Out of the many quirks that our furry friends have…
This odd habit of scraping the ground after toilet breaks is still a mystery.
And you’re probably wondering…
“Do all dogs do this?
And are there any meanings behind it?”
Keep reading to find out:
- If gender or age has something to do with this behavior.
- 7 reasons why dogs ground scratch after they pee or poop.
- Whether they’ll do this behavior more after urinating or defecating.
- What should you do if your dog does this every time they’re outside.
- And so much more…
Table of contents
- Why do dogs scratch the ground after they pee and poop?
- 9 reasons why dogs scratch the ground after the pee and poop
Why do dogs scratch the ground after they pee and poop?
Dogs scratch the ground after they pee or poop to communicate with other hounds. By digging, they’ll leave and scatter their scent in the area. This is also an instinct – either territorial or protective. While some dogs may only do this to announce their presence. As well as to lessen their stress.
9 reasons why dogs scratch the ground after the pee and poop
#1: To leave their scent
Ground scratching is said to be a complex signal in dogs.
This is according to Marc Bekoff, a biologist.
“What does it mean?”
It means that this can give a lot of cues to other canines. And this includes olfactory and visual. As well as auditory – based on some theories.
But first, let’s talk about the olfactory aspect.
Bekoff says that dogs scratch the ground after they pee or poop to leave their scent.
This is because canines have sweat glands in their paws.
Research also shows that they have some of these in the hairy parts of their skin. But, they don’t help much in regulating their temperature.
This is why dogs pant a lot when it’s hot. Because it’s a better way to cool themselves down.
Dr. Baird explains that it’s because their fur hinders the evaporation of sweat.
So their glands are mainly located in places with less hair. Such as their paws and noses.
Aside from sweat, dogs’ paws also release pheromones
“What are those?”
These are chemicals that relay messages to their own kind. (So for us, these are odorless substances. And we can’t also decipher them.)
To give you an analogy…
Spreading pheromones is like:
- Putting up a sign.
- Leaving a calling card.
- Giving your Facebook profile.
Because other dogs or animals who will sniff these will be able to get some info about the doer. (The one who scratched.)
Also, pheromones are believed to last longer.
This is compared to the odor of their poop and pee. Which makes them a better tool for this purpose.
Going back to the topic
So, when dogs’ pads come in contact with the ground or grass…
They’re also depositing some of their odor in it. And they might be doing this to claim territories.
Have you heard about ‘urine marking’?
This has a similar concept to this. But dogs use their pee instead to claim something.
Because like sweat, urine also has pheromones in it.
But you may ask,
“They’ve already deposited their pee or poop on the ground.
Why do they still scratch?”
The digging might be like a finishing touch to their territorial behavior. Plus, it’s an instinct so it can’t be helped.
This is why you’ll notice that dogs tend to do this in front of their houses. Or along the perimeter of their yards.
And also, if they sniffed some waste of another canine.
As if they’re telling other Fidos,
“Everyone, here’s my territory. I’d appreciate it if you don’t cross the line.”
Interesting fact: When do dogs ground scratch more? Is it after they pee or after they poop? Research reveals that it’s the latter. But canines also dig at least once after urinating.
When it comes to gender, there were no significant differences.
But in terms of age, it was found that senior Fidos do this the most. While the behavior is uncommon in young dogs.
In one shelter, ground scratching was seen in 29% of adult dogs. While it’s 50% for senior canines.
You might also wonder: Why does my dog kick his back legs randomly?
#2: It’s an animal instinct
Dogs aren’t the only ones who perform ground scratching.
This behavior is also seen in other animals. Such as coyotes and their ancestors – wolves.
One study found that coyotes spread their scent more along the boundaries of their homes. Which shows their territorial instincts.
Wolves also do this to defend their territories. And usually, it’s intended for those who aren’t part of their pack.
They also use the scent of pheromones as a guide. This is to know whether other animals are around.
#3: To disperse their odor
Now, it’s known that dogs scratch the ground to leave their scent.
But, it doesn’t end there.
This is because canines don’t only leave their smell behind whenever they dig…
The kicking action also helps them scatter the odor all over the area. Which causes it to travel over long distances.
This may create trails of smell too.
And they’ll be pointing to their ‘details’ a.k.a. excreted wastes. To prompt and signal others, “Over here!”
#4: To simply announce their presence to other dogs
Dogs might not only scratch the ground to mark their territories.
Because sometimes, this could also be interpreted as:
“To whoever sees this…
I’m just leaving a message to let you know that I was here!
Yup. Canines may deposit their scent as well to make their presence known to other Fidos.
They’ve just happened to pass by and decided to say hello. And that they also mean no harm.
#5: To leave a visual mark
Here’s another theory.
Dogs might also do this to create a visible sign for other canines.
The obvious visual mark would be the slashes on the ground. And also, the flattened parts of the grass.
Even though there were no canines who witnessed this ‘ground-breaking’ moment…
Other Fidos can still tell what happened in the area.
And get the message that the doer (the dog who scratched) wants to relay based on the scent.
Whether it’s a sign telling them, “This place is already taken” or “I come in peace!”
#6: To intimidate other dogs
This is another visual cue.
But this time, other canines are present during the ground scratching.
So this might also be a show to intimidate others.
Based on Berkoff’s study, male dogs scratch more. And they usually do this when there are other hounds around.
Also, before digging, he observed another thing.
Dogs raise their legs too. And this may be followed by peeing. Or sometimes, pooping.
“But why do they do that?”
PetMD says that it’s a sign of marking as well.
This is because when dogs want to claim territories, they’ll raise their legs. And some Fido will lift theirs as high as they can.
Then they’ll pee on things – mostly vertical objects.
(Quick info: This behavior is more common in male canines. But some female dogs can also raise their legs while peeing.)
Berkoff also shared a story about a dog named ‘Rigby.’
He said that the canine didn’t kick the ground before. But not until a new Fido became part of the family.
So, the presence of another hound may indeed trigger this behavior.
Now, let’s take a look at a study about dog’s ancestors – the wolves
There’s a report about a female wolf who also scratched and peed on the ground. And she did this when she spotted a human.
At first, she was seen digging some earth using her front paws. She also had a straight tail that pointed up to the sky.
Then she peed with a raised leg afterwards.
What the wolf displayed is similar to the behavior of dogs. (Well, they share the same genes and ancestors after all.)
And the actions are a clear display of territoriality. Which they show in the presence of other creatures.
#7: To reduce stress
Apart from giving signs to others…
Dogs might also scratch the ground to calm themselves.
“Wait. Is that possible?”
Carlo Siracusa says so.
According to him, this is usually seen in anxious canines. Especially in naturally fearful dogs.
But he made it clear that not every pooch who does this is scratching their stress away. And this is only based on his experience as a vet behaviorist.
“So, how does scratching help dogs?”
He said that this may be useful when they’re in an unknown place.
Because as dogs dig, they’re also leaving their scent behind, right?
And this causes the new area to smell more familiar to them. Plus, it can also warn other dogs of their presence.
Especially when they feel insecure. And they want to avoid other Fidos.
Also, the action alone might be relaxing.
Same with us, dogs will also find an outlet to release tension.
Like when some people pick at their nails. Or crack their knuckles if they’re jittery.
And scratching can be a dog’s way to cope. While others may do these things instead:
Note: If it seems like your dog is anxious, remove them in the area. Then at home, continue to monitor your dog. Look for signs of stress such as lip licking, yawning, and pacing.
To know more…
Check this article next: Why Does My Dog All Of A Sudden Have (Separation) Anxiety?
#8: To mask their odor
This is quite contradicting to the 1st reason above.
But if a dog kicks some earth over their wastes, this is more likely.
“Do some dogs cover up their poop or pee?”
It’s rare for canines to do those things.
Usually, they’ll leave their wastes on any surface – fully exposed. Unlike cats who hide their mess.
However, if we’re going to list down all the possible reasons for ground scratching…
This could still be included in the list.
Some dogs may have learned to cover the mess they’ve made on the ground. Or they think it’s best to conceal their odor at the moment.
Canines might have the same reason as felines.
Experts say that wild cats bury their wastes to hide their presence from predators. And domesticated cats still have this urge even if they live indoors.
(Well, better safe than sorry!)
It’s an instinct to protect themselves.
So, dogs will also hide their scent if they’re threatened. Or if they feel unsure about the surroundings.
Note: Some cats may not also bother to hide their poop at all. And they’re doing it for the same reason why dogs don’t cover theirs. To claim territory.
#9: It gives them a different kind of satisfaction
Last but not least, dogs might also find ground scratching pleasurable.
The act of scratching helps reduce stress.
Plus, it’s a normal canine instinct. So they may feel satisfied whenever they do this.
You’ll know it if a dog’s so immersed in digging.
Some Fidos even lose their balance while doing it. Or forget about their surroundings for a few minutes.
You might also be interested in: 9 Real Reasons Why Your Dog Scratches The Floor + 7 Tips
So, now that you’ve understood the possible reasons…
What should you do?
Ground scratching is a hard-wired behavior in dogs.
This can’t be stopped. So, it’ll be best to allow them to create messages for their fellow dogs.
And let them click the ‘send’ button. (In other words: finish it off with some kicking!)
However, take good care of your dog’s paws.
Check them and cut their nails frequently. Then, look if there are cuts or burns due to their frequent scratching.
If they have torn pads, VCA tells dog parents to:
- Wash the affected areas. Use cool water and mild antibacterial soap.
- Remove any foreign objects (if you see one) using tweezers. But, don’t attempt this if they’re deeply stuck. Leave this job to your vet.
- Put enough pressure to stop the bleeding. If 15 minutes have passed and nothing has changed, bring them to the clinic.
- Disinfect the wound with betadine.
- Wrap clean gauze over the lesion. And put a pad under the affected paw.
Monitor your dog’s condition. Then make sure to change their bandage regularly.