Dogs scratching at their bed is pretty much a universal trait: right before they lay down in their comfy, pillowy spot, they scratch it profusely, then lay down. They'll paw, scratch, and roll in the bed and even circle repeatedly until they finally decide to rest. Sometimes it's an average scratch, and other times, that cute fleece-lined dog bed you got them ends up in tatters. Every dog I've encountered does this, but it was one of those things I had never questioned until now. Turns out, the answer is a deeply instinctual trait ingrained in your pup from years past.
What Instinct Makes Dogs Scratch at Their Bed?
Veterinarian Maria R. Mendoza sees dogs scratching their bed as a way to "mark their personal area with their unique scent." In short, it's an ingrained territorial instinct. Just as dogs urinate on objects to claim them as their own, they will also scratch and dig at objects with their paws for the same reason. Dogs have glands in their paws that leave a particular scent on their bed, or any other surface, which makes it clear it's their territory. Where you see a destroyed bed, dogs are proud to see and smell the place they made their own. If you have house guests or have recently brought home a new pet, you might even see these behaviours intensify.
Are There More Instinctual Processes at Play?
Apart from their territorial instinct, dogs scratching and pawing at their beds might just be an automatic behaviour inherited from their wild ancestors. Ancestral wolves would scratch at the leaves, dirt, and branches that would make up their "bed," possibly to create a more comfortable spot. Even more, creating this type of nest made dogs' ancestors feel more protected against predators, and they would use certain materials to help them hide. It could even be weather-related: burrowing under leaves or soil could keep them warm or protect them from the rain.
Are There Any Other Hidden Reasons a Dog Might Do This?
According to veterinarian Ignacio Casali, "It's very important to differentiate between scratching the bed and trying to move it or attempting to dig. Sometimes this behaviour might be territorial, but when they're trying to dig or move the bed to a different place, it may mean different things such as pregnancy." In fact, nest-making is part of a female dog's ingrained maternal instinct, as mothers naturally want to make a safe, protected area for their newborns. This nest-making will include moving the bed to a spot that's farther away, scratching profusely at the bed, and even arranging blankets.
Dr. Casali recommends taking a video of any kind of behaviour exhibited in your dog that seems off or different. When they display any kind of unusual activity, "it's important to get a video for the veterinarian to analyse it. When trying to assess a dog's behaviour such as scratching or anything else that seems abnormal, it is very helpful for vets to see it with a video. It might indicate something very simple or something a bit more complex."
Although dogs scratching at their beds and creating a nest in your humble abode is an adorable instinct exhibited to feel more comfortable, protected, and assured of their territory, it is still important to check with a vet if it gets excessive or seems unusual, as it might be a sign of something deeper at play like pregnancy or behavioural issues. Overall, it is important to know the reasons for your dog's automatic impulses to guide them, help them, and show them all the love they can get. Now, just to buy another dog bed.