There are several reasons why dogs scratch the carpet, ranging from boredom to genetics, but one thing that’s for certain, is that it’s infuriating for owners! Although it might seem cute to start with, this apparent need to burrow quickly becomes problematic for both your carpet and your sanity. With that in mind, we’ve put together a blog explaining just why exactly dogs feel the urge to carpet-scratch, as well as what you can do to stop it!
Why does my dog scratch the carpet?
Before you can attempt to stop your dog from scratching away at the carpet, you need to know what’s driving it. Otherwise, you’re essentially going at the problem blind, and with little chance of success. So, first, then, let’s look at some of the generally accepted reasons behind this peculiar canine need to cultivate:
Firstly, boredom and attention-seeking can often be a cause. When your dog wants attention, they’ll often act up, just as a naughty child or toddler might do; they’ll do something they know they’re not supposed to, precisely because it’s more likely to elicit a reaction from their owner, and grant them the attention they’re so sorely after.
Some dogs are more prone to “burrowing” than others. My excitable, little 1-year-old Scottie-Cairn cross, for instance, loves nothing more than to dig, whether that be her bed in the middle of the night, the flower bed or, yes, even the carpet.
Certain breeds, and in particular ‘ratters’ like terriers, for example - which were bred to hunt out small rodents, often from small, difficult to reach places and holes in the ground - seem especially hellbent on happily digging away… So, that urge to scratch the carpet may well simply be instinct, and nothing else! It still doesn’t make it any less irritating for us owners, though!
Animals like nothing more than to feel safe and protected from prey, and dogs are no exception. Many will dig at the carpet in attempts to make a more snug, sheltered nest space in which to relax or sleep. Of course, with carpet this doesn’t really work, but if you’ve noticed the same behaviour extending to blankets around the house, then you’ll notice this nesting behaviour.
Linked to that idea of feeling safe is dogs scratching the carpet as an anxious response to perceived threats. The primal rationale behind it is simply to dig their way out of danger. So, if you’ve noticed it occurs more during fireworks, lightning storms or when the student house next door is having a party, again, then it might well be anxiety prompting your pooch to scratch.
No, your dog hasn’t suddenly become interested in entering the local beauty pageant… What they’re doing is trying to scratch down their claws - to literally file them away - when they’ve become long to the point of being physically uncomfortable. If you’re concerned about the length of your dog’s claws, the best thing to do is to take them into the groomer’s, as they’ll be able to expertly and easily get them back down to a length that your dog finds more comfortable.
Too much energy!
Have you got a particularly active dog breed? Do they get enough exercise and/or stimulation? If not, then your dog might be scratching the carpet as a means of venting some pent-up energy. If this is the case, then you’ll probably notice the behaviour going hand-in-hand along with certain other ‘hyper’ behaviour types, such as barking, constantly racing around, and chewing.
How do you get your dog to stop?
So, we’ve established the various reasons as to why dogs scratch the carpet, but what about stopping the behaviour? After all, it’s all very well knowing about the cause of an issue, but it counts for very little if you can’t then fix the issue, itself! Fortunately, there are several means and ways of weedling out this nuisance behaviour before your carpet gets too damaged.
The key to preventing the scratching is identifying the correct root cause, and applying the appropriate corresponding response. For instance, for a dog that’s scratching the carpet out of boredom, a good idea would be to up their daily exercise, if at all possible. People often try to overcomplicate dog behaviour, when in reality, it’s most often simply about finding the cause, and applying the logical solution. What, then, are the tips for each ‘cause’?
Dealing with scratching out of boredom
If your dog is bored, hyper or frustrated, then the carpet offers an attractive target at which to direct their feelings. That is, of course, unless there are other, more enticing distractions on offer! Make sure your dog a) has a plentiful supply of different toys (made with sustainable materials if possible), and that they’re b) readily available to them!
You’d be surprised at how many owners keep their toys in a designated toy box, which is all well and good in terms of keeping the house nice and tidy, but not much help if your pup can’t actually get to the toys inside in order to play with them! Sometimes, it might even just be that your dog’s favourite rubber bone has rolled under the sofa, tantalisingly out of reach…
If your dog is in the mood to play, then they’re going to play - whether there are toys around or not! So, it’s in the interest of you (as well as your carpet) to oblige and keep a plentiful array of toys always at hand!
Which toys should I get?
Struggling to know which toys to get them? Fear not, we have a great and varied selection of toys, ranging from squeaky toys made from recycled plastics, through to tough treat balls, all of which are likely to keep your dog entertained, and more importantly, away from scratching the carpet!
The more engaged you can keep your energetic dog, the better. That means puzzle toys are a good place to start, such as treat dispensers and treat balls. Toys that have an auditory component also work well, a squeaker, for instance, or a rattle. Whatever you choose, your carpet will thank you for it in the longer run!
Dealing With Instinctive Scratching
This is a trickier one because there’s no problem that needs to be addressed, as it were, the dog just knows, deep down, that for whatever reason, it wants to dig! It’s not an impossible task, though, and eradicating the behaviour (or at least minimising it as much as possible) revolves around a lot of positive reinforcement.
The key to this is establishing a solid ‘leave’ command; once your dog associates the leave command with a high-value reward such as a piece of chicken, or a little cube of cheese, then should they ever go to scratch the carpet and you catch them in the act, you can cut them off with a swift leave command; in this way, your dog will learn not to scratch the carpet by association.
Dealing with “bed-making” scratching
This is possibly the easiest scratching scenario to rectify; if your home doesn’t have blankets, cushions or throws around, then the next comfiest thing, at least in your dog’s eyes, is going to be the carpet. The fact that the carpet isn’t mouldable or malleable won’t make a jot of difference to your canine companion, they’ll just keep trying, regardless!
So, the solution here is simply to have a lot of old blankets and throws that you don’t mind getting a bit tatty, and placing them around the room so that your dog has more nest-making opportunities. You should find they quickly reject the carpet in favour of the (actually comfortable) snuggly blanket.
If you’re finding that your dog continues to scratch at the carpet, no matter what you try, then there are still a couple of other options before you resort to pulling your hair out. The first is simply to keep the dog in a non-carpeted part of the house, however this can be quite restrictive for them, so the other, more common option, is to buy other rugs and mats to go over the carpet, in the hope that your dog will scratch at them rather than the carpet.
Whether they’re scratching out of boredom, frustration, anxiety or anything else, carpet scratching is a habit you want to nip in the bud, if at all possible. Because whilst it’s not necessarily the worst of behaviours - you’d certainly much rather have a dog inclined to scratch the carpet than nip, say - it’s a frustrating one, nonetheless.
Fortunately, for the most part, understanding the reasons behind the scratching will stand you in good stead, and leave you well placed to try and eradicate the behaviour before it gets out of hand.