Why do dogs dig on beds and couches, or even their own beds? For many of us with a busy Border Collie or Siberian Husky (and many other breeds), digging is a common problem. But while digging in the yard is a nuisance, a dog that scratches a hole in their dog beds, your favorite couch, or even your bed is an expensive problem.
For most of us, going out and buying a new couch or mattress whenever your dog’s nails rip a giant hole is just not an option. So let’s answer the questions “what does it mean when a dog digs on the sofa” and “why do dogs dig on my bed.”
Why Does My Dog Dig In Bed?
Typically, a dog that digs in furniture displays unwanted dog behavior, not unnatural or naughty behavior. It may be an expensive problem, but it is normal and not a sign of disobedience or spite. Usually, dogs scratch a couch or bed because it is instinctive to dig a big, comfy hole to sleep in.
How big the problem is depends on how severely your dog digs and scratches and on the furniture they may be damaging. A dog scratching a little before settling down on hardy, chew-proof dog beds is no issue.
But you’d be forgiven for being slightly more annoyed when your canine is frantically or enthusiastically scraping a crater in your expensive leather sofa or memory foam mattress.
Of course, sometimes a good dog chewing deterrent spray is enough to keep them away from any expensive furniture you want to protect. But to fully know how to fix the issue, we need to get to the root of the problem, and there is more than one reason for dogs digging in your belonging.
Common Reasons Dogs Dig In Furniture
1. Natural Instincts
If a dog is allowed to sleep on your furniture, many instinctively scratch at least a little on the surface before settling to sleep. This is because dogs and their ancestors have dug holes to sleep in for millions of years.
This is a deeply ingrained instinct, and unfortunately, a dog doesn’t know that your favorite Lazy Boy is any more expensive than a patch of dirt under a tree.
According to Canine Expert Tom Davis, dogs are not just descendants of wolves; they are a subspecies of wolves. This is why their Latin name is Canis Lupus Familiaris; since wolves are Canis Lupus, this technically means ‘family of the wolf.’ So, dogs naturally still have many wolf-like behaviors, including digging at their chosen sleeping spot to make a comfortable hole.
Some dog breeds are also more prone to digging than others. Terriers such as the Cairn Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Jack Russell, and other energetic dogs were bred to dig holes to catch vermin. This makes them a bit more prone to digging, including in furniture. But even the beloved Beagle and other hunting breeds enjoy a good dig since it is still a part of their genetic blueprint.
Northern sled dogs such as the Husky and Alaskan Malamute come from dogs that dug holes in the snow to insulate themselves. So these breeds are notorious for destroying furniture.
Even worse are dogs with wolf heritage, who may gut your entire couch to build a den for themselves. This is just one reason never to get a wolf hybrid and to be careful with dogs that look like wolves.
2. Boredom & Destructive Behavior
As discussed above, most dogs will scratch a little bit at their sleeping spot before circling a couple of times and going to sleep. This includes anything they can sleep on, such as your bed, couches, sofas, and their own beds.
But some light dog digging before sleep can sometimes escalate. For many dogs, the sound of a rip or the sight of some stuffing they can rip out activates their instance to shred and tear. Again, this is not being naughty. Ripping something apart is also instinctive behavior, mimicking ripping apart prey in the wild. It is immensely satisfying for dogs.
Like popping bubble wrap for humans, feeling something tear and sending all that marvelous stuffing inside flying is fun and stimulating. Again, they don’t do this to be naughty; it’s just irresistible, especially for young dogs already prone to mouthing behavior, such as biting your hands.
So what may have started as a little scratching at a sleeping spot can quickly escalate into a frenzy of destruction when the first barrier is breached.
Again, this is more likely to happen with young and bored dogs looking for something to keep them occupied. The act of destroying a mattress is great fun for them.
No, they do not feel guilty afterward because they don’t understand that it’s “wrong.” They simply have great eyebrows that give them a face designed to look sorry when you come home angry.
3. Anxiety & Fear
Just like boredom and frustration can encourage destructive behavior like scratching and digging on furniture, so can any form of stress and anxiety. Dogs with anxiety over being left can display all kinds of problem behavior, such as howling, crying, digging, defecating indoors, and scratching at furniture.
Just like digging out of boredom, digging from fear or anxiety is called displacement behavior. It’s an outlet for a dog with such strong feelings of fear, stress, boredom, frustration, etc. that they don’t know what to do. When they don’t have an appropriate outlet for these behaviors, it manifests as “displaced behaviors,” such as destroying furniture.
4. Territorial Behavior
Another reason that dogs dig in beds and on their favorite couches is that the sweat glands in their paws allow them to add a bit of their own scent to their sleeping spots. This is a subtle way of marking their territory that we humans may not be aware of.
We usually think of dogs marking territory as something they only do when they pee against a tree. But truthfully, dogs love to leave their scent everywhere and use their whole body to do it, much like cats. The stronger the scent, the better.
The most obvious example of using the glands on their paws to leave a scent behind is when dogs scratch the grass or earth after relieving themselves. Although they are mostly digging at sleeping spots to make it comfortable, the extra scent from their paw pads signals to other dogs that this is “their” spot.
6. Nesting Behavior & Maternal Instinct
A pregnant dog reaching the end of her pregnancy will likely start nesting. You may see some restlessness, panting, and broken water during the final days. The soon-to-be mother frequently wants to make a bed for her puppies. She will scratch her bed, often ripping apart blankets and bedding.
This is instinctive. You can do nothing about this except to ensure she has a suitable whelping box with a safe infrared light to control the temperature. Don’t provide too much bedding since newborn puppies can get stuck in the fabric or smothered.
6. Looking For Treats And Burying Bones
Another common reason a dog may dig in the couch is to bury treats such as chews or bones. They may also dig if they smell any leftover snacks that fell under pillows or upholstery or if their favorite toy got stuck somewhere they can’t reach.
Why Is My Dog Scratching Everything?
As discussed above, dogs may scratch furniture and any sleeping area as part of their natural instinct to dig a hole to sleep in. However, it may also be destructive behavior born from frustration, boredom, puppy exuberance, anxiety, or an attempt to escape.
In extreme cases, if your dog’s scratching is obsessive, they may have Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Usually, this involves obsessive licking, chewing, tail-chasing, or barking, but compulsions can take any form.
If your dog is scratching everything obsessively and can’t seem to stop or are hurting themselves in the process, such as scratching till their nails bleed, it may be a serious disorder. In this case, you will need to speak to your vet about possible medical intervention and serious behavioral modification.
How To Stop A Dog From Scratching Furniture
So now that we’ve covered why your dog may be scratching the furniture, let’s look at how to stop your dog from digging into the couch or bed.
Environmental Control: Don’t Allow Your Dog On The Bed Or Furniture
The most obvious way to keep our furniture safe is to stop our dogs from getting on it to begin with. Most of us allow our puppies to sleep in our beds or climb on the couches as soon as they are big enough.
This is not a problem if you have a Yorkshire Terrier, but keep in mind a growing German Shepherd or American Bully may do a lot of damage as they grow larger. Think ahead when you get a new puppy, and never allow behavior such as jumping and sleeping on furniture unless you are willing to deal with the consequences when they are older and so much bigger.
If your dog already climbs onto furniture, it may be tough to break the habit. In this case, never let them near your couch or bed unsupervised. Use baby gates and other barriers to keep your dog in safe areas where they cannot damage your bed or sofa, especially while you are gone.
Use Crate And Place Training
Responsible crate training can be a lifesaver in preventing your puppy from doing damage while you are gone. Remember to acclimatize your dog to the crate slowly, and use positive reinforcement such as puzzle toys and Kongs so that the crate is never a punishment.
You can read this article if your dog is an escape artist and manages to break out of their crate. Never abuse the crate by leaving your adult dog in a crate longer than 6 to 8 hours.
Another great furniture saver is place training, where a dog is taught to go to their “place” or mat until they are released. This is also a great tool to help dogs with separation anxiety learn to better cope with being apart from you.
Use An Anti-Chew Spray On Your Furniture
You may think a bitter spray for dogs will only work to stop them from chewing on furniture, but usually, the scent is enough to keep them from getting comfortable enough to dig or scratch.
For a dog’s sensitive nose, a good anti-chew spray is a great tool in your arsenal to protect your furniture from canine destruction. Remember to use a carefully formulated spray, as homemade vinegar, and other DIY solutions can damage the fabric.
Cover Your Furniture
Another option is to put protective covers over your furniture. For a serial digger, this is only a temporary solution. Remember, don’t use your favorite throws and decorative covers to try to protect your couch; your dog will simply shred these too.
However, you can purchase special pet couch covers to put over your furniture. Mostly these are there to catch any excess hair, but they can give your couch a bit of protection from digging. You can use this together with the other measures to save your furniture, but on it’s own, it’s not a long-term solution, as your dog is as likely to dig through the cover as anything else.
Step Up The Exercise & Playtime
Your best friend with most problem behaviors is always exercise. Most dogs are under-exercised and understimulated. And this is one of the biggest factors behind destructive behaviors such as digging holes in furniture.
A dog that gets enough exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation has far less energy to spend on displacement behaviors such as ripping or digging up furniture. About 80% of problem behaviors can be reduced by increasing the amount of exercise and mental stimulation a dog gets.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why Does My Dog Scratch My Bed Sheets?
If your dog only really scratches your bed just after you put on fresh bedsheets, they may be trying to put their scent on the new sheets. A dog’s paws have sweat glands that can help them use their scent to tell other dogs and animals that this bed is theirs.
They may also roll in the bed. Remember, urine-marking is not the only way to mark territory. However, if they scratch any furniture they want to sleep on, it is more likely just part of their normal sleeping ritual.
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Digging into the Furniture?
A dog that has never dug in the furniture before but suddenly starts may be looking for something, such as a treat or toy in the upholstery. There may even be a mouse somewhere in the area, or they are burying a treat or bone.
A sudden rip in the furniture can often encourage a bored young dog to start tearing out the stuffing. But if the behavior is excessive, extreme, and compulsive, your dog may have developed Canine Compulsive Disorder. CCD can occur spontaneously and needs a combination of medication and behavior modification.
Why Does My Dog Dig At The Carpet?
Why a dog digs at the carpet depends on where they are digging. If they are digging near a door or a window, they may be trying to escape, especially if they do this after you leave. If they are digging where they sleep, this may just be to make themselves comfortable before a nap. Other reasons include:
- Digging because they smell or hear something below the carpet, such as rodents or treats underneath.
- Boredom, frustration, pent-up energy, and anxiety.
- Canine compulsive disorder.
Why Does My Dog Dig On My Bed When Excited?
A dog digging in your bed or couch from excitement is slightly less common. But we all know that dogs display a variety of behaviors when they are excited, such as zoomies, tippy taps with their paws, or spinning in circles.
Sometimes, if a dog is excited by something, such as you getting a leash to go on a walk, they may leap on the bed and do a little happy digging. This is like doing a little jig or dancing with happiness when you get great news.
Dogs digging in furniture like beds and couches is perfectly normal behavior. Still, it may become destructive and can be quite expensive if they start digging holes or scratching the upholstery. It’s essential to look at all the reasons your dog may scratch your furniture and then use the steps we outline to stop the problem without resorting to punishment.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.