At times, dogs can display behaviours that seem strange to their owners. The differences between humans and canines are vast when pet owners are left questioning a particular dog behaviour, and carpet scratching is just one example of this. Many people have caught their pets doing this and have wondered, “Why do dogs scratch at carpet?”
While this behaviour can appear small and insignificant at first, it can quickly grow into a problem. The carpet can become damaged from repeated scratching, with bald patches and tears developing, which can affect the appearance of your own and also be expensive to fix. It’s essential to stop this unwanted behaviour from developing as soon as possible, but to do this, you must determine why the dog has started scratching the carpet in the first place.
There are several reasons why dogs scratch at carpet, which will be explored in this article, as well as the ways dog owners can stop their pets from doing this destructive behavior.
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11 Reasons Why Dogs Scratch the Carpet
Figuring out the reason why a dog is scratching the carpet requires understanding the way a dog’s mind works. This can be a difficult task, especially when the differences between people and their furry companions are numerous. However, only when the dog owner knows the reasons for their pet’s behaviour will they be able to stop the behaviour.
The 11 reasons a dog might scratch the carpet have been listed below:
When experiencing boredom, dogs will try to keep themselves busy doing whatever stimulates them the most; this includes mental stimulation and physical stimulation. For a bored dog, scratching the carpet is fun and interesting, and it keeps its body moving and mind busy. This is likely to happen if the dog is left alone for long periods of time and has no toys to play with.
Digging Up Crumbs
Even the cleanest of homeowners can miss crumbs, no matter how strong the vacuum is. If there are a few crumbs hidden in the carpet, a dog will sniff them out and begin searching for them. This search will consist of trying to pull the carpet up with its paws to find the food crumbs.
A lot of dogs are food-orientated, especially Labradors, so when they smell food, they’ll hunt for it.
Everyone knows the stereotypical behaviour of dogs digging in the back garden to hide a bone or toy; this behaviour can make its way indoors, too. Dogs dig when they want to hide something of value to them, and this behaviour will continue even if the carpet isn’t thick enough to provide a suitable hiding place.
Although the toy or bone the dog is trying to hide will remain visible to you, your dog will not be deterred.
Filing Their Nails Down
When a dog’s nails become too long, it can be very uncomfortable. This can affect how they walk and can cause health problems if the nails are not dealt with professionally. To ease its discomfort, a dog will take it upon itself to dig, hoping this will file the dog’s claws down slightly.
To keep your dog’s nails at a comfortable length, take them to the vet or groomer and have the claws trimmed to a length the dog finds more comfortable. This is essential if your dog does not regularly walk on pavements, which can help to shorten nails over time.
Digging, or scratching, is a natural behaviour, especially for certain breeds. Terriers, for example, have been specifically bred to dig underground in search of mice, rats, and other pests.
Unfortunately, if the behaviour is linked to the dog’s breed, then there isn’t a lot that can be done. It has been bred into some working breeds for years, and this will not be easy to change. Ensuring the dog is properly exercised and has plenty of toys will hopefully limit the amount of damage it wreaks on the carpet.
Like all animals, dogs love feeling safe and secure in familiar surroundings. Many dogs will dig and scratch the carpet to create a sheltered resting spot to lie down or sleep in. This sleeping area will never be perfect due to it being carpeted, so the dog will continue working away at it in hopes of building a suitable spot.
If you have blankets around the house, you might have noticed this behaviour before; blankets are much more malleable, making it easier to build a nest from.
Release Pent-up Energy
As pet parents have busy lives, some dogs might not be getting enough exercise. Energy is usually burnt off with proper exercise, but this can be complicated as different dog breeds will require different amounts of exercise, and working dog breeds will have more energy to burn off, as explained by PDSA. This can mean they spend hours in the house, sometimes alone, with very little stimulation, and lead to them displaying destructive behaviours, like digging, to release excess energy.
Dogs can also release pent-up energy during moments of excitement, like when the owner first gets home or if the dog knows it is dinnertime. If the carpet scratching happens during times when the dog is excited, then this is likely the cause.
As dogs have scent glands in their paws, scratching can leave their scent behind. This behaviour might be triggered if the dog isn’t sure of its place in the household’s hierarchy, if it wants to cover a scent with its own, or if it just wants to mark its territory.
Attention seeking is often discussed in relation to children, but dogs can be just as guilty. Once a dog notices that a certain action gains the owner’s attention, it will perform this behaviour repeatedly. This can be difficult if the behaviour is acceptable out of the home, like at the beach where dogs can be happily digging away. If this behaviour has been encouraged out of the house, then it can be tough to get dogs to stop digging inside the home.
When a dog is feeling anxious, they might begin to self-soothe. This means a dog will begin scratching the carpet to relieve its anxiety and stress after its owner leaves. One way to know if the scratching is due to separation anxiety is the location the dog scratches; if the dog scratches the carpet near the front door, it is experiencing separation anxiety. In some cases, the dog might also scratch the front door.
Dogs that become anxious after their owners leave can cause serious damage to carpets and hard floors, which might be expensive to fix. The dogs become so focused on scratching as a way to distract themselves from their owners’ disappearance.
Other types of anxiety can also cause this behaviour, so it might be worth looking out for carpet scratching if fireworks are going off, there is harsh weather or loud noises outside, etc.
During the hot summer months, dogs might start digging at the carpet out of seemingly nowhere. This is simply to regulate their own body temperatures. Similarly, if it is too cold, dogs will dig with the hope of creating an enclosed and comfortable resting place to stave off the chill. As dogs are descendants of wolves, chances are this is a behaviour dogs are born with.
Although very few dog owners have air conditioning in the UK, making use of fans and opening windows will allow air to circulate more effectively. Then, in colder months, ensure they have warm bedding to nest in. You could also use a heating pad under the dog’s bedding to increase the warmth and help it regulate its body temperature.
7 Ways to Stop Dogs Scratching the Carpet
Now that you have a better understanding to answer the question, “Why does my dog scratch the carpet?” it’s time to look at the ways to put an end to this behaviour. How to stop the digging behaviour will depend on the reason why your dog is scratching the carpet.
No matter the method you select to stop your dog from scratching the carpet, it is important to use positive reinforcement consistently. Dogs should not be punished; instead, focus on making good behaviours look more interesting and rewarding.
Address the Source of Anxiety
Figuring out what makes your dog feel anxious is not easy; it can require observing their behaviour in different scenarios and surroundings. If the dog has separation anxiety, the owner might need to install cameras to monitor the pet’s behaviour when they leave the house. There are some telltale signs of anxiety in dogs, such as:
- Excessive barking
- Lip smacking
- Pinning ears back
- Tucking tail between legs
- Urinating or pooing in the house
If your dog regularly displays these signs as well as scratching the carpet, it’s safe to assume it is anxious. There are several methods you can use to ease your dog’s anxiety, although not all will prove effective with every dog. These methods are:
- Buy anti-anxiety products, like diffusers, sprays, or supplements
- Create a safe space for the dog to retreat to
- Distract the dog with toys and treats
- Ensure people entering and leaving the house are calm and quiet
- Provide gentle reassurance
- Reward calm behaviour
- Turn on the TV or radio for background noise
These ways to ease a dog’s anxiety might not work for all dogs, though, and help from a dog behaviourist or medication from the vet might be needed.
Buy New Dog Toys
To stop a dog from digging out of boredom, there must be fun alternatives for them to focus on. A lot of the time, this means providing exciting toys to play with. If your dog has toys, it might be time to buy new ones; like humans, dogs can get bored of the same old items.
What toys your dog finds interesting will be individual. It might enjoy soft toys, which can be chewed, cuddled, and thrown. On the other hand, your dog might need something more challenging to focus on, like puzzle toys. Puzzle toys are especially good for keeping dogs busy; you can hide treats inside these toys, and the dog must solve how to access the food. This will give the dogs something else to focus on instead of scratching the carpet.
Clean the Area
If a specific smell keeps bringing the dog back to one area, this space needs to be thoroughly cleaned. It could be that crumbs have been missed in this area or a visiting animal or person spent time at the one spot. Although it is a bit of an investment, one product that can help with this is a vacuum specifically designed to lift pet hair.
Vacuums with enough suction to pick up pet hair will eventually lessen the scents that have been left on the carpet, too. If the scratching stops after this, then you’ve found the reason. Hoovering should be done regularly to pick up any enticing smells and items and prevent the dog from restarting this behaviour, though.
For dog owners with hardwood flooring, buy a pet odour remover that can be used on multiple surfaces.
Distract Them When the Scratching Begins
Once you recognise the signs that the dog is about to start scratching, you should be quick to distract them. Whatever distraction method is used, it must grab the dog’s attention straight away. This is an important step in stopping the dog’s carpet scratching behaviour; if the behaviour is not stopped, the dog will begin to think it is acceptable.
There are many ways to distract a dog once they begin to scratch the carpet, but one of the most successful ways is to use the dog’s favourite toy to encourage play. Most dogs enjoy chasing things that move, so swishing a rope toy along the ground or throwing a tennis ball will alert their prey drive and successfully distract them from digging at the carpet.
Increase Your Dog’s Exercise
A tired dog is unlikely to have the energy to scratch, and upping the amount of time your dog spends exercising will definitely tire the pup out. Not only will this use up their energy, but it will also ensure they are physically and mentally stimulated, which is another necessity for dogs. To burn excess energy, the easiest way is to take your dog on longer walks.
However, if you do not have time to do this because of work, you might want to consider hiring a dog walker. Professional dog walkers will know the best routes and dog parks to visit to ensure dogs receive the correct amount of exercise. At home, you can up the time you play with them. Whether it’s a game of fetch or just running around the dining table, these activities will help you curb the dog’s need to dig or scratch the carpet.
Provide a Comfortable Bed
If you have narrowed down the reason why your dog scratches the carpet to nesting, then providing a suitable dog bed can help alleviate this destructive behaviour. The dog might not understand at first, but simply saying “no” when it begins to dig and leading it to the bed will teach the bed’s purpose; you can even give the dog treats once it settles on the bed.
As previously mentioned, if you have noticed the digging and nesting behaviours with blankets, why not buy your dog an extra blanket just for them?
Seek Professional Help
Unfortunately, these methods will not work for all dogs; if this is the case for you, it might be time to contact a professional. Although this will not be a quick fix, especially if the dog has anxiety, dog behaviourists can help to cure the dog’s unwanted behaviours and lead a happier, more relaxed life. A dog behaviourist will usually observe the dog in its own home and out in public to ascertain the issues causing the scratching.
Dog training will also help if your dog is nesting, attention-seeking, or hiding things by digging. Training classes will enable the dog owner to have the skills to curb dog scratching as well as work the dog’s brain and body. All dogs should have their brains and bodies challenged on a daily basis, but it’s even more crucial for dogs that display unwanted behaviours.
Again, it is essential to remember that both dog behaviourists and training classes will not fix the issue overnight. These options will help if the dog owner puts in the time and has patience.
To Sum Up
Most pet owners will recognise when their canine companions’ behaviours change, and carpet scratching isn’t a behaviour you are likely to miss. Unfortunately, dogs can develop unwanted behaviours, like scratching the carpet, for many reasons, so figuring out why your dog scratches the carpet will take observation and time. Having an understanding of the dog’s mind will help.
Some of the reasons why dogs scratch the carpet include boredom, hiding things, nesting, separation anxiety, or they might have been bred for this digging ability. No matter the reason dogs develop this behaviour, dog owners should approach correcting this will patience and positive reinforcement. Some methods to get dogs to stop digging are providing new toys and upping the dog’s exercise amount.
So, if you want to stop your dog’s carpet-digging behaviour, then this article should have provided the methods to do so.