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Why do dogs scratch their bed?

Why do dogs scratch their bed? Jack Russell dog in bed by the fire
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all have our own quirky bedtime rituals, but why do dogs scratch their beds before they lay down to sleep? You may have noticed that, along with turning a few circles, your pooch needs to dig and scratch their sleeping area before they can settle down for a good night's rest. 

Don't worry, however, this seemingly destructive behavior, also known as 'Denning' is perfectly natural and doesn't usually indicate anything is wrong. You may be finding this habit a little vexing, especially if you've invested in one of the best dog beds to make them as comfortable as possible only to see it systematically destroyed each night, but apart from potential costs there is nothing to be concerned about.

Digging anywhere is part and parcel of being a dog, you can read more about why they do this in  our article 'Why is my dog digging?'. And the pawing and scratching of carpets, rugs, blankets, bedding, sofas and beds, although slightly different to digging a hole, is part of the same innate behavior. 

Below, we talk you through the most common reasons your dog may be scratching their bed and what you can do to put a stop to it. 

Why do dogs scratch their bed? The 6 most common reasons

The habit of dogs scratching at their beds is caused by a combination of natural and evolved behaviors, all of which are telling your dog that scraping and pawing their sleep space is the right thing to do. Here are the 6 most common reasons why dogs scratch at their beds before laying down for the night.

1. Natural instinct

In the wild, dogs evolved to dig and scratch at their intended sleeping site to make it more comfortable to lie in. Piling up leaves, moving sticks and getting rid of sharp stones would give them a more comfortable place to rest. This scratching - and circling - behavior to clear a space has become such a natural instinct that they still do this even on comfortable blankets and soft bedding.  

2. Territorial behavior

Dogs don't just mark their territory by leaving little messages to each other by urinating on mailboxes and car wheels, they also do it by using scent glands which are located on their paws. Scratching and pawing releases these scents on their intended sleeping area, signaling to other dogs that it is already owned and should be left alone. This is why you may see an increase in dog bed scratching when a new person or pet is introduced to your dog's household.

3. To hide

Digging out a nest or den to sleep in in the wild would help dogs to conceal themselves from potential predators. This hiding instinct is why dogs will so often burrow into their bedding, leaving just their nose peeking out of their newly created blanket fort. Try not to discourage this as hiding like this makes your furry friend feel safe and calm, not to mention making them look rather cute! 

4. Body temperature

Why do dogs scratch their bed? Chihuahua asleep in bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dogs have learnt that if they dig a shallow burrow in the earth it will provide access, depending on the heat of the day, to warmer or cooler soil. You don't need to dig down far to find soil at a different temperature than that on the surface – often scratching away the top layer is enough to get to it. 

This behaviour helps them regulate their body temperature by helping them cool down on hot days or find a warmer place to lie on colder ones. This is also why they will burrow into leaves as this lets them find a place to escape harsh weather and temperatures. 

If you notice your dog scratching their bed more on hotter days, maybe provide a fan to help them to cool down. You can see more methods on how to make your dog more comfortable on warm days in our vet's guide on how to cool down your dog

5. A learned habit

If your dog has never scratched at or circled their bed before, but starts after another dog enters their home, as well as marking their territory, this new habit could be that your dog has seen the new dog behaving this way and has learnt to do it themselves. Dogs love copying other dogs, so it may just be a new 'trick' they've learned from this new and interesting furry friend!

6. Maternal instinct

If you have a pregnant pooch you may notice a sudden increase in bed digging behavior. Female dogs dig and scratch holes for their puppies in the wild, and this has carried over into domesticated dogs. They are just looking to provide a place for their offspring to stay warm, safe and hide in. Some female pooches will do this even if they aren't pregnant to practice for when they are.

How do I stop my dog scratching their bed?

Here we have some bad news for you; it's very hard to prevent innate behavior like the digging antics of your pooch before bedtime. Although this behavior can be learned, it's very hard to discourage it. It's also a behavior your dog will find calming, so teaching them it is wrong may increase their anxiety levels.

However, if they are constantly pulling the stuffing out of dog beds or ruining carpets, there are a few things you can do to reduce how much damage they cause. Simply trimming your furry friend's nails regularly will slow them down when it comes to ripping and shredding things, as their claws will be less sharp. You can also try adding distractions to their sleeping area like the best dog toys so they have something else to interact with rather than scratching away for too long. 

If you have the room, making them a den of cardboard boxes in some area of the house that doesn't have anything precious that can be destroyed will keep them away from the furniture and soft furnishings. A large porch or outhouse where they can destroy their cardboard den without damaging anything more expensive to replace is ideal. You might also like to look at buying a durable and hard-wearing dog bed that can hold up to all the scratching.

Jamie Middleton

Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer - or at least he is when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.