Dogs do a lot of things that make us wonder.
One of those is scratching their beds – especially before bedtime.
And it’s like they’re digging an invisible treasure buried down there.
Some say that it’s kind of a ritual.
But really, why do they do this?
Keep on reading to find out:
- 17 reasons why dogs scratch their beds.
- Whether it’s part of their bedtime ritual or not.
- What makes some dogs scratch excessively.
- When you should be concerned about this behavior.
- And so much more…
Table of contents
- Why do dogs scratch their beds (before lying down)?
- 17 reasons why dogs scratch their beds (before lying down)
- #1: They’re creating a comfier sleeping spot
- #2: They’re acting on their burrowing instincts
- #3: They’re regulating their temperature
- #4: They’re spreading their scent
- #5: They’re about to give birth
- #6: They have a false pregnancy
- #7: They’re doing an investigation
- #8: They’re shooing insects away
- #9: They want to hide something
- #10: They’re stressed out
- #11: They feel uneasy
- #12: They have a compulsive disorder
- #13: They’re feeling a sudden burst of energy
- #14: They’ve got nothing to do
- #15: They need attention
- #16: They’re mimicking other dogs
- #17: They’re showing a displacement behavior
Why do dogs scratch their beds (before lying down)?
Dogs scratch their beds before lying down due to comfort and instincts. But, they’ll not only do this before taking a rest. This could be nesting or territorial behavior as well. Or a sign of stress, anxiety, OCD, or boredom. While some dogs might also do this out of joy, frustration, or curiosity.
17 reasons why dogs scratch their beds (before lying down)
#1: They’re creating a comfier sleeping spot
“This is how I make my bed.”
Sleep is also an important activity in dogs.
It’s their way to recharge themselves. And one study shows that it improves their memory as well.
According to experts, most of our furry friends doze off for 12 hours daily. This is half a day lying down. So, to have a good sleep, what will they do?
They’re going to make sure that they’ll have a comfy surface to lie on.
And dogs might do this by scratching their beds.
For the same reason why we fluff our pillows and fix our sheets before bedtime.
We do these to get rid of lumps so that we’ll sleep on an even surface. As well as to remove any dirt and dust.
Also, if we have trouble sleeping, we may turn our pillows too. Then see what’s the most comfortable position for us.
So, if dogs are relaxed and content while doing this, they might only be preparing their beds for a nice rest.
#2: They’re acting on their burrowing instincts
“I dunno. My paws just move automatically.”
Aside from scrabbling their bed, does your dog also love digging holes outside?
What about tucking under the blankets?
If so, it could also be that they’re a born burrower.
Well, most dogs like digging. And this trait might be traced back from their great ancestors – the wolves.
“Why do they do this?”
There are 2 possible reasons – for comfort and safety.
In the wild, wolves scratch the ground to create a comfortable sleeping area.
Either they’re making sure that the surface is level and free from any sharp objects. Or they’re gathering dirt to hide from other animals.
But you might ask, “Why do our pet dogs do this?”
Although they don’t need this skill as they live in the comfort of our homes…
The digging instinct may be deeply rooted in the Canid family.
So, dogs might still have the urge to burrow at times. And they can do this whether they’re on the soil or their bed.
However, some breeds enjoy scratching more than the others
These are ‘earthdogs’ such as Dachshunds and Terriers.
Because as their name says, they’re canines that were initially bred to hunt underground. Say, catching badgers, vermin, or rabbits in tunnels.
Watch how these wiener dogs transform into earth drills upon seeing some soil:
What to do?
This is only normal, and stopping an instinct will be hard to do.
So, if you have a burrower, you can provide them with a sandbox.
Then, let them dig to their heart’s content. Or make them find some toys you buried in there.
They may also appreciate cave dog beds like this one. As they resemble a den or tunnel.
But, if you have a crate, you can just cover its top and sides with a blanket to make it cozier.
#3: They’re regulating their temperature
Dogs might also scratch their beds as they’re trying to stay warm or cold.
And this instinct may have come from wolves as well.
This is because during hot days, wolves are said to be digging shallow holes.
They’re doing this to remove the warm soil on the top. And uncover the cooler earth underneath it.
But when it’s cold, the holes can also serve as cozy spots. Plus, it’ll give them a sense of security too.
So, when it seems like your pooch has issues with the room temperature, adjust it accordingly.
This will vary based on their breed and condition. For example, dogs with thick coats are more sensitive to heat.
While those with short furs don’t do well in low temperatures. As well as senior Fidos and small puppies.
But, in general, vets advise not to exceed more than 85°F (29.5°C). And not fall under 45°F 7.2°C).
#4: They’re spreading their scent
Dogs are also known to be territorial.
It’s normal for them to guard their belongings against another canine or stranger. And some can be more aggressive than others.
To mark our possessions, we write our names or put up signs. And obviously, canines can’t do such things.
So, besides acting fierce, how do dogs claim something?
They’ll use their scent instead.
By rubbing their body parts with ‘scent glands.’
These release secretions that have pheromones. Or substances that cause a specific reaction from their kind, like:
- Sexual behaviors.
According to Marc Bekoff, an ethologist, dogs have scent glands on their paws. So, as they scratch, they’re also leaving their scent behind.
This could also be the reason why canines kick the ground after they poop or pee. And they’re doing it to convey a message to others.
Also, by scratching, they’re spreading their scent to a larger area.
Plus, it can also serve as a visual cue. As other hounds that’ll go there will spot the carvings on the ground.
Dogs may pee on their things or territories as well. Which is known as ‘urine-marking.’
To us, their pee is only a foul-smelling liquid.
But for dogs, it holds a lot of info about the Fido who produced it. And sniffing allows them to know those details.
Check out also: 9 Reasons Why Your Dog Pees On You + 5 Tips To Stop It
#5: They’re about to give birth
You may also witness this behavior in female dogs who are in labor.
It’s called ‘nesting instinct.’
And PetMD says that pregnant canines are bound to have this urge as they’re nearing delivery.
They’re about to have puppies. So, as soon-to-be moms, they’ll have the impulse to make a safe area for their litter.
And to ensure that it’s cozy enough, females might start scrabbling in their beds for hours.
Some dogs even put shoes on their sleeping spot. While other pooches gather toys around. And they may also tear newspapers or towels to have a soft, warm place.
“What’s responsible for this instinct?”
One research mentioned that this is due to changes in their hormones.
It’s the result of lower levels of progesterone. Along with increased amounts of prolactin.
What to do?
Check first if your dog’s close to giving birth. And do this by taking their rectal temperature.
Based on vets, it’ll fall under 100°F (38°C) while they’re in 24 hours of labor.
Then, watch out for these other signs:
- Loss of appetite.
- Withdrawn behavior.
Also, help your pregnant dog to create a nice place for her and her litter.
You can set this up in their chosen area or pick a quieter and warmer spot for them.
For this, you may use a:
- Wooden box.
- Large plastic tub.
- Plastic swimming pool.
Just make sure that it’s twice the length of your dog. So she and her pups can move around the whelping area.
As a base, place some washable sheets. Then also, cut out an entry for your dog so that she can go in and out.
But, make it a bit higher so her babies won’t be able to climb outside.
#6: They have a false pregnancy
Sometimes, this could also be a case of pseudo or phantom pregnancy.
“Wait. What is that?”
This is when a female dog who’s not pregnant shows signs of labor.
A study shows that 96% of vets saw mothering behavior in canines with false pregnancy. This includes the nesting instinct that I discussed earlier.
“How does this happen?”
Same with actual pregnancy, this is also due to hormonal changes.
VCA Hospitals says that hormones are released after a female’s heat cycle. And these help dogs prepare for a possible pregnancy.
One of them is called prolactin. And high levels of this are responsible for maternal behavior.
So, dogs may become overprotective of small objects like their toys. Then, they’ll grab and care for them like their own children.
If they’re not expecting some puppies soon, the hormones will drop in number. And this takes about 4 to 6 weeks.
During this long period, they might experience signs of false labor. Together with these other symptoms:
- Lack of energy.
- Reduced appetite.
- Sudden aggression.
- Occasional vomiting.
- Swollen mammary glands.
Note: Don’t worry. According to vets, this behavior will stop after 14 to 21 days. And if your pooch has this, never attempt to milk them even if their glands have leakage. This is because it’ll only encourage lactation.
#7: They’re doing an investigation
Hold up. What’s this smell?!”
Do you notice your dog sniffing and scratching their bed at the same time?
And probably, with some licking too?
If so, and this behavior doesn’t happen often, it could be that they’ve found a treasure. And they’re trying to get it.
Oh, not gold bars or jewels.
What I mean is they might have seen some crumbs left on the cushion. (Maybe the snacks they munch on earlier!)
Also, dogs have an incredible sense of smell.
According to experts, it’s their strongest one. And compared to ours, it’s about 100,000 times superior.
So, they may have sniffed traces of yesterday’s food there. Or an odor of another animal or person.
And by scratching the surface, they’re dispersing the scent to have a better smell.
Interesting fact: Researchers found that dogs sniff with their right nostrils first. If they know the scent, they’ll use the left nostril next. But, if it’s unfamiliar, they’ll not shift at all.
You might also wonder: Why does my dog scratch at the wall?
#8: They’re shooing insects away
Your dog digs in their bed like there’s no tomorrow.
And they’re barking nonstop as well.
“What’s happening to them?”
Aside from smelling something, dogs might also scratch to drive off bugs.
They may do this if they’re about to lie down. And they’re making sure that their spot is comfortable and safe.
Canines are territorial, so they’re shooing them away. But, they may not want some itchy insect bites too.
Plus, it’s only normal for dogs to chase bugs due to their instincts.
Certain breeds even have higher prey drives than others. Say, hunting breeds like Sighthounds. Or herding dogs such as Border Collies.
It’s because they were bred to track down small animals. And they also find pleasure in doing so.
But did you know that some dogs can be terrified of insects?
Yup. Entomophobia or irrational fear of insects is also a thing in canines.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman shares one story of a Labrador Retriever named ‘Mabel.’
She was reported to have a phobia of deer flies. To the point where she’s always paranoid and hides every time she sees one.
“What may have caused this?”
Usually, phobias are a result of bad experiences.
In Mabel’s case, her parents reported that she was badly stung by deer flies before. And this incident traumatized her.
#9: They want to hide something
In other cases, it may look like dogs are retrieving something.
But the truth is, they could be doing the opposite.
They might be trying to bury a toy, bone, or a treat under their bed. And they’re saving them for later.
This is more likely if you can also see some toys hidden between the furniture. Or concealed under a pile of clothes.
“But, why do dogs do this?”
According to AKC, hoarding is also an instinct like digging.
Because back then, it’s believed that dogs and their ancestors often starved in the wild.
So, if they have extra food, they’ll bury some for future use.
Pet dogs will not often do this. As it’s common to see them finish off their meals – without leaving a trace! Or play with their toys and destroy them in just a few minutes.
But, there could be specific triggers to make Fidos hoard.
Like if they’re given a new toy, and they love it so much.
Or if they’re rewarded with a high-value snack. Which is a food that they don’t usually get every day.
So, they’ll treat those things like treasure. And they might also want to hide them from other dogs or people.
#10: They’re stressed out
What do you do when you’re troubled?
Some people exercise or meditate. While others eat, take a nap, or play with their dogs.
Well, studies prove that spending time with our furry pals helps us feel better. And even a 10-minute-interaction with dogs (or cats) may lessen our stress hormones.
But sadly, stress also affects animals like canines.
So, dogs will do other things too and find outlets to relieve their tension. And scratching can be one of them.
Dr. Katie says that doing this repeated action results in higher endorphin levels. Or hormones that help combat stress and reduce pain.
And in this case, dogs have chosen to scratch to ease their stress.
What are its common causes in canines?
If we’re worried about work, exams, or bills…
Dogs, on the other hand, can be stressed by:
- Loud noises.
- Moving houses.
- New puppy or pet.
- A disruption in routine.
- Unfamiliar group of people.
Research also discovered that canines could mirror the stress levels of their parents. And this might be linked to their bond.
The closer they are, the more probable it is for a dog to be affected by human emotions.
So, if you’re feeling under the weather, your pooch can sense it. And it’s possible for them to feel the same way too.
Note: You may also spot a stressed Fido if they exhibit these other signs frequently:
#11: They feel uneasy
Now, if a dog is stressed, it might also lead to anxiety. And the bed scratching could be more intense in this one.
These 2 can be quite confusing as they have similar symptoms.
But, take note that stress is a natural response to a thing or situation that demands something hard from us.
While anxiety means excessive worries – which is caused by stress. And dogs are no exemption in this.
“How do canines get this?”
- Painful condition.
- Traumatic experiences.
- Lack of socialization at an early age.
First, underlying illnesses can worsen their stress.
Especially if it’s painful, such as bone or joint problems. And also, if it has something to do with brain function like dementia.
Another thing that may cause anxiety in dogs is trauma.
Some abandoned canines might panic if separated from their humans. And this is called ‘separation anxiety.’
While abused Fidos can be highly sensitive to touch. Or be aggressive when approached.
But sometimes, they may not only be used to physical contact.
And lastly, if they start digging when they see other people or dogs at home, it could be due to a lack of socialization.
It’s not common for them to see strangers every day. So, they might be extra wary of them.
PetsWebMD advises exposing puppies to new places and people as early as 7 to 8 weeks. But only if they already had their 1st shot. As well as their 1st deworming.
Note: Apart from signs of stress, anxious dogs will also display:
- House soiling.
- Destructive behaviors.
- Excessive vocalization.
Wanna know how you could help them?
Read this next: 19 Proven Ways To Calm Your Anxious Dog (How-To Guide)
#12: They have a compulsive disorder
Next, vets say that if a dog’s anxiety isn’t taken care of…
It could also turn to obsessive-compulsive disorder, a.k.a. OCD.
This is similar to its counterpart in humans. Because repetitive behaviors also characterize it.
And the most common ones in canines are:
- Tail chasing.
- Fly catching.
- Looking at their back end.
- Excessive licking of objects.
Dogs may do these for no apparent reason at all.
So, if your Fido’s scratching seems out of context. And if they do it way too often, it might also be a compulsive behavior.
What to do?
One way to confirm this is by recording a video of your dog while they’re doing it. And by consulting your vet.
Medications can help cure severe forms of OCD. But, many mild cases are also treated by:
- Giving them daily exercise.
- Avoiding or removing their stressors.
- Engaging them in fun activities (e.g., scent work, fetch).
#13: They’re feeling a sudden burst of energy
If a dog looks happy and doesn’t seem bothered, their scratching might also be out of excitement.
I swear, canines can do many weird things when they’re out of control.
Apart from digging, they could also:
And the long list goes on…
“Why does this happen?”
Dogs may get an adrenaline rush while playing. Or if they see their parents return home after waiting for so long.
Because of this, they’ll have so much energy in their body. And they don’t know how to deal with all the excitement.
So, they’ll release it and do something else instead.
And if their bed is nearby, they’ll scratch it many times until they calm down.
For further reading: 17 Reasons Why Dogs (Suddenly) Act Crazy + Dangers & Tips
#14: They’ve got nothing to do
Boredom is often the root cause of unwanted or odd behaviors in dogs.
This could happen if they’re not receiving enough daily exercise. As well as brain games.
This combo will tire them out – but in a good way.
And also, if their toys aren’t interesting enough to keep them occupied.
So, what would a bored Fido do?
Some pooches might be content with sleeping.
However, other dogs may seek fun in other things. Especially working dogs since they’re bound to be active.
They might resort to scratching their beds. Since it gives them some kind of satisfaction.
What to do?
This problem is pretty easy to solve.
Just provide your dog with the right amount of exercise that they need every day.
According to PDSA, it’s at least:
- 30 minutes – for toy breeds.
- 1 hour – for small to giant dogs.
- 2 hours – for most working canines.
Then, give them interactive toys. Like dog puzzles, chew toys, or treat-dispensing ones. As these might engage them in independent plays.
But one reminder, canines can get tired of playing with the same toys all over again. So, avoid giving all of it to your dogs.
Introduce 1 to 2 items to your pooch at once. And after a few days, replace them with new ones.
Then, when they seem less interested, bring out the first set again – like a rotation.
Note: Some dogs are on the low-maintenance side. But, this doesn’t mean that they need less care and time from us. 🙂
You might also be interested in: Why does my dog scratch at the carpet before lying down?
#15: They need attention
Dogs are clever.
They know what to do when they want something.
And in this case, scratching their beds must have received some attention before. Either from their parents or other people.
Remember, asking them to stop could be some kind of attention too. As well as looking at or petting them.
So, if they want to be noticed, they’ll start digging hard in their cushion. Because they’ve learned that it’s the most effective way to make people turn their heads.
#16: They’re mimicking other dogs
Guess what. Bed scratching could also be an imitated behavior.
A study reveals that dogs may copy each other. But, it’s usually selective.
Meaning, they don’t mimic every action that other Fidos will do.
Instead, they’ll observe first. Then, they’ll only take in the most useful one based on the situation.
In the research, dogs were asked to open a box with food inside. And they’ll only get it if they pull a rod.
But, here’s the twist.
They’ll also be watching another female canine do it. And she was taught to open the container using her paws no matter what.
The dogs didn’t copy her when she had a ball in her mouth. They used their mouths instead to pull the rod as it seemed easier.
But, when the female dog wasn’t holding anything…
The canines started using their paws too.
And this shows that dogs don’t simply imitate. They’re also considering other things before mimicking something.
So, you might think, “Why would they imitate scratching?”
The answer can be found in the reasons above.
It’s because the act of scratching may relieve some stress. And it could also be a pleasurable activity for them.
#17: They’re showing a displacement behavior
“What is it?”
This happens when animals are torn between 2 emotions.
Due to the conflict, they may not be able to do what they want. And this frustration causes them to do something else instead.
Based on experts, scratching is one of the most common displacement behaviors. And the list also includes:
Do you notice any similarities in them?
Well, all of these actions give a sense of comfort. And this might help them ease tension.
“When do dogs usually experience this?”
A likely scenario will be if they’re not allowed to do something.
Like going to their parent’s bed. Or eating food that’s right in front of them.
They want to do it so badly. But at the same time, they’re also scared to do so.