It’s easy to view our puppies as “fur babies” who act and think like humans, but the truth is that dogs have instinctual behaviors and mannerisms all their own. One of these natural instincts among many dog breeds is the desire to dig. There are many reasons dogs love to dig, including exploring their hunting instincts, wanting to bury their toys, or due to health issues like anxiety or boredom. While dogs digging in a park or at the beach is a common behavior and often harmless fun, this habit can turn problematic when a dog’s desire to scratch and burrow means tearing into the furniture in your house.
The science behind dogs digging
A dog’s need to dig is just as instinctual as their need to bark and sniff. This natural instinct derives from the domestic dog’s wild ancestors, as well as traits that were originally bred into many breeds of dogs.. For example, terriers like the West Highland white terrier or the cairn terrier were bred to chase down pests. This often meant rooting into tunnels and digging their way into burrows and dens underground to catch their prey. Today, many modern dogs don’t need to worry about earning their keep in the field, but that doesn’t mean their instincts have gone away.
Why do dogs dig on beds and couches?
Many dogs have a strong desire to dig. Dogs who spend most of their time indoors may end up searching for alternatives to burrows or outdoor digging spots. Unfortunately, sometimes this means your pup may decide your favorite comfy couch is the best place to dig. A dog’s instinct to dig, even when it’s in furniture, is due to a number of factors.
Marking their territory
A dog’s scent glands are very powerful, and pups take in a much higher concentration of smells than humans do. Scent is also the primary way a dog experiences the world. Pups use their noses to explore and understand their surroundings. When dogs dig, their paws push and move around scents that allow them to gather even more information. Digging also serves as a way for your dog to mark their territory. When a dog picks a spot to dig and move around scents, it signals to other dogs that the digging spot belongs to them.
For some pups, digging into a spot on a hot day can help your pup stay cool and create a comfortable bed in the dirt or grass. In warmer weather, dogs may mimic this behavior indoors if they’re feeling overheated. Make sure your pup has plenty of fresh water at all times to keep them cool and hydrated, and keep your AC set at a comfortable temperature.
Other dogs may just dig for the simple reason that it makes them really happy. Digging provides both mental stimulation and physical exercise for dogs, and often offers an outlet for excess energy. .
To hunt for small critters
Because many domestic dogs were historically trained to be hunters or work as pest controllers, they may dig as a way to mimic the behavior passed down from their wild ancestors. If you notice your pup burying their favorite toy in couch cushions or bedding only to “hunt” for it later, this may be a sign your pup is digging for this reason.
To cope with anxiety or stress
Because digging is a source of self-soothing for a dog, your pup may dig when they are stressed or upset. If your dog is left alone in the home too long, they may get bored without any stimulation, and dig into furniture to have something to do. The act of digging stimulates your dog’s sense of smell and helps them gain information about their surroundings. If your pup is stressed, they may dig in order to try and gather information to either locate or protect their humans.
The impact of dogs’ digging
The downside of a dog digging outside are straightforward – shallow holes in the flower bed and muddy paws. These are pretty minor in comparison to what happens when a dog excessively digs inside. When Fido decides the couch cushion is their go-to digging spot, they may end up tearing into the furniture and destroying it.
Dogs digging indoors can also be harmful to pets. It’s possible for your dog to break a nail while digging into furniture, or hurt themselves on metal objects and nails in the furniture. If your dog manages to dig into the sofa cushion or the mattress, they may get stuck inside or seriously injure themselves.
How to discourage dogs from digging on beds and couches
Dog owners certainly don’t want to discourage their dogs from being dogs. However, when your best friend being a dog means digging a hole in the couch cushion, it’s time to step in and strategize on how to correct this problem behavior.
Understand the root cause
Some of the most important things a pet parent can do to best help their pup is to understand them. Reading up or consulting your veterinarian on behavior will help demystify dog owners to their dog’s problem behaviors, and rule out any potential underlying health issues. Educating ourselves on dog behavior also helps to educate ourselves to be the best pet parents we can be to our fuzzy best pals.
Provide alternative activities
There are a number of ways to help redirect your dog’s attention and prevent problem digging. Enrichment toys such as snuffle mats are an excellent tool to help encourage your dog to dig in a designated spot. Sprinkle in your pup’s favorite treat into the snuffle mat to entice your dog to check it out, and give them plenty of praise when they use it instead of digging into furniture. This will help your dog learn to associate the digging toy as an all-around positive experience they’ll want to repeat again and again.
You can also encourage your dog to dig into their own dog bed and praise them for this act. If they move the behavior to the couch or your bed, remove them from the furniture and place them back on their own bed so they learn to associate the bed as their digging spot.
Use positive reinforcement
When training your dog to do (or not do) anything, it’s very important to use positive reinforcement training methods. Yelling, scolding, or reprimanding your dog with physical contact will not stop the problem behavior and may make destructive behaviors worse. What’s more, when pet owners use these negative reinforcement training techniques, they teach their dog to be scared or mistrustful of them.
Instead of yelling at your pup when you catch them digging into the furniture, redirect their attention away to a different activity or exercise. When they successfully move away from digging, give your pup plenty of praise and even a few treats to encourage the behavior. Dogs respond best when they know we are happy with them, as their primary goal is to love and protect us. Showing them how much they please us with positive reinforcement will go a long way in helping them learn not to dig where they shouldn’t.
Seek professional help
Dog parents who have done their research and tried all the training methods but still find their dog exhibiting destructive digging behavior may need to turn to a professional. Consult with your veterinarian and determine if your dog may have any underlying conditions, such as extreme anxiety that may be causing the behavior.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne
If a pet parent has exhausted all of their options for their dog digging, medication may be needed to curb this behavior. If the digging is due to anxiety, medications to help reduce this anxiety may be helpful in addition to training techniques mentioned.
Dogs are descendants of wolves and working dogs, so it’s very natural for them to want to dig. These habits even serve to stimulate their senses and act as a form of self-soothing for a dog. But when a pup’s digging behavior becomes destructive of furniture, dog parents need to step in to help guide their pup away from the problem behavior. Work with your dog through positive reinforcement training methods and use enrichment tools such as snuffle mats or a sandbox to give your pup a designated indoor digging spot.
Frequently asked questions
Why is my dog digging on my couch?
There are a number of common reasons why dogs dig into a couch. These may include boredom, separation anxiety, or the simple reason that they just like to do it.
Why is my dog digging on my bed?
There are plenty of possibilities why dogs dig into your bed. These may include getting more comfortable, soothing anxiety, marking their territory, or satisfying their prey drive.
How do I stop my dog from digging on my couch?
Use positive reinforcement training methods and encourage your dog to dig in a designated indoor digging spot. Snuffle mats are an excellent tool to use to combat problem diggers and encourage more targeted behavior.
Why is my dog digging at carpet and furniture?
Your dog may have caught an interesting smell that they are trying to investigate, or they may be using their scent glands to gather more information about their environment.