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You’re relaxing watching TV. All of a sudden, you hear an unusual sound.
You look down and see your dog feverishly digging on the floor. He does this regularly.
So you wonder why your dog is always scratching the floor.
In this article, I’ll set forth some reasons why your dog may always be scratching the floor. And I’ll explain how you can stop that behavior.
In addition to avoiding the expense of having to replace the carpet or refinish your hardwood, there are many reasons to stop the digging.
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Reasons Why Your Dog Is Always Scratching the Floor
There are many reasons why dogs dig on the floor. Some are environmental and some are behavioral, whereas others are hardwired into their DNA.
- Ingrained behavior
Sometimes dogs dig because of ingrained behavior that their ancestors in the wild would have done. It’s in their DNA.
They may try to dig out an area as a nest or den to comfortably sleep in.
Even domesticated dogs maintain their instincts from their ancestors.
They often dig to scent mark their territory with the scent emanating from their pads.
And they may scratch at the floor to do what their wolf ancestors would have done: bury food, treats, or bones.
Their wolf ancestors would bury scraps of food or carcasses to save for later. Doing so helped prevent food from spoiling and from scavengers finding it.
He may also be digging because of his genetic breed heritage.
Some breeds, such as many terriers, were bred to hunt vermin and underground rodents. This includes West Highland White Terriers, Cairn terriers, and Norwich terriers.
So they naturally dig to try to reach real or imagined invaders.
Scratching the floor can be entertaining to your dog when he’s bored.
If he’s not receiving a sufficient amount of physical or mental exercise, digging gives him something to do and expends extra energy that he needs to release.
- Medical issues
Your dog may be scratching the floor because he’s sick or in pain.
He may suffer from joint pain or have a form of canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia).
Deep floor scratches can indicate that the pup’s in pain and suffering. He may be trying to help relieve the pain.
A dog also may try to hide the pain so he wouldn’t be an easy target to predators.
So he may dig to send the signal to others that he’s strong, not weak.
- Emotional issues
Your dog may have anxiety and stress issues.
He may be afraid of something such as a person or storm and may dig in an attempt to escape.
A stressed dog may also scratch the floor to try to calm himself.
Distressed dogs also usually display other anxious behaviors such as panting, drooling, excessive licking, and pacing.
Scratching the floor can also be a sign of separation anxiety.
If your dog begins scratching when he sees the signs that you’re departing or immediately after you leave, such as picking up your keys and putting on your jacket, it’s a sign that he’s digging because of separation anxiety.
Scratching the floor can also occur because of a dog’s excitement.
He wants to do a certain activity but can’t, so he digs to release his energy. It’s a displacement behavior.
For example, a dog may see a bird or squirrel outside his window. He can’t reach it like he wants to.
So, instead, he starts digging out of frustration.
- Nesting behavior
Your dog may be making a warm, comfortable place to sleep. He’s literally making his own bed.
Dogs who do this usually scratch, then circle, forming a comfortable nest.
This behavior may be more prevalent at night. Scratching and digging are behaviors that dogs picked up from their ancestors.
This practice of making a bed is especially prevalent when dogs don’t have a regular, dedicated bed.
Pregnant dogs nesting shows that the birth of their puppies is near.
Nesting in their den is done so that their puppies aren’t vulnerable by being out in the open, to bad weather conditions, or to predators.
- It’s fun!
Sometimes there’s no deep behavioral reason why dogs behave as they do.
The answer to the question why some scratch the floor can be as simple as it’s fun to do.
- Claiming territory
Dogs often mark territory to claim the area as theirs. Some urine mark.
But dogs also often mark by digging to claim their spot.
The scent in their pads leaves a smell that other dogs can detect.
Their scent glands also leave a visible trace.
He’s telling potential intruders to back off or risk confrontation.
Your dog may scratch the floor because he seeks your attention.
After all, you see or hear him digging away on your new carpet and you tell him to stop or may even laugh at his antics (until he does damage, that is).
Or you may clap or shout to interrupt his digging.
By giving him attention, you may be inadvertently rewarding his behavior.
He wanted attention and got it by scratching the floor.
- Hiding valuable items
Sometimes a dog digs in an attempt to hide his treasures to use later. This may include toys, treats, bones, or food.
A Pekingese named China who I fostered used to do this.
She would go to the edge of the leg of a chair or couch and dig then place her treasured toy there.
Then she would move on to the next favored spot to hide another of her valuable treasured items.
It was very cute. My other dogs tolerated this and didn’t interfere.
And since she just did a couple of digging motions with no damage and didn’t compulsively dig, I didn’t interrupt the behavior.
But, to be sure that the digging wouldn’t become compulsive, I would redirect her to a game of fetch after she hid a few of her treasures.
- Compulsive behavior
Sometimes scratching on the floor may start out of boredom or another reason but may become a compulsive behavior.
This is demonstrated by dogs that continually dig for extended periods of time or off-and-on repetitively and can’t be redirected to other activities.
Compulsive diggers may also display other compulsive behaviors such as excessive licking, spinning, or chasing light reflections on the ground.
- Detective dog
Dogs are curious, intelligent creatures. They have a “nose brain” and can sense many things that we can’t.
So your dog may want to get to something that he smells or hears.
There may be small crumbs that he smells from the remnants of the chips that you just ate that fell into the carpet.
Your dog wants to have a snack too–of your leftover morsels.
Or they may hear or smell insects under the carpet or wood flooring and start scratching on the floor.
And his digging tells the critters that the area is taken and to flee.
- Temperature control
Sometimes dogs scratch at the floor for temperature control when they’re too hot or cold.
If they dig down deep in the wild, they can be cooled off or even warmed up if they dig on nesting material like leaves which can provide warmth.
How To Stop Your Dog from Scratching on the Floor
As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs dig on the floor.
And there may be more than one reason why your dog scratches on the floor.
But don’t despair. There are ways to stop the digging.
- Physically exercise your dog
Many times a dog’s excess energy is expelled through digging.
So make sure that your dog receives a sufficient amount of physical exercise for his age, breed, and health condition.
If a dog doesn’t receive enough, many unwanted behaviors are likely to exist–including digging.
The right amount of exercise helps dogs relax and destress. You can go for a walk, play fetch, or do round-robin recalls.
They need to expel their excess energy so that they can relax.
- Mentally exercise your dog
Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise is. It not only helps tire a dog out but it also helps lessen a dog’s stress.
Puzzle toys that your dog enjoys can be very rewarding and give your dog something to do to help prevent boredom.
They love it and are calm and happy after they clear the kibble out of their treasured toys.
Giving them enrichment activities also provides fun–hopefully more fun than digging.
- Train your dog
Obedience training helps exercise your dog’s body and mind.
It can also redirect his energy to something to do rather than dig.
Engage in regular, daily, short training sessions with your dog. Praise and reward when he performs a behavior.
PRO-TRAINER TIP: Have a supply of great, yummy treats that your dog can’t resist ready as a reward. They should be small, no larger than a pea. Always have your reward treats ready before giving your obedience cue.
Have him come to you. Teach him to sit/stay and down/stay. You can teach him tricks like spin or speak.
Teach impulse control behaviors like a settle command.
- Reward other, desired behaviors
In addition to short, fun training sessions, reward desired behaviors.
If your dog calmly settles down and lies down by your feet, calmly praise and reward him.
Capture behaviors that you like and praise and reward them. Behaviors that are properly rewarded will be repeated.
- Give him his own bed
Your dog probably has his own bed. If he doesn’t, it may be a reason why he’s trying to dig on your carpet or sofa to get comfortable.
You may want to try giving him a different type if he doesn’t like or use the current bed.
Sometimes a round bed with a raised edge satisfies a digger’s need for a nest-type sanctuary. It also gives him his own area.
And make sure that the bed’s in a convenient location that’s not too warm or cold.
Reward your dog when he shows interest in lying down on his new bed.
I gave my Lhasa apso Ralphie an oval bed with a raised edge. He used to dig a little on the flat bed he had, trying to be comfortable.
But he loves the new bed and seems very comfortable in it.
Don’t forget that digging is normal canine behavior. Some dogs still may dig a few times on their bed to make it comfortable for them.
- Work through any behavior problems: Get expert help
If your dog is a compulsive digger, you may need the help of a behaviorist to get to the root of the problem and find a way to manage it.
The same is true of any stress or anxiety-related issues, including separation anxiety.
- Take your dog to the vet
A visit to the veterinarian is in order if there’s any possibility that your dog may be digging because of a medical issue.
It’s best to rule out any such problem so that your pup doesn’t suffer and for you to be successful in stopping the digging.
- Give him a place to dig
As long as your dog isn’t ill, a compulsive digger, or digging because of anxiety, you may want to give him his own digging area.
I don’t usually advise this as the first thing to try when working through a digging problem.
But, in certain cases, it can be useful. This usually is a partial solution if, for example, you have a Westie who is genetically programmed to dig.
Of course, also meet his needs as far as training, socialization, and physical and mental exercise are concerned.
If you decide to do this, you can establish an outdoor digging area with railroad ties or in a child’s sandbox.
And place time limits on his digging so that he doesn’t become a compulsive digger. Redirect him to other fun activities after a few minutes of digging.
Of course, don’t place the digging area near a boundary of your property such as a fence or he may dig his way out of your yard.
- Try some holistic aids
As long as your dog doesn’t have anxiety or stress issues or compulsive behavior requiring a behaviorist, you can try to use some holistic aids to help lessen his stress.
Always check with your vet first before giving something your dog is to ingest.
You can even play calming music.
- Clean the floors
Even if you regularly vacuum, mop, and sweep, there may be something attracting your dog to a certain area.
An errant crumb may draw your dog to want to investigate–and eat it. Or a spilled liquid can be very alluring to a dog.
So make sure that you’re extra diligent in areas where food has been eaten.
- Block the view, sound, or area
If your dog starts digging out of excitement because he sees a dog passing by outside or hears it barking and can’t reach it, you should block the view. The same is true of anything else outside that excites him.
Close the drapes or blinds. Or block off the area where he sees out the window.
Or close the window and play the tv, music, or white noise to block sounds that excite your dog and cause him to scratch at the floor.
Also meet your dog’s mental and physical exercise requirements.
- Give your dog enough positive attention
Of course playing with and training your dog provide him with a lot of positive interaction.
But make sure to also spend some relaxing down-time with him.
What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home
There are some things that you shouldn’t try. They won’t solve the problem of your dog scratching on the floor and can potentially make it worse–and even lead to other behavior problems.
- Don’t correct your dog from scratching on the floor
Yelling at him or otherwise harshly correcting him will probably make him more stressed, excited, or fearful.
This can increase his digging. And it doesn’t tell him what alternate behaviors are acceptable.
Also, if he’s digging for attention from you, you’d potentially be rewarding the behavior from his perspective. He wanted attention and got it.
- Don’t unintentionally reward his behavior
Sometimes we can unintentionally reward an undesirable behavior. This can occur when the digging was cute at first.
Your dog was a puppy and his placing his little head down while fervently digging was adorable.
So you just laughed and exclaimed how adorable he was.
And it’s no longer so cute when he’s started making your carpet look like Swiss cheese, with scattered holes.
Your dog may be scratching the floor for many reasons. But there are many actions you can take to stop excessive digging.
And you’ll save your home–and pocketbook–from devastation by figuring out why he’s digging and helping him curb this undesirable behavior.
Does your dog scratch the floor? Do you know why? What have you done in response? Please tell us about it in the comment section below.
My dog scratches the floor. Is he being stubborn? No! Scratching the floor is hardwired in a dog’s DNA. And there are reasons why some dogs dig excessively. Once you find out the reasons, you can modify the behavior.
My dog has a weird habit of digging after I serve dinner. Why? He could be digging to get your attention. Or you could have dropped a little food on the floor that he’s trying to reach.
Why does my dog scratch the floor when I leave? He could be suffering from separation anxiety. You should get the help of a behaviorist to determine why he digs and how to modify the behavior.
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