. If that’s the case, territory marking is likely your answer!
It Might Be to Make the Space Safe
A soft and luxurious dog bed in your locked and alarmed house may seem perfectly safe to you, but your dog will still have the instinct to make their sleeping space safe before settling in. Their wild ancestors would turn in circles and scratch at the ground where they intended to sleep for safety and protection.
One thing this accomplished was making sure nothing was hiding in the brush or grass that could hurt them. Clawing at the ground and walking around on it before lying down would scare away any rodents or snakes that may be around, making their new bed safer.
Wild dogs would also dig to make a sleeping area that wasn’t visible from far away to help prevent attacks from predators. Staying even partially below ground level would mean added protection, and this instinct to create a safe place was maintained over thousands of years and can contribute to your dog’s bed-scratching routine.
It Could Be for Comfort
Another reason your dog may be scratching at their bed is for comfort. Their ancestors living in the wild would be sleeping on leaves, sticks, brush, and dirt, and scratching at the ground before they retired for the night would mean a more comfortable place to rest. Moving around their makeshift bedding would help clear the area a bit and make a more level surface for sleeping. Your dog’s scratching may be based on this inherited ritual or not — they may be scratching out of instinct, or they may really be trying to get the bedding material underneath them a bit more comfortable.
It’s for Warmth
If you find your pooch scratching underneath blankets in their bedding area or vigorously scratching their bed, they may also be searching for warmth.
Your dog’s ancestors relied in part on the environment to help them regulate their temperature, and scratching at the ground to get underneath leaves, brush, or dirt may have been in an effort to insulate themselves from cold temperatures while sleeping. It may also have been to expose the cool earth in warmer temperatures.
Your pup may actually be cold or warm in your house, or they may, again, just be acting out of instinct. If you find that they scratch at their beds more in the winter, you may want to provide your pup with a blanket just to make sure they can find the warmth they’re looking for if needed.
It Could Be Anxiety
If your dog scratches casually and then settles down to sleep, the likelihood is that they’re just acting out of instinct. If that’s the case, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if your dog scratches at their bed excessively or compulsively and the scratching isn’t followed by rest, it may be a result of anxiety or over-stimulation and not instinct at all.
If you think your dog’s scratching may be an anxious behavior, speak with your vet to find out the best course of action and possible treatment.
Chances are your dog’s tendency to scratch their bed before settling into sleep is perfectly normal, and the behavior is likely an instinct they’ve inherited.
From the thousands of years your dog’s ancestors have survived in the wild, your pup has learned to scratch at and circle in their bed for safety and comfort. You should consult your vet if the scratching is excessive or doesn’t result in your dog lying down to sleep, as it may be a sign of anxiety or another neurological issue.
Featured image credit: Patryk Kosmider, Shutterstock