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Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Beds Before Lying Down? Vet-Approved Reasons

Written by: Grant Piper

Last Updated on April 26, 2024 by Dogster Team

golden retriever puppy resting in dog bed

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Beds Before Lying Down? Vet-Approved Reasons


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve ever watched your dog during the day, you might have noticed that they like to scratch or paw at their bed before they lie down. In many cases, this behavior is harmless, but to some, it can be loud, annoying, or even damaging to the dog bed or your favorite blanket. But why do dogs do this? Is there a reason that dogs scratch their bed before lying down?

The answer to that question is yes. There is a reason, and it is deeply connected to the history of the domestic canine. Dogs scratch due to instincts that are deeply embedded from a time when dogs were living in the wild.

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The 4 Reasons Dogs Scratch Their Beds Before Lying Down

Dogs scratch their beds before lying down due to instinct. This behavior is completely normal, natural, and instinctual. To understand where this instinct comes from, you first have to understand where dogs came from in general. This behavior might seem odd or annoying to humans, but it is second nature to dogs. Scratching their bed before lying down comes from dogs’ origins in the wild.

golden retriever puppy lying on a dog bed
Image Credit: Olena Rudo, Shutterstock

1. Wild History

It might be hard to imagine your dog living outside, sleeping in the rain, and eating small animals, but that is how it used to be. Dogs evolved to live outside, and scratching their bed is a holdover from a time when dogs did not have $100 dog beds to sleep in. Dogs used scratching behaviors to prepare their environment for sleeping. Even for wild dogs, sleeping on the ground is not necessarily comfortable.

Scratching has a number of benefits to help make sleeping outside under the stars more bearable. Even though your dog likely sleeps inside now on a blanket or in a dog bed, these instincts are hard coded into their DNA, and they come out as scratching behavior.

2. Scratching to Keep Warm

One of the biggest reasons dogs scratch their bed is to help them keep warm. In the wild, the dirt just below the surface is often slightly warmer than the topsoil. Topsoil can be damp and cold and have small rocks or roots in it. The dirt just below that layer is usually warmer, which can help keep the dog warm on a chilly night.

Modern dogs still scratch but now find a warm spot on the bed or a warm blanket to keep them cozy.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on its dog bed
Image Credit: Izabelly Marques, Unsplash

3. Scratching to Be Comfortable

Another reason dogs scratch their beds is to make themselves more comfortable. Similar to how people fluff their pillows or adjust their sheets, dogs also adjust their beds to make them more comfortable for themselves. In the wild, this would include removing debris, including leaves, sticks, and stones, from the area.

Today, dogs still try to get comfortable by scratching and adjusting their sleeping spot.

4. Scratching to Mark Territory

We know that dogs have scent glands on their paws, however, the purpose of these glands is unclear. They may be for leaving a scent trail or they may have something to do with the ground scratching behavior seen when dogs toilet. Scratching a spot can leave markings that let other animals know that a dog is around.

Although this is speculative, the scent marker may have something to do with why they scratch their beds.

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Why Do Dogs Turn Around Before Lying Down?

This is another normal, instinctual behavior seen in pet dogs. Wild dogs are thought to exhibit this behavior as a way of checking on the pack and scouting for danger before settling for the night. Like, scratching, it also helps prepare the ground for them to sleep on.

However, if your dog becomes unsettled during this routine or seems to have trouble getting comfortable when lying down, they should see the vet in case of musculoskeletal problems causing pain.

cocker spaniel sitting on dog bed
Image Credit: Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Where Do Wolves Sleep?

Wolves typically roam their territory and sleep in a new spot every night. They may take shelter in caves and other natural areas or may sleep out in the open. When breeding, wolves find or dig a den in which to raise the young.

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Dogs scratch their beds before lying down for a number of different reasons. Most of them are connected to making the bed warmer or more comfortable before bedding down. Dogs may also scratch their beds to mark territory. All of these behaviors are connected to strong instincts that remain in dogs from the time they lived as wild dogs.

Sleeping on the ground can be cold, uncomfortable, and dangerous. Scratching the bed before lying down is a way to rectify some of these problems that existed in the past.

Featured Image Credit: Olena Rudo, Shutterstock

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