‘Why is my dog scratching the carpet?’ If your dog has always scratched beds, rugs, or carpets, then the behavior isn’t new. But if the scratching begins all of a sudden, it can be confusing or alarming to a pet parent.
Worry not, in majority of the cases, a dog’s carpet scratching behavior stems from its natural instinct.
Continue reading to find out:
- 4 Tips to prevent your dog from scratching the carpet
- 12 Reasons why is my dog scratching the carpet
- And more…
Why Is My Dog Scratching The Carpet?
The reason why a dog might scratch the carpet is due to an instinctive reaction to a scent. Many dogs scratch before laying down to fluff up the carpet or rug. It is an innate behavior. Other reasons include boredom, anxiety, territory marking, to find food crumbs, or roaches.
12 Reasons Why is My Dog Scratching the Carpet ?
#1. An innate reaction to a scent
Dogs are well-known for their strong sense of smell. They have powerful olfactory receptors in their noses which makes them so good at detecting scents that human noses cannot.
If the carpet has a scent, (it could be the dog owner’s scent, another pet’s scent, or a visitor’s scent), then a dog might scratch at it. It could also be a food scent that can be very tempting to your dog.
This is a completely natural, innate or instinctive behavior – a dog simply has to do what it is genetically wired to do.
So, there is nothing to worry about if your dog starts scratching the carpet all of a sudden. In the subsequent sections, we have some tips that can help you distract your dog from excessive or obsessive scratching.
#2. Natural digging instinct before laying down
According to the experts at AKC, many dogs have a bedtime ritual of digging or scratching the carpet before lying down to rest.
Digging behavior can occur due to numerous factors ranging from hunting instincts or genetics, stress-relief, and boredom.
The AKC experts further mention that scratching and digging behavior isn’t really an issue and that dog owners should even expect it if they have a hunting or terrier dog breed.
The digging also helps your dog fluff up the rug or carpet to get a cushioning, comfier bed! The scratching also helps warm up the carpet a bit and that could be what most dogs are after.
Therefore, dog owners need not worry if their pet only digs or scratches just before laying down on the bed, rug, or carpet.
#3. Boredom or loneliness
According to Dr. Lizzle Youens BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, dogs are also capable of showing emotions like boredom, loneliness, and depression.
In fact, Dr Youens states that a dog’s emotional range is comparable to that of a young child’s. They are capable of missing companionship and can show signs of loneliness. Digging or scratching activity gives some solace to your dog. So, if your dog scratches at bed linen or carpet when you are not at home, then the reason could be boredom or loneliness.
Other signs of boredom and loneliness in dogs include:
- Chewing up furniture
- Digging beds and tearing up bed linen
- Defecating indoors
- Whining or crying.
These signs then also manifest in the form of repetitive behaviors like digging, scratching, or chewing, licking, and biting.
Dr. Youens recommends getting another doggy or providing human companionship to a dog if the digging and scratching gets out of hand.
#4. Anxiety or stress
Dr. Malcolm Weir DVM of VCA Hospitals attributes excess carpet scratching and other destructive behaviors to stress or anxiety in dogs.
Dogs that are stressed or anxious tend to show ‘displacement behavior’ meaning that they do one action because they are forbidden from doing another. The scratching of carpet helps provide some solace from stress or anxiety and that is why a dog may do it repeatedly.
Other signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include:
- Pacing restlessly
- Urinating indoors
- Yawning, drooling, licking
- Changes in eyes and ear position
Dr. Weir recommends physical and mental exercise as a means of reducing stress in dogs. He also states that not all stress is bad and that a bit of it can actually be good for your dog and can help keep it safe.
Also Read: Why Do Yorkies Scratch Their Beds?
#5. Marking territory
Dr. Debra Horwitz, DVM of VCA Hospitals believes that dogs often scratch new rugs and carpets to mark their territory. This can explain most of the isolated incidents of carpet scratching.
For example, many dogs scratch carpets or urinate inside other people’s homes when visiting. They may also mark their territory by scratching newly renovated floors, or recently purchased area rugs, throws, furniture upholstery etc.
Dr. Horwitz states that mostly it is the unneutered male and female dogs that indulge in such territory marking. It is due to hormonal influences, sexual arousal, and sometimes due to stress and anxiety.
Neutering can significantly curb this type of scratching behavior.
#6. For food crumbs
Dogs are basically scavengers and they will always look out for food.
A carpet is often a dirty place because it contains food, leftovers, spills from the party the night before, and so on. If you have kids at home, then the rugs and carpets will have a variety of foods and beverages on them.
When a dog scratches a carpet, it may be due to the food’s smells. Digging and scratching brings up the food bits that are embedded deep into the carpet where the vacuum cleaner may have missed. A dog could easily bring those crumbs out for eating.
If you suspect your dog is searching for food crumbs, try vacuuming more frequently or place heavier mats or rugs to protect the carpeting.
#7. Searching for roaches, ants, and bugs (Prey/hunting drive)
Many dogs have a hunting drive or preying drive. This inherent drive always keeps them on the lookout for pests like roaches, ants, flies, etc.
Therefore, if your dog is showing excessive carpet scratching behavior, then it may be to find a bug that may be hiding in the carpet’s fibers.
Sometimes, there may be no bugs but your dog might still dig or scratch to ensure there are none. Again, this is a form of displacement behavior in that; your dog wants to either chase a prey like squirrel, but has to make do with a bug instead.
Outdoors, your dog might scratch at the base of a tree or in the ground when it sees a squirrel. Since the squirrel isn’t within reach, your excited dog will scratch the tree bark or the ground to expel some of that excitement and energy.
#8. Attention seeking
Pet parents often end up reinforcing bad behaviors in their dogs. For example, a dog that scratches might get a treat from the owner who thinks s/he is ‘distracting’ the pet from the negative behavior. Some owners try to distract their pet by calling out its name or giving it a toy.
In both cases, the dog thinks that it is getting that ‘reward or attention’ because it has done something right. Resultantly, it may seek the owner’s attention again and again by constantly digging or scratching the carpet – all with the view of getting a treat or a toy .
A clingy pet is also more likely to seek attention from their owners all the time. Such dogs tend to resort to all kinds of attention-seeking behaviors like whining, barking, or bringing a toy to the owner. The scratching of the carpet is often such a form of attention seeking. Dog breeds like Chihuahuas are known for such clingy behavior.
#9. Obsessive compulsive behaviour
According to Dr. Lisa Radosta DVM of PetMD, dogs may not necessarily have obsessive compulsive disorders but they certainly show compulsive disorders.
Canine compulsive disorders are nothing but an exaggeration of normal behavior.Common actions a dog might do compulsively include: chasing the tail, scratching, chewing on their skin/paws, licking, sucking toys, etc.
Dr. Radosta states that such behaviors stem from frustration, stress, and conflict. If a dog has undergone some change in its routine, then neurotransmitters in its brain can trigger such a compulsive response.
Often, compulsive behavior is also a way of seeking the owner’s attention. Dr. Radosta urges pet parents to seek help from their veterinarians if their dog shows such behaviors. Many compulsive behaviors have deeper roots and, if left untreated, could worsen with time.
#10. Illness or pain
A dog with chronic illness or pain might also indulge in scratching, digging, and burrowing behavior. According to PetMD, excessive scratching in dogs can result from the following conditions:
- Pain and inflammation
- Dry skin
Of course, most dogs with these issues will typically scratch themselves and not the carpets or rugs.
Since there are multiple reasons behind a dog’s obsessive carpet scratching, it is best to seek help from your vet. Eliminating the root cause of pain and discomfort will also eventually stop the above negative behaviors.
#11. Part of canine communication
Dogs have sweat glands present on their paws. When they scratch or dig, a bit of their sweat and other ‘marking fluids’ get transferred to the surface which they scratch.
Therefore, it could be that dogs scratch floors and rugs as a part of natural communication. They may be relaying messages to other dogs of the house or even to the other pets that this property/territory is theirs and that no one else is welcome there.
According to Rosie Bescoby, a clinical animal behaviorist with the Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors in the United Kingdom, dogs may have gotten this scratching and digging from coyotes and wolves – their immediate ancestors.
These animals live in packs and, in the wild, they scratch the ground to transmit their sweat and send messages to other wolves: stay away or you will be killed. Mostly, this type of communication is done to send messages to other animals and not to the pack members.
#12. Temperature regulation
An overheated dog will also scratch floors and rugs or carpets before laying down to sleep.
In winters, a dog will burrow and scratch to create a den-like atmosphere and to feel warm.
Dogs often do repetitive actions to feel more comfortable or even to regulate their body temperatures. The scratching and digging action could help warm up the surface beneath them as well as their own bodies.
In summers, they might scratch to cool down a bit before they plop down on the floor.
4 Tips to Prevent Dog Scratching Carpets
#1. Exercise your pet
Your dog needs daily mental and physical stimulation. A tired dog simply won’t have any energy left to indulge in such negative behaviors. So, walk your dog 2-3 times a day, play with it, give it love and attention, and also provide it with plenty of toys to mentally stimulate it.
#2. Eliminate the root cause of stress
If your dog is stressed or anxious then try and find out the root of it. For example, a dog left alone all day might indulge in digging and scratching. Hiring a pet-walker or dog sitter can help to an extent. It may be a good idea to get another dog or enroll it in doggy day care..
#3. Distract your pet with a command
Instead of giving your dog a treat or toy, make some noise and distract it. The noise should not scare your pet – only distract it. Once your pet has your attention, call it over and get it to obey some commands like Sit, Stay, Fetch, etc.
#4. Seek help from your vet
There can be myriad reasons behind excessive or obsessive carpet scratching. So, it is best to seek help from the vet. S/he might order some tests and accordingly advise dietary changes, medicines, behavioral therapy, along with mental and physical exercise to help prevent obsessive behaviors in your dog.