Why do dogs scratch at their bed?

Updated April 17, 2017

Bed-scratching behaviour in dogs is a normal instinct that many dogs retain from their wild ancestors. Bed-scratching occurs before a dog lies down to rest, and may be used on any surface or area the dog wants to rest on.


Bed-scratching behaviour is characterised by pawing, rolling and scratching in and around the area where a dog intends to sleep. Dogs may also nose under their blankets and create a little tunnel where they can hide or partially crawl under.

Dogs will scratch around on a blanket of beds, but they will display bed-scratching behaviour even if there is no bed to scratch on; dogs that sleep on the floor or decide to take a nap on cool tile may scratch and paw in circles around the floor before they settle down.

What Causes This Behavior

Bed-scratching is caused by the dog's intentions to create a comfortable sleeping area, as a territorial mark, and in some cases as a form of protection.

All of these behaviours originated thousands of years ago in wild dogs that lived outside. Dogs living outside will scratch up a pile of natural materials such as leaves, pine needles or dirt to form a comfortable sleeping mound. Scratch marks are also strong territorial signs that mark a clear boundary, and they are used by many other wild animals including bears, deer, wildcats and domestic cats.

Dogs in the wild will also frequently dig a small burrow to crawl into as a form of protection against the elements and predators. It is believed that domesticated dogs still retain this need to burrow, which is why some dogs create little burrows out of their blankets and beds.


Bed-scratching is not a harmful behaviour; it is simply a natural instinct. It does not indicate any type of emotional upset, medical condition or mental disorder. This type of behaviour occurs in all dogs, males and females, of all sizes and breeds.


Bed-scratching may also be a learnt behaviour that one dog picks up from another dog. It is not unusual for pet owners to adopt a new dog into the home and then notice that both of the dogs begin showing signs of bed-scratching behaviour.

This type of behaviour may show up at any age and can begin during puppy life stages, or may not begin until a dog reaches an advanced age.


Creating a comfortable dog bed may help to prevent bed-scratching behaviour, but in many cases this type of behaviour cannot be stopped. Pet owners may try adding more blankets to their dog's bed or placing one very heavy blanket on the bed.

If bed scratching is causing marks on the floor, pet owners may want to invest in a strong and sturdy dog bed and train their dog to rest only on the bed.

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About the Author

Jane Peterson has been a professional freelance writer since 2006. She enjoys covering subjects such as personal health, diet, women's health, pets, alternative medicine and green living. Peterson graduated from the University of Florida in 2003, earning a bachelor's degree in science.