Your little buddy probably cocks his head in wonder as you fuss with your sheets and blankets while making the bed. Meanwhile, when you notice your dog scratching, pawing, sniffing, turning around and then scratching some more at his bed, you might be cocking your head yourself.
Pet dogs are related to coyotes, foxes, wolves and other wild canine creatures that dig dens to raise their pups. A den serves as protection from the elements and from predators. Although your domesticated canine probably lives in great comfort -- with perhaps his own house and bed, and with no fear of being snatched up and eaten -- he may still desire to sleep in a denlike environment, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Scratching at the bed is instinctual; it's what your dogs’ wild kin have done for ages to soften the ground.
You plump your pillows or arrange your bedding just the way you like it before you sleep to get comfortable. Your dog likes to be comfortable, too. It can be funny to watch some of the rituals: A dog might head-butt the blanket, dig at the bed and spin around several times or more. Your dog is behaving as he would while gathering moss or leaves to make a relatively comfy bed outside, said James Glover, a retired New Jersey veterinarian, in Pet Peoples Place. Your dog is probably not signaling to you that he finds his bed uncomfortable, but you could consider adding some extra padding or blankets to see whether it cuts down on or increases the pet's nesting action.
Dogs, being territorial creatures, mark areas to claim the spaces as theirs. They usually do this by urinating on objects. Both male and female dogs mark territory. Dogs have other ways of marking besides urination; one is by scratching at bedding. Dogs have sweat glands in their paws, which leave a scent on bedding when they scratch at it. Dogs are more likely to take to a bedding spot if it is in an area they already consider theirs, according to VPI Pet Insurance.
If your dog sleeps outside and has no bed, he might dig and scratch in his sleeping area in an attempt to get warmer or cooler, depending on the weather. Even if you do provide a bed outside, some dogs might prefer to dig their own holes in which to sleep, according to the ASPCA. Help your outdoor pet by providing an insulated doghouse and a bed that allows air circulation for the heat, and one with extra blankets for the cold. In extreme weather conditions, it’s best to let your dog sleep inside.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.