Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down?

By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. March 20, 2018
Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down?

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How many times have you seen your dog scratching their bed before laying down? It's not quite the same a fluffing your pillow before you rest your head at night, so why do they do it? This behavior may seem silly or compulsive, but understanding this compulsion simply requires us to think the way a dog might.

While different circumstances have specific explanations as to why they engage in this behavior, it generally derives from a dog's natural instincts. Some of these are expected sides of their character, but not all bed scratching is normal. This is why it is important to understand why dogs scratch their bed before they lie down. Knowing what is normal healthy behavior and what may be signs of a physical or mental health problem can make all the difference to your cat's quality of life. Keep reading AnimalWised to find out more.

You may also be interested in: Why Do Dogs Circle Before They Lay Down?

Marking their territory

Marking their territory is an evolutionary trait dogs picked up from their original ancestors; the grey wolf. It is still a necessary habit for wild and stray dogs as showing dominance can help them keep safe in a more competitive environment. It may not be as necessary for a dog in your home which may be the de facto leader of the pack. However, instinctual habits are hard to break.

We know dogs mark their territory with urine, but urinating where they sleep is not common. Instead, dogs have leave their scent thanks to glands on their paw pads. When dogs scratch their bed, they secrete a small amount of this scent from their paws which is easily picked up by another dog's keen sense of smell. Scratching also helps to spread this aroma around and tells any nearby animals that this bed is taken.

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down? - Marking their territory

Nail care

Like humans, dogs need regular nail care. Unlike humans, they are not generally interested in nail art or extensions. At the end of a dog's paws are its claws which don't stop growing. Out in the wild, a dog will scratch against the hard ground or rocks to file these nails down when they get too long.

Usually, as a dog in the wild uses its claws so often, they are kept at a regular length through general use. However, domesticated dogs may not use them as much and they need to scratch a little more often. If you see your dog scratching before they lie down for a rest, it is possibly because they are giving their nails a little buffing. It is important for dogs to keep their nails trim as longer nails can promote the possibility of infection as well as provide discomfort. If your dog doesn't have the energy (or indeed the inclination), then you should ensure to keep them clipped yourself.

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down? - Nail care

Energy release

Dogs have an abundance of natural energy, some breeds more than others. Individual dogs may also have more energy than others for various reasons, both psychological and physical. If your dog scratches a lot before they lie down or even in general, it is possible they just want to release some of this pent up physical energy.

If this does happen, however, then you need to question why they have so much energy. The main question you need to ask is whether you are providing them with enough opportunity for exercise. If your dog is scratching a lot or running around the home, then perhaps they are in need of more walks. You may need to intensify the type of exercise they get.

If your dog is scratching a lot, however, it could also be due to psychological stress. Reasons for a stressed dog can be numerous, so find out the stressors, removes them and use relaxation techniques. Sometimes, the psychological stress may be from a physical ailment, so you may need a veterinarian checkup to ensure there is not some underlying cause.

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down? - Energy release

Regulate their temperature

This is another instinctual habit which derives from being exposed to varying outside temperatures. When a dog scratches the ground, it is often because in doing so they can expose the ground underneath the topsoil. This ground is protected from the sun, so it is therefore cooler. When a dog does this, they lie down on the cooler ground and regulate their temperature.

Maybe you are the kind of person who feels the cold easily and turns the thermostat up high accordingly. Your fur covered friend, however, may not feel the same way. If you see your dog scratching a lot before they lie down, it could be because they are living in an environment which is too hot.

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down? - Regulate their temperature


Our last reason why your dog scratches before they lie down may also be the most common. Dogs do not fluff their pillow, but they may do something not far from it. In scratching, they may try to even out the surface on which they lie to stop their bones from coming in contact with a hard surface. They may also be restless and need to move about to find their most comfortable position, something which may happen also if they are feeling too hot.

A dog's restlessness, however, might not simply be a need for comfort. If your dog is scratching their bed or sleeping area more than usual, it is possible they are uncomfortable for another reason. A health problem such as a tumor can make it difficult for your dog to lie down. This is another reason why you should take your dog to the vet if your dog is scratching more than usual without an obvious cause.

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down? - Comfort

Have the right bed

Your dog may choose many different places to rest their heads. They may choose to use the bed you provide for them, but they are just as likely to find somewhere you wouldn't even think is comfortable. However, if your dog doesn't seem to have found somewhere they can rest comfortably, you may need to provide them with something more suitable. This is also the case if you don't want your dogs to jump up on beds or couches for hygiene reasons.

You can help your dog in these circumstances in many ways. You want to build them a custom bed to sleep in or even teach them to sleep in the bed you have provided.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Do Dogs Scratch the Bed Before They Lie Down?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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