Why Do Dogs Dig In Their Beds?

Dogs dig in their beds for many reasons, but behaviorists say the No. 1 reason dogs dig in their beds is instinct. It’s what Mother Nature tells them to do before they lie down.

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Dogs dig in their beds for many reasons, but behaviorists say the No. 1 reason dogs dig in their beds is instinct. It’s what Mother Nature tells them to do before they lie down.

The instinct to dig, scratch, or circle comes from the days—centuries ago—when dogs were wild. They had to scratch at the ground to form a bed of some kind, to get comfortable, to get warm or cool, and to check for predators like snakes and spiders. So, it’s normal, but sometimes a dog’s bed scratching or digging can become obsessive and require trainer or veterinary intervention.

Dogs dig at their beds or yours for other reasons, too. The most common other reason is believed to be their need to mark their territory, through glands in their footpads that say, “This is my bed!”

This is especially true if you have more than one dog using the same bed. Remember, dogs have very sensitive noses, and they can tell if another dog has been there. A dog checking a scent is like us reading the newspaper—it’s where he gets information on what’s been happening. Instinct then tells the dog to dig and scratch to erase the other dog’s scent.

Another common reason dogs scratch in beds is that they’re looking for toys or food. Or they could be just curious about what might be hidden in that bed because they previously found a treasure.

Expert theories also state digging in a bed could be a frustrated response to not being allowed to do something else, like going outside, chewing on something, or barking because someone rang the doorbell. They could be seeking attention, and they know scratching will get a response from you—a laugh or a shout to stop.

Finally, old dogs are thought to scratch the bed because some part of their body hurts, and they just want the bed to be more comfortable. And they sometimes circle in the bed. Don’t worry about that either. It’s also natural.

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John Strassburger was the editor of The Chronicle of the Horse from 1986-2006 and worked for the magazine as a special correspondent until 2010. He was then training editor for the Horse Journal until 2017. He has been the owner and trainer at Phoenix Farm in Santa Rosa, Calif., since 2006. He is a graduate A from the U.S. Pony Clubs and has competed in eventing to the three-star level. He has owned about a dozen dogs since he was a teenager and now owns a Doberman Pinscher named Boreas and a Livestock Gauarding Dog named Isis. He is married and has a 13-year-old son.