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A Guide to Why Your Dog is Scratching at the Carpet and How to get Him to STOP!

There are many canine behaviorists on the world wide web and each one has a different theory on what could be causing your dog to scratch at the carpet. With so much information available it’s hard to narrow down exactly which thing could make them act so destructive and once you do you still have to figure out how to correct that behavior.

Easy Spaniel Training Video 3
Easy Spaniel Training Video 3

I have put together a list of six potential reasons why your dog is scratching the carpet and how to redirect that behavior and make it stop.

My sister had a dog, Bowser, who started digging at her new carpet whenever she left the room. He was older than Methuselah and she assumed his digging was a result of his advanced age because he had begun to have accidents and some trouble walking over the last year.

She didn’t think anything of it until her other 2 dogs began to dig on the carpet as well. 

This behavior went on for about 3 weeks and she was fed up. She called me and I had her take all 3 dogs to the vet just to make sure they weren’t sick since the behavior had seemingly spread to the other 2 dogs making me think, from a clinical standpoint, that there was something “catchy” going on in the house. 

After an uneventful vet visit, we began researching what could be making her dogs want to destroy her Berber with such a vengeance? 

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Dog scratching at carpet
Holes made by a dog scratching at the carpet.
how to get a dog to stop scratching at the carpet
Damage #2 was caused by dogs scratching at the carpet.

6 Reasons Why Dogs Scratch at the Carpet

  1. Boredom– Your dog is bored and trying to burn off extra energy. A good way to redirect this behavior is to play doggy sports. 
  2. Overheated– Your dog is hot.  When dogs get hot, they tend to scratch at the ground in an attempt to find a cooler space to relax. 
  3. Lonely– Your dog wants attention. This one is pretty simple, though you don’t want to get in the habit of rewarding the scratching so be careful to be affectionate with your dog before he has a chance to start scratching.  
  4. Den Instinct– Your dog is trying to hide something.  Some dog breeds, like Goldens, are prone to hiding toys, and treats and other things they deem important. So, they may be digging in an attempt to make a hole to bury their goodies.
  5. Hunting Instinct– Some dogs are trained to hunt for small animals. They are actually trained to dig when they hunt to find them. Giving them an appropriate space to dig like a swimming pool filled with dirt or an old sandbox should curb the indoor behavior.  
  6. Anxiety– Your dog has anxiety, usually brought on by a change in the dog’s environment or schedule. Anxiety is the most difficult behavior to address but it is the least common reason your dog is scratching the carpet. 

Using Doggy Sports to get my Dog to Stop Scratching the Carpet?

Doggy sports are anything your dog likes to do that keeps his mind and/or body active. This could be a walk or even just some training in the kitchen. 

Be sure to play to your dog’s strengths when deciding what doggy sports to do.  Besides the general obedience training i.e. sit; down; stay; come and leave it, your dog could also try agility, herding, pulling, tracking, and water sports.  

Your dog wants to please you, but he also wants to have fun, so find what works for you and your dog and have fun. Try reading about what other people do to play with their dogs. Serious Fun, a Guide to Playing like a Dog (link to Amazon) is a great reference to what will make your dog live his best life

How to Cool Down Your Dog to get Them to Stop Scratching for a Cooler Spot.

When a dog is overheated, it may scratch at the carpet in an attempt to get to the cooler ground.  When a dog is outside and gets too warm they can dig into the top layer of dirt off and expose cooler earth or sand.

To cool them down you can put wet washcloths under their armpits or take them for a dip in a pond or at a local splash pad. 

Affection and Attention. The Key to Stopping Carpet Scratchers Before They Scratch.

Your dog wants your attention more than anything else and just showing affection will make him feel more secure. Make sure you have a loving relationship with your dog by giving lots of attention when he is not scratching.   

Remember, if you only show attention when the dog is scratching then he will think that the affection is the end result of scratching. So be sure the attention is spread throughout the day, so your dog won’t feel the need to get your attention by destroying your rug.

Play to Their Strengths. Breed Matters.

Dogs will naturally have instincts that will manifest during their lifetime that they really have no control over. It is all purely something they were born to do. 

Hunting dogs are often trained to hunt small animals that they must dig to find.  So, if your dog is trained to hunt then it is important to give him an appropriate space to dig outside. 

I love using an old plastic kiddie pool and filling it with a mix of soil and sand and hiding tasty treats or toys that are covered in animal scents. Giving Fido a place to dig that excites his sense of smell is a sure way to get him to dig in the designated spot. 

The Den Instinct, Why My Dog Scratches his Bed in His Kennel.

Dogs have a very unique ability to transfer scents through their paw pads. Tiny glands release an oil-like substance that transfers to your dog’s bed when he scratches it. 

Much like a person who fluffs their pillow each night before bed, your dog will go through the routine of scratching his pillow and kicking with his back legs to transfer all the scents from his paws to the bed.

The scents from the day will give him something to do when he is bored in the kennel overnight. 

Anxiety and Scratching/Digging at the Carpet.

When dogs are anxious about their surroundings they can show a multitude of undesirable behaviors. Anxiety can be reduced by activating your dogs’ caudate nucleus, the part of his brain that is responsible for his sense of smell. 

The caudate nucleus is also the part responsible for anxiety. Both cannot work at the same time so if your dog is using his sense of smell he cannot physiologically be anxious at the same time. 

If your dog is suffering from true anxiety you will see other signs besides digging and should consult a qualified trainer. True anxiety is quite uncomfortable for your pup and a calming spray can be used prior to paying an expensive trainer.  

You might want to try something like this dog calming pheromone diffuser (link to Amazon) before you rush to go and get a trainer.  

When All Else Fails Try the “Nothing Exercise”.

Dog Trainer Sue Sternberg, a dog behavior expert and innovator in the field of shelter dog welfare, has come up with an exercise using a technique called capturing or fishing that has the potential to correct more problems than just scratching the carpet.  

The Nothing Exercise as seen in this YouTube video focuses on getting your dog to do, well, nothing. To sit at your feet and wait patiently for affection. This gives you the ability to get your dog to settle down by just settling yourself down. 

My sisters’ dogs were giving her a message. That message was different for each dog.  Junior, her Chi Chi, was scratching because he was bored and she began spending time each day with him learning new tricks. 

Not only does he not scratch the carpet anymore, but he can also give you a high five, wait should that be a low five?  

After exhausting all the training tips, Spanky, her naturally anxious husky mix, finally stopped scratching her new carpet when she used the pheromone spray. 

She continues to work with him on his anxiety and he sees a trainer weekly to further address his separation issues.

And Bowser the golden with the long wavy surfer blonde hair, well, Bowser passed away quietly in his sleep about 3 weeks after we began researching what might be the cause for his unusual behavior. 

He never stopped scratching the carpet, and we never figured out what made him do it, but I would give anything to hear the thumping of his big yellow paws against that gray Berber just one more time, thump, thump, thump, thump. 

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