- Dogs like to dig and scratch to mark their territory — One of the primary reasons your pooch likes to scratch its bed is to mark their scent and territory.
- It’s a natural instinct — This habit harkens back to the behavior of your canine’s ancestors.
- Intense, continuous bed-scratching may indicate anxiety — If you notice ongoing, intense scratching, it’s possible your pup may be in pain or experiencing anxiety.
Your pup’s bed-scratching habits may seem annoying at times, but the expressions are rooted in instinctive behaviors that have kept your dog’s wild ancestors safe for generations. There’s likely no need to worry unless you notice a dramatic change in scratching intensity or frequency — or if the behavior becomes too destructive to manage.
Common reasons your dog scratches their bed
Here are some common reasons dogs scratch their bed, the floor, or wherever they choose to snooze.
Ancestral habits in dogs
As a survival instinct, canine ancestors often scratched at the dirt, leaves and sticks on the ground to clear and construct safe, comfortable sleeping areas. By digging around and modifying their resting place, they hoped to conceal themselves from nearby predators. Pregnant dogs would also dig dens before birthing their new pups. This instinctive habit of digging and scratching at the ground (or, in this case, their beds) still exists among wild or stray dogs and domesticated pups alike.
Marking territory in their space
It is completely natural for your dog to display their instinctive territorial nature by making circles around, digging at or scratching their favorite furniture, including the couches and beds they love to snooze on. This is a type of scent-marking behavior in which the scent glands along the bottom of your dog’s paws secrete pheromones warning nearby animals they’re approaching claimed territory.
Creating comfort and warmth
In addition to simply creating an environment that feels safe and protected, your pup is probably just scratching at its dog bed — or at your newly washed and dried bed sheets, pillows and blankets — to arrange them for their own fluffed-up comfort and warmth.
Is it bad when a dog scratches their bed?
For the most part, bed-scratching is a completely normal and expected dog behavior — and it’s not recommended that you attempt to correct these natural instincts. However, there may be instances when the habit could be a sign of a much larger issue in need of intervention.
Identifying red flags in dog behavior
When it comes to determining whether or not your dog’s bed-scratching behaviors are normal or whether the behavior is a red flag, consider noticeable changes in their bed-scratching habits. If you observe stark changes in scratching intensity or frequency, consult your vet immediately.
Some reasons your pup may abruptly increase the intensity of their bed-scratching include:
- Cognitive decline. With age and cognitive decline, your older pup may attempt to mask symptoms of dementia or irritability related to age-related issues with vigorous bed scratching.
- Environmental changes. A new home, a new pet, the boom of Fourth of July fireworks — these are all environmental changes that can make an already anxious dog more likely to exhibit frustrations by scratching more intensely and more often than usual.
- Medical issues. There are several health issues and symptoms your dog may be trying to mask when heavily scratching its bed, including age-related arthritis, allergies or psychological issues like separation anxiety.
Medical reasons why dogs scratch their beds
As mentioned above, there are a handful of medical reasons your dog may be scratching their bed in an unhealthy manner. It could simply be a result of increased environmental allergens or boredom-induced separation anxiety.
Common health concerns associated with bed scratching
- Allergies. If your dog’s bed and bedding isn’t regularly washed, dust mites may trigger your dog’s allergy symptoms and, in turn, aggravate bed-scratching intensity. Dog owners should also keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of common seasonal allergies in dogs, including a runny nose, red eyes and excessive licking.
- Parasites. Some parasites living inside or on your dog can have a harmful impact on its health and normal behavior. If your dog is unusually itchy, has loose stool, has experienced weight loss, or is repeatedly dragging its bottom on the bed when trying to get comfortable, consider making a vet appointment to rule out or treat for fleas, ticks, mites, or internal parasites.
- Boredom-related anxiety. It’s not uncommon for your dog to have a psychological response to all of its festering pent-up energy. Scratching everything in sight, including its bed, may be heightened when the pup is especially bored. Other common signs of boredom include running away, compulsive licking and paw-chewing.
- Separation anxiety. Unlike boredom-related anxiety, separation anxiety is when dogs become upset because they are apart from anyone they’re heavily attached to. This, too, can result in psychological responses like over-scratching, but separation anxiety may also look like increased marking, howling, chewing and digging — specifically when their owner leaves or if there’s a loss in the household.
- Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD). This disorder, which broadly refers to what happens when normal dog behaviors — like bed-scratching — become excessive, may be a result of altered serotonin transmission. Diagnosis and intervention is critical as compulsive behaviors may become destructive without treatment.
- Arthritic pain. One of the main reasons your dog may be displaying destructive behaviors in the form of intensified bed scratching is simply to mask — or make apparent — their pain. Older dogs in particular could be distracting themselves from arthritic pain by intensifying their instinctive behaviors, or they could be telling their dog owners that their bed is no longer comfortable on their joints.
How to prevent bed scratching
Though bed-scratching is a completely normal dog behavior, the habit can become an issue if your dog is masking pain, bored, anxious or simply destructive.
Consult veterinary care for intervention
The first thing you should do if your dog’s bed-scratching habits are becoming troublesome — or if you notice changes to your pup’s scratching behavior — is consult your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to rule out health concerns like arthritic pain and analyze for psychological issues, such as anxiety or CCD. If they suspect your pet is suffering in pain, they can also assist with a treatment or pain management plan.
Engage your dog in sufficient physical and mental activity
Because boredom-related anxiety can be a catalyst for increased or intensified bed-scratching, your vet will likely recommend addressing the root cause of the behavior. If you want to keep boredom at bay, find ways to keep your dog physically exercised and engaged by adding or lengthening morning and evening walks, going for a hike or swim, or playing a game of fetch.
Some dog breeds need more stimulation than others, so it may be time to step it up and hire a dog walker if you’re at work for most of the day and keep interactive toys or feeders around. Another great way to stimulate your dog (and tire them out) is by engaging in regular training with lots of positive reinforcement, whether you’re finessing the basics of obedience training or teaching your pup new tricks of the trade.
Provide an ideal sleeping environment
It’s possible your dog simply isn’t a fan of its bed space and that’s why the scratching has intensified. Does your dog have a comfortable bed? Is the dog bed located in a safe place? Is the sleeping area too cold or too warm? Is the bed cushion suddenly too firm or too fluffy? Notice where your dog likes to lay and the surfaces they gravitate toward — and take into account their body temperature.
Each dog is different; some breeds prefer cooler temperatures and, in the summer months, may have a harder time sleeping. A self-cooling pet pad — and regular grooming — can help. If your dog needs a little more warmth, consider a thicker bolster-style plush bed.
Understand and respond to dog behavior
The bottom line is that your dog’s habit of scratching its bed is a completely normal behavior trait that’s been passed down for generations and is still common among wild dogs and domestic pups alike. There’s no real need to worry unless you notice significant changes in scratching intensity or frequency — or if the behavior is becoming more and more destructive.
To keep your dog’s nails from becoming damaged or broken — and to avoid those pesky holes and tears in your bedding and furniture — be sure to regularly trim their nails.
And remember: if you suspect illness or have any concerns about your dog whatsoever, consult your vet immediately.
Frequently asked questions
Should I let my dog scratch his bed?
Yes, bed-scratching is completely normal, but you should look out for changes in intensity or frequency as they may indicate signs of distress.
Why do dogs scratch the couch?
Dogs typically scratch the couch for the same reasons they scratch the bed: to mark their territory, get comfortable or simply because it’s in their nature.
Why do dogs scratch the carpet?
Dogs typically scratch the carpet for the same reasons they scratch the bed or couch: to mark their territory, get comfortable or simply because it’s in their nature.
Should I train my dog to stop scratching its bed?
It is not recommended to intervene or stop your dog from doing what is considered normal dog behavior, such as scratching at its bed. However, if the behavior has become destructive or if you notice changes in scratching intensity and frequency, you should consult your veterinarian for expert intervention.
How do I keep my dog from ruining the furniture?
Because bed-, floor- or furniture-scratching is generally normal, instinctual behavior for dogs, it’s not recommended dog owners intervene or get expert help unless there’s a noticeable shift in scratching behavior. However, to keep your furniture safe from holes and destruction, consider covering your sofas with plush throws and pet covers — and don’t skimp on trimming your dog’s nails.
Are there medical reasons behind my dog scratching his bed?
Though it’s completely normal for a dog to scratch their bed, if you notice changes in scratching intensity or frequency, it could be a sign of distress. For example, your dog may be masking arthritic pain or indicating symptoms of anxiety. Consult your vet immediately if you observe stark behavior changes.