Why Do Dogs Scratch the Ground After Defecating?

by Jae Allen, Demand Media
    Dogs scratch their own scent into the grass after defecating.

    Dogs scratch their own scent into the grass after defecating.

    Dogs of both sexes commonly scratch or scrape the ground with their hind paws immediately after defecating. Some dogs also perform this action after urinating. This is a normal behavior -- it's your dog's way of leaving a scent and visual message to other hounds that might pass by later. Wolves, the ancestors of domestic dogs, perform this behavior for the same reason.

    Purpose

    Dogs have scent glands under their paws and in between their toes. When the dog scrapes at the ground near his fresh poop pile, the scent from these glands is transferred to the ground. Before dogs became domesticated, it was useful to mark their territory using the scent from their glands. Wild dogs, and their wolf ancestors, use this method of marking to protect territories that were too large to patrol each day.

    Message

    When wolves and dogs roamed wild, they needed to warn other animals away from their territory. This was the dogs' way of protecting their food sources, for example, the rabbits living in their territory, and also their breeding females. You might think that the dog's feces is sufficiently pungent to warn off competing animals, but much of the scent is lost once the feces dries out. The scent from the dog's feet glands is more enduring. Additionally, the long and deep scrape marks left by the dog's paws and claws let other dogs know that your dog is strong and powerful.

    Health Concerns

    If your dog usually scrapes the ground after defecating, it can be a warning sign if she stops this behavior. When dogs develop arthritis or other health problems affecting their mobility, they may stop scraping. As arthritis progresses, dogs may have trouble reaching a squatting position for defecation. This can lead to problems with the dog soiling herself.

    Practical Considerations

    A dog's scraping after defecation can make cleaning up his poop more awkward. It's best just to let your dog finish his scraping before you bend down to pick up his poop, otherwise you risk getting dirt or worse kicked up into your face. Most dogs will not tread in their own poop as they scrape, as they spread their paws wide enough to avoid the feces. Unlike cats, dogs do not scrape and scratch to cover up their poop. The intention is to leave the feces visible to other dogs, with an extra marking scent surrounding the poop. Don't try to train your dog out of scraping as it's a natural and instinctive behavior that takes only a little time and doesn't cause significant damage to the landscape.

    About the Author

    Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.

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