Why do dogs dig in their bed? Does your dog lie down, then spin around in circles? Then does your dog scratch and dig at that posh memory-foam dog bed that you so generously bought him? Or, when you surrender to his charms and let him sleep in your bed, that he does the same with your clean crisp bed sheets? He paws and claws at them as if he’s trying to see what’s inside your mattress? What drives this kind of behavior? Let’s find out.
To answer the big question – why do dogs dig in their bed, let’s look far back into the history of our furry friends, to a deep and shady past in the wild.
Animals, unlike humans, are born with a huge amount of behavioral instinct pre-programmed into their brains. Humans have incredible social instincts which are vital to us cooperating and forming into massive, ‘world-ruling’ (some might say ‘planet-destroying’) tribes. However we are not born with an innate ability to navigate over long distances, or build traps to capture prey—these skills must be learned.
Nobody teaches a spider how to build a web. The swallow is not taught to seek warmer climes in winter. Dogs learn many things from socializing with others, but they also have many in-built behaviors. These behaviors include digging holes to hide their food (or toys) in, or barking at perceived threats.
The instinctual behaviors that our modern domestic dogs display stem from their millions of years of evolution as wild animals. For the past 34 million years or so, canids (wolves foxes, dogs, etc.) have been roaming the planet, making their homes on every continent except Antarctica.
“Move along now, don’t be sheepish!” Photo by James McGill on Unsplash
In order to adapt to their surroundings, they developed survival instincts:
- Marking their territories to communicate with other dogs;
- Burying their food in caches to store for leaner days; and
- Digging burrows to shelter from the elements and safely give birth to their young.
Modern domesticated dogs have been selectively bred to encourage certain instincts more than others. Hence a young bloodhound will incessantly follow its nose, and sheepdog puppies will start to herd each other—and anything or anyone else that moves—at a surprisingly young age.
Why Do Dogs Dig In Their Bed?
Number 1 – to feel comfortable and safe
There are a few very logical reasons why our furry friends insist on this particular behavior. Wild canids have to make the best home they can, given their surroundings. Foxes and wolves dig deep dens. Other wild dogs sleep above ground. Their domesticated cousins still have an ingrained desire to dig a safe and comfortable place to sleep.
Giving you those ‘come-to-bed eyes.’ Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash
Scratching and digging around an area before lying down for a snooze is beneficial in a number of ways. If you were forced to sleep in the great outdoors, wouldn’t you want to do your best to make a nice resting place?
Dogs scratch around to clear their chosen patch of debris and smooth out the surface. This also serves the purpose of removing any unwanted creepy-crawlies and parasites. The last thing they want is to lie down on an unsuspecting scorpion or snake.
Scratching at the earth also helps dogs to alleviate a problem that many furry creatures have to deal with—that of temperature regulation.
Number 2 – to avoid overheating
As we know, dog’s don’t really sweat.
Their skin is different to use humans. They lack the sweat glands that allow us humans to perspire. One method of letting off steam is via their mouths — panting circulates cool air through their bodies. It allows warm water to evaporate from the surface of their tongue and mouth.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that most of a dog’s temperature regulation is achieved through what is known as ‘radiation’ and ‘conduction’ from body surfaces. This means that a dog can dissipate heat by bringing warm blood to the surface of its skin, and can increase that cooling effect by coming in contact with something cold.
It’s a dog’s life. Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash
We’ve all see our dog lying spread eagle across a tile floor on a hot day. The cool tiles are pulling heat away from their body via the least furry surface they have—their belly.
When bedding down for a comfortable sleep, we humans can always add or take away a blanket to get the right temperature. A dog, however, finds it more difficult to slip out of his pajamas if he gets overheated.
By scratching around and digging up the top layer of earth, dogs expose a cooler patch on which to lay. Therefore, before he lays on your bed or his bed, he instinctively does the same, with little regard for your freshly made bed.
Conversely, in snowy conditions a dog will dig down to a warmer level, and form an insulated hollow in the snow to shelter from the elements.
Number 3 – to mark their territory
The last reason, and maybe the one that’s closest to a dog’s heart, is all about territory. When your furry companion pads around in circles on your bed, he is transferring his scent onto it. This action makes sure other dogs know whose patch it is.
Dogs, like humans, have scent glands in their feet that transfer their unique smell. And while we may not appreciate our bed smelling of sweaty feet, dogs want their beds to smell as much like them as possible.
By doing this around other dogs, they mark that patch as theirs. Now that they have cleared it of debris and pests, and found the perfect temperature, the last thing they want if for their spot to be hijacked by a less houseproud crony.
“You go to work, I think I’ll stay here a little longer”. Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.
Old Habits Die Hard
All of this behavior is deeply ingrained in your dog’s psyche. So whether you find this canine quirk endearing or downright irritating, your dog isn’t going to change his ritual anytime soon.
So, the next time you ask yourself ‘why do dogs dig in their bed?’, at least you’ll know why.
And if you think your dog takes the LONGEST time ever to get settled before bed, check out the video below. It really made me laugh!
One of the consequences of the scratching and digging associated with the pre-lay down ritual of your dog is that the dog beds you buy do not last long. If you are looking for a dog bed that is more durable that comes with a 100 sleep trial (for fussy dogs), check out my Casper Dog Bed Review.