Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Bed Before Lying Down?

Matthew Nesbitt
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. Updated: June 9, 2022
Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Bed Before Lying 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 as fluffing your pillow before you rest your head at night, so why do they do it? This behavior may seem pointless 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 aspects of their character we might already know, 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 animal's quality of life. Keep reading AnimalWised to find out more.

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


  1. Marking their territory
  2. Nail care
  3. Energy release
  4. Regulate their temperature
  5. Comfort
  6. Have the right bed

Marking their territory

Marking their territory is an evolutionary trait dogs picked up from their wild cousins the grey wolf. It is still a necessary habit for wild and stray dogs as it shows dominance. This can help them keep safe in a more competitive environment and help maintain their place in the hierarchy. It may not be as necessary for a domestic dog in the home. 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 leave their scent thanks to glands on their paw pads and other parts of their body. 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 this bed is taken.

You may see a dog scratching the ground after peeing. This is also a form of marking. By digging up the dirt covered in their urine and then kicking it away, they spread pheromones around[1]. Dogs in the area will have a better chance of picking up their scent. As stated above, dogs do not usually lay down somewhere they have urinated.

You can find out how to stop marking with urine in the home as it will be problematic.

Nail care

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

As a dog in the wild uses their claws so often, they are usually kept at a regular length through general use. Domesticated dogs may not use their nails 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. 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 Their Bed Before Lying Down? - Nail care

Energy release

Dogs have an abundance of natural energy, some breeds and individuals more than others. Individual dogs may also have more energy than others for various reasons, both psychological and physical. Some of them can be described as being hyperactive dogs. If your dog scratches a lot before they lay 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.

Regulate their temperature

You may wonder why does a dog dig before lying down. 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 digs the ground, they lie down on the cooler undersoil and regulate their temperature.

You may be the kind of person who feels the cold easily and turns the thermostat up accordingly high. Your canine 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.


Our last reason why your dog scratches before they lie down may also be the most common. As we said in the introduction, dogs do not fluff their pillow, but they may dig the ground for a similar reaching. 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 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.

We need to be observant for any signs a dog is unwell, some of which may be behavioral. Take a look at our article on why a dog is hiding and acting weird to find out more.

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Bed Before Lying 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. You may also want to know some other seemingly strange behaviors of dogs by looking at the video below on why dog's roll around in the grass:

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


1. Bekoff, M. (1979). Ground Scratching by Male Domestic Dogs: A Composite Signal. Journal of Mammalogy, 60(4), 847–848.

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Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Bed Before Lying Down?