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Why Do Dogs Scratch Before They Lay Down?

Everyone has a little bedtime ritual. For children, it's toothbrushing, stories, and lights-out. For their parents, it might be pillow fluffing or putting on satin pajamas. For dogs, it's pawing the ground - or the carpet - before settling in. Some dogs' routines are so precise that you can tell even before they start moving what they're getting ready to do. You can just see that look in the eye that says, "Okay, I'm going to turn around four times, paw six times, lie down, sigh, and fall right to sleep." Buy why do dogs scratch before they lay down?

Fido Was Here!

A thick pile carpet or a plaid cedar bed doesn't need this sort of treatment, but dogs are creatures of habit. They tend to do the same things they've always done. Every dog develops a slightly different set of bedtime rituals, and for the most part, they'll follow these rituals every time they lie down. Once they get in the habit of pawing or scratching or circling around before they lie down, they're going to always want to do it.

Comfort and ritual are only part of the story. Another reason for pawing is that dogs are territorial animals, which means they stake out and claim areas that they consider theirs. One way of marking territory is to scratch at the ground. In the wild, dogs who happened by would see the scratch marks and know that the place was occupied. They'd smell the marks, too. Dogs have scent glands in their paws. Pawing at the carpet is one way of depositing their personal scent. Female dogs may be somewhat more likely than males to paw before lying down, especially if they happen to be pregnant. It's because they have a biological urge to prepare a safe, comfortable nest for their puppies.

It Also Feels Good to Scratch!

From the time they're puppies, dogs will scratch and dig just about anywhere - on the carpet, in the garden, even on linoleum floors. They're not really trying to make a bed in all of these places. They just enjoy scratching. It feels great on their paws. If it's hot outside, they'll scratch and get a little cool dirt under their nails. Before long, they're hooked.

This is why some dogs spend an inordinate amount of time pawing the carpet or their beds before lying down. They don't need to make things more comfortable than they already are. They're just enjoying the activity. And since they find it relaxing, it's a natural prelude to taking a nap. They don't necessarily have a goal in mind. They do it because it feels good.