Indoors, my dog, Baby, has a hard plastic-bucket bed. Her bedding is made up of layers of quilts and rugs I find at thrift stores. When it’s time for her to settle in for the night, she’ll scratch at or dig into the covers, circle the bed several times and then finally curl up to sleep. Outdoors, by the end of each summer, there are at least two spots in the yard that she’s converted into little sleeping pits. No matter your dog’s size, breed or age, most seem to perform one or more of these strange bedtime rituals. A patchy lawn is one thing, but it can be a different matter when we discover holes in our furniture cushions or duvet covers or scratches on our hardwood floors. Let’s take a look at why dogs scratch their beds and other similar dog bedtime rituals.
The size of Baby’s bed doesn’t give her much of a turning radius, but I’ve watched her circle it countless times. Like a police helicopter hovering around a crime scene, my dog circles the same spot repeatedly, then lies down. She does it for a similar reason: to establish a secure perimeter.
In the wild, dogs had to be certain their sleeping area was safe from pests and predators. Walking in circles creates enough commotion to startle any snakes or rats from their chosen sleeping area. While we know our homes aren’t likely to play host to these sorts of guests, it doesn’t cost a dog anything to double-check.
We can’t see or sense it, but when dogs circle and scratch at their beds, they are actually staking a personal claim to that special place. One surprising feature of a dog’s paw pads is its scent glands. When dogs get ready for bed, then, their feet serve two purposes.
Scratching at their beds and circling before lying down both help our dogs chase away any unwanted pests and mark an area with their unique scent. If another dog tries to use it, the unique odor sends a message: This bed is already occupied by a dog who has put in the work to get it just right.
Home thermostats are set for our comfort, rather than that of our dogs. If the heating or air conditioning bothers your dog, he relies on the same strategies as he does outside. By digging a bed in a shady spot during summer, or one exposed to direct sunlight in winter, dogs use ground temperature to their advantage. They dig to cool down or warm up.
Dogs also dig in their beds to make themselves more comfortable. It’s the same impulse that leads us to twist, turn and fluff our pillows before finding a position that feels good. Unfortunately, our pups don’t know the difference between grass and home furnishings. Digging can change the ground — or the chair or couch — to be softer, more inviting and more restful.
Dogs circle, scratch and dig in their beds to feel safe and easy before resting. If your dog’s routine is ruining your garden or futon, don’t get frustrated! Many dogs resist new bedding until they’ve had time to coat it in their own scent. Give your dog one of your old quilts to speed the process along!
Don’t have one ready to discard? Get one at a garage sale and use it for a few days. Next to their own scent, dogs are more likely to cuddle up and get peace of mind with yours!
Tell us: Why do you think dogs scratch their beds? Does your dog scratch, circle or dig at his bed?
Thumbnail: Photography ©Kenny Mcleish | Thinkstock.
Melvin Peña is a writer, editor, social media manager and SEO specialist who spends most of his time in Durham, North Carolina. His interests include his dog, Baby (of course!), art, hiking, urban farming and karaoke.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
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