It sometimes seems to go on forever. Your dog circles, scratches, and digs his bed before finally, finally, settling in. What’s that about? Just like humans, dogs have pre-sleep rituals. The circling, scratching, and digging behavior, sometimes called nesting or denning, are instinctive behaviors that date back to when dogs spent their time in the wild, not the comfort of human homes.

    Why Your Dog Digs in His Bed

    Similar to when cats knead their beds, dogs dig before settling in for a long nap or snooze. Why do they do it? Because they want to establish a comfortable temperature zone. When canines spent all their time out in the wild, that meant digging a hole in the ground they could snuggle into. Indoors, modern dogs mimic that behavior. Other reasons for bed digging include marking the bed and/or blankets with his scent, “hiding” himself, or with females, creating a warm nest for her pups. Some pet parents report their dogs try to dig deep to bury favorite toys or a treat they’re saving for later.

    Other Sleeping Rituals

    If your pet also scratches and circles before lying down, here’s what can be behind it.

    • Circling can look pretty silly, but dogs instinctively want to protect “their” territory. It’s unlikely your pet will drive out snakes or rodents while spinning in place, but he will feel more secure after scanning the area for danger. Think of it as his way of checking all the door locks before turning in for the night! 

    • Scratching the bedding or floor before settling in for a nap is also a deeply ingrained dog behavior. Breeds that were prized for their hunting skills often burrowed after prey or stirred up scents. Other breeds might do it because, like circling, they’re marking their territory.

    What to Do If Your Dog is Digging in His Bed

    Unless the behavior is destructive, like digging and ripping up human furniture, your dog’s digging, circling, and scratching is only in response to what his instincts tell him. Like other common dog behaviors that seem odd to humans, none of it is dangerous or a sign that something’s wrong. That said, if your dog seems unusually anxious and starts excessively digging, it can indicate something’s bothering him. In that case, a visit to the vet can help track down the root cause.

    On the other hand, if your pooch is damaging floors or furniture with his scratching and digging, try training him to only do the behavior in his own special, designated spot. In other words, create a comfy space outfitted with a dog bed, a couple blankets, and his “babies” and let him circle, dig, and scratch to his heart’s content. Keeping his nails trimmed can also help.

    If your dog continues to jump and dig on your bed, sofa, or chair, a stern “no!” when you catch him in the behavior can quickly teach him he’ll enjoy a more restful nap if he limits the instinct to his own bed.

    Topics: Dog Training & Behavior