While you’re brushing your teeth and fluffing the pillows before bed, your dog has her own bedtime routine. If you’ve ever caught her scratching and pawing at her bed before circling her spot and laying down, your first thought is probably, “Aww, how cute!” But when it happens every time your pup goes to sleep, you may start worrying about her well-being. Is it a symptom of stress? Is it related to a mental issue? Does your dog need help? Before you panic, scratching at bedding is a perfectly normal behavior in dogs. Here’s why they do it.
Your pup is related to wild dogs who used to live in dens and fend for themselves. While your dog probably lives in luxurious comfort with her own bed and blankets, she still channels those natural instincts. Wild dogs and wolves scratch the leaves and sticks around them to make multi-functional beds. Their beds are where they sleep, and they’re also used as protection from the elements and cover to hide from predators and enemies.
They’re Marking Their Territory
Dogs, especially males, usually mark their territory by urinating. The smell is like their calling card, and it tells other animals to stay away. There are other ways, however, for them to claim what’s theirs. Dogs prefer to keep their sleeping areas “clean,” so urinating on the bed is out of the question. Instead, they use the scent glands on the bottoms of their feet. Located around the paw pads, these glands transfer your dog’s smell to the bed when he scratches. Both male and female dogs use this method to claim their property.
They’re Getting Comfortable
Humans arrange their pillows and adjust their blankets to get comfortable, and without thumbs, scratching is your dog’s best way to do the same thing. They like to arrange their beds to be “just right,” and you get the benefit of watching the cute behavior. If your dog doesn’t have his own blanket and prefers to sleep on the floor, he could be scratching to adjust the temperature. Dogs who sleep outside will dig to reach cooler levels of dirt. But your dog doesn’t have to be outside to do this. Dogs will scratch everything from the carpet to your hardwood, and it’s completely normal.
While there’s nothing to be concerned about, scratching before laying down can do damage. Not all dog beds are durable enough to take the abuse, and enthusiastic scratches could leave permanent marks on your floors. If you’re trying to stop the behavior, try adding more soft blankets to your dog’s sleeping spot. You can also move his bed to a private area where he’ll feel more safe. If nothing seems to work, buy a bed that’s built to last or purchase nail caps to protect your floors.