It’s common to see dogs scratching a carpet. This usually isn’t something to worry about, as digging and scratching are natural behaviours for our canine companions.
Carpet scratching often isn’t a desirable behaviour though. Sharp toenails can destroy carpet fibres and pull threads from rugs. Many dog owners also find carpet digging frustrating when trying to relax.
Additionally, excessive scratching can signify something wrong with your pet. For example, bored or stressed dogs are more likely to scratch the carpet. Certain medical conditions can also make this behaviour more likely.
This article will go through the most common reasons why a dog scratches the carpet. We’ve also included tips for reducing scratching, although it can be hard to stop this natural behaviour completely.
Why Does My Dog Scratch The Carpet?
1. Prepare The Spot For Sleeping (Nesting)
Does your dog often dig and turn in circles before resting? If so, carpet scratching is probably your dog’s way of preparing a resting spot.
Wolves scratch and dig a patch of ground before they settle down. This makes the patch more comfortable to sleep on. It also scares away insects and other small animals hiding in the undergrowth.
While domestic dogs are certainly not wolves, some instincts remain – including this need to prepare a nesting spot.
Of course, scratching doesn’t have much effect on a carpet (other than ripping the fibres!) But your dog doesn’t know this.
2. Digging Up Spilt Food
Digging and scratching a specific spot could signify that your dog has found some old food.
Dogs have a fantastic sense of smell and a scavenging instinct. So even a few old crumbs trapped in the carpet could be an attractive target.
Sometimes dogs also dig at patches of carpet that have a tasty scent. So, if you’ve spilt something in the past, the dog might dig to get at the food they think is under the carpet.
3. Frustration or Boredom
A bored dog may seek entertainment in ways that seem strange to humans. This is known as displacement behaviour, where the dog performs a behaviour to distract from unpleasant feelings.
Digging is a typical example of this type of behaviour. It can relieve boredom and release built-up tension. If repeated, it can also become habitual whenever the dog feels frustrated.
An overstimulated dog may try to find ways to release excess energy. Digging or scratching the carpet is often an attractive option, as it’s fun and is a physical activity.
Digging the carpet is more likely if the dog doesn’t have a toy to release his pent-up excitement. Providing a few alternative targets for digging can help reduce this behaviour.
5. Anxiety Relief
Anxiety is another potential reason for carpet scratching. By digging at the carpet, the dog can distract from anxious feelings and relieve tension.
You’ll need to uncover what’s triggering your dog’s anxiety to solve this issue. Here are a few examples:
- Does the digging often happen when there are loud noises, such as storms or fireworks?
- Has there been a recent change in the environment? (such as a new family member or pet)
- Does carpet scratching typically happen when you have guests?
- Does carpet scratching usually happen at specific times of the day?
You should also watch for other symptoms of anxiety. These include pacing, panting, drooling, and destructive behaviours.
If you give your dog attention when they dig, there’s a risk of reinforcing the behaviour and making it more likely to happen in the future. This is because dogs quickly learn that certain behaviours get attention from their owners.
It’s important to understand that negative attention is still attention. For example, you should never punish your dog for digging at the carpet, as this can actually reinforce the behaviour. It also increases anxiety and damages your bond.
7. Scent Marking
Dogs can mark territory by leaving pheromones from glands in the paw pads. These pheromones are released during digging or scratching.
So, if your dog occasionally digs at the floor, they might be marking their territory. This doesn’t mean the dog is trying to be “dominant” in the household though – it’s just an instinct that’s aimed at other dogs.
8. Breed Traits
Some breeds have a natural urge to dig. For example, this is common in dogs bred to hunt rodents, as they needed to dig to access underground burrows. Examples include terriers and dachshunds.
While most dogs aren’t used for hunting today, the instinct can still drive certain breeds to dig – even when they are indoors.
9. Medical Conditions
Scratching is often a natural behaviour, but it can also be a sign of a medical condition.
One example is canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), often known as canine dementia. This condition can cause changes to a dog’s personality and lead to repetitive behaviours, including scratching.
Some dogs may also use carpet scratching to distract from the pain of arthritis or other medical conditions. For this reason, any significant behaviour change should be investigated by a vet.
10. Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a behavioural condition that causes a dog to feel intense distress when left alone.
As a result, the dog may become destructive when you leave. This can include frantically digging at carpets and rugs. They may also dig the edge of a room to try and escape.
Other signs of separation anxiety include:
- Barking and howling
- Escape attempts
- Urinating or defecating
- Excessive Chewing
Separation anxiety is a serious condition that can be difficult to solve. If you suspect your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you should always contact a professional behaviourist.
Scratching In Specific Situations
Now we’ve gone through the most common reasons for carpet scratching, here’s an overview of the most likely causes in specific situations.
Before Laying Down
Scratching the carpet before laying down is probably nesting behaviour. Scratching or digging is your dog’s attempt at making the patch of carpet safe and comfortable to sleep on.
Middle Of The Night
Carpet scratching in the middle of the night could be a nesting behaviour. Dogs often move to different locations at night, so your pet might need to prepare each spot for sleeping. In some cases, scratching in the middle of the night might signal that your dog is anxious about being left alone.
If your dog only tends to scratch the carpet during storms, this is almost certainly a sign of anxiety or stress. The dog is attempting to relieve the negative feelings by performing a distracting behaviour.
Dogs often clean themselves after eating. This might involve rolling around on the floor, pushing their face into the carpet, and digging at carpet fibres.
When Left Alone
A dog that scratches the carpet when left alone could be suffering from separation anxiety. You should discuss this behaviour with your vet and a qualified canine behaviourist.
How to Stop Your Dog Scratching The Carpet
Digging is a natural behaviour, so it’s impossible to entirely stop your dog from scratching the carpet.
The good news is that there are many ways to reduce carpet scratching. Unfortunately, the best methods depend on the reason for digging, so you might need to experiment to find out what works.
Before we get to the steps, it’s important to note that you should never punish your dog for scratching the carpet.
They don’t know that carpet scratching is “wrong”, so the punishment will cause more stress and anxiety. Punishment and negative training techniques also damage your bond.
- Provide a comfortable bed that matches your dog’s size and sleeping style. You may need to try a few to find one they like. The goal is to get your dog to dig at their bed before resting, rather than the carpet.
- Some dogs love to sleep on loose blankets or sheets. A bonus is that these protect the carpet when your dog “nests” on them.
- Always provide access to fun toys. These act as a focus for your dog’s play and attention, rather than the carpet. Rotate the toys so they remain interesting.
- Check that you’re providing enough exercise. A lack of exercise time can cause a dog to become frustrated, leading to behaviours such as scratching and chewing.
- Prevent boredom with mentally stimulating games and attention. Puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and indoor games are great for mental stimulation.
- Reduce or eliminate anxiety triggers. You should also speak with a vet if your dog is showing signs of chronic anxiety.
- Make sure the carpet is clean. Thoroughly clear up any food spills as soon as they happen.
- Avoid accidentally reinforcing digging or scratching. For example, if you always call your dog over to stop him from scratching the carpet, he might learn this is a way to get attention.
- Contact a canine behaviourist if you’re unsure how to stop your dog’s carpet scratching.
Scratching and digging at carpets might seem strange, but it’s normal behaviour for dogs. Digging can be used to prepare a resting spot, mark their scent, and uncover potential food sources.
However, excessive carpet scratching can indicate a behavioural or medical issue. Examples include boredom, stress, and separation anxiety. In addition, dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction may be more likely to scratch the carpet.
Do you have any questions about why dogs scratch the carpet? Please let us know in the comments section below.
- Why Does My Dog Scratch The Carpet?
- Scratching In Specific Situations
- How to Stop Your Dog Scratching The Carpet