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Why Do Dogs Scratch the Carpet? 5 Possible Reasons

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By Nicole Cosgrove

sick goldendoodle dog lying on a carpet

Scratching and digging are natural behaviors for dogs. However, when it happens on your expensive carpets and rugs, it can be annoying and stressful.

There are several reasons dogs may scratch the carpet, ranging from instinct or boredom to separation anxiety. Here are the reasons your dog may scratch the carpet and what you can do to curb the behavior.

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The 5 Possible Reasons That Dogs Scratch The Carpet

1. Instinct

Dogs are motivated by instinct. Digging and scratching are natural behaviors that have helped dogs survive for over 30,000 years, as well as their wild canine counterparts. They would dig to create beds or conceal and later retrieve bones or food.

Some breeds are more prone to digging and scratching due to selective breeding as well, including the ratter and burrower breeds like Jack Russell Terriers and Dachshunds or the small-game hunting breeds like Beagles and Basset Hounds. Sled dogs, like Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, had to dig in the snow to make a nest and stay warm, so they retain this behavior even in your warm home.

australian shepherd dog standing on carpet in living room
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

2. New Smells

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell that can be 10,000 to 100,000 times that of a human. With this sensitive sense of smell, they’re more likely to notice new and interesting smells lingering on your carpet and may want to investigate. Anything from a particle on your shoe sole to a piece of food dropped by a toddler can ignite this interest.

When your dog scratches at the carpet, the smell is activated and released into the air so your dog can investigate it thoroughly.

3. Boredom

Dogs need outlets for their energy, both through physical exercise and mental stimulation. If your dog doesn’t get enough enrichment, all that pent-up energy has to go somewhere, and that may be through scratching your carpet.

Pay attention to your dog’s scratching behavior. If you notice that it happens more when you have been busy and not as focused on exercise, walks, or play time, it could simply be a way to relieve boredom.

german shepherd dog domestic shorthair cat on carpet smiling happy
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

4. Anxiety

In humans, anxious behaviors often show in jitteriness or fidgeting. In dogs, it could be scratching. If your dog is anxious or distressed, they may scratch at the carpet to release pent-up energy and nervousness.

As far as the cause of the anxiety, that could be many things. Thunderstorms, fireworks, major changes like a move or new baby, a feral cat they can’t get to, or a traumatic experience can cause anxiety. Different dogs handle anxiety in different ways, and some are more sensitive than others.

With anxiety, the scratching behavior probably won’t occur on its own. Some of the other signs of anxiety include:

  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Inappropriate soiling in the house
  • Barking or whining
  • Destructive behaviors like chewing
  • Aggression

5. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a more extreme version of anxiety that manifests when your dog isn’t comfortable being left alone. It begins with mild signs, but it usually escalates to more serious behaviors like destruction or accidents in your home.

Scratching, especially compulsive scratching, can be a sign of separation anxiety. This is especially true if it occurs when you’re not home. Doing this helps your dog release some nervousness, like people biting their nails when they’re stressed, and releases some endorphins to help them calm down.

Separation anxiety is often accompanied by other extreme behaviors, such as:

  • Destructive chewing
  • Repeated soiling in your home
  • Excessive barking
  • Self-mutilating behaviors
  • Trembling or salivating
Senior dog with arthritis lying on the carpet
Image Credit: Larissa Chilanti, Shutterstock

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Why Is My Dog Suddenly Scratching the Carpet?

If your dog suddenly started scratching the carpet, especially if they’re older, it could be a cause for concern. Dogs may scratch the carpet over something new that’s harmless, like a new smell, or it could be a sign of an illness or injury.

Like any other abrupt change in your dog’s behavior, it’s important to schedule a vet appointment and investigate possible health reasons for your dog’s new habit.

Tips to Stop Dogs from Scratching the Carpet

Correcting your dog’s behavior starts with identifying the reason they’re scratching in the first place. If you suspect anxiety or separation anxiety, it’s best to work with a veterinary behaviorist to find solutions. These conditions often require a combination of behavioral modification and medication to correct, especially if they’ve gone untreated for a while.

Otherwise, here are some tips to stop your dog from scratching the carpet:

  • Provide plenty of stimulation: Take your dog for brisk walks and offer lots of play time to keep your dog from getting bored. High-energy breeds like Border Collies need a lot of outlets and a “job” to do to avoid destructive behavior.
  • Offer a comfy bed: If your dog is scratching the carpet and lying down to sleep, a new dog bed will give your dog a comfortable spot to relax instead of your carpet. If your dog is older, try to get a heavily cushioned or orthopedic bed with raised sides that forms a nice “den”, similar to what your dog would get from digging a nest in the wild.
  • Teach your dog to scratch a pad: Dog scratch pads with sandpaper are available to give your dog a healthy outlet for scratching and keep their nails trimmed in the process. These pads are inexpensive, but you will need to train your dog to use them to get the full benefits.
  • Offer lick mats and chew toys: If scratching is used to relieve excess energy or minor anxiety, chewing and licking can serve the same purpose. Lick mats and chew toys give your dog an outlet for energy and nervousness to spare your carpet.
  • Clean your carpet: This may seem obvious, but if your dog is scratching to get at a funny smell, cleaning your carpet can remove the interest for them. Remember, the smell could come from something you don’t know about, like a dead insect deep in the fibers.

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Scratching is an instinctual behavior for your dog, but it’s not good if they take that out on your carpet. While there are many possible reasons your dog is scratching the carpet, you can train them to relieve energy and stress in more appropriate ways to save your carpet and prevent expensive damage.

Featured Image Credit: Brad K Covington, Shutterstock

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