Why Does My Dog Scratch the Floor?

Dog in trouble after scratching the floor

Picture this: you are about to fall into a sweet sleep after a long day at work. Suddenly, your ears fill with raucous scratching noises that make it impossible to sleep.

Are you one of the many dog parents who love their pooch to death, but are being driven crazy by the floor scratching? If yes, read on for a deep dive into the causes of your dog’s incessant scratching habit.

Rounding up the Causes

When approaching behavioral issues in dogs, the first step is to humble yourself and remember that there is still so much we do not understand about dogs. What might be an everyday nuisance to you could be an emotional distress signal from your dog.

Instead of approaching your dog with a punitive mindset, try to understand what is making your dog act this way. Reasons for floor scratching can range from functional to emotional, and in some cases, even medical.

Let’s take a look at the possible causes of floor scratching by dogs, according to veterinary experts, along with suggestions to help you along.

Acting on Instinct

The scratching noises that disrupt your sleep every night? They could likely be a source of comfort to your dog. By scratching the floor around their sleeping area, dogs are acting on instincts left behind by their ancestors.

Before humans domesticated dogs and became their best friends, dogs had to fend for themselves in the wild. One of the ways they did that was scratching or digging the ground to create a nestlike, safe place to sleep.

Suggestion: One way to resolve this issue is to invest in a round bed for your pooch, preferably one with raised edges. It will help your dog feel secure, and provide a readymade nest to snuggle in.

Marking Territory

Pawing at the floor could also be a way for your dog to mark territory, especially if they are prone to doing it after strangers or other dogs visit.

Dogs sweat from the pads of their paws. Therefore, scratching the floor becomes an act of leaving both visible (scratches) and olfactory (scent from the sweat) markers of dominance on what dogs perceive as their territory (your home).

Suggestion: The only way to deal with this is to make your dog more comfortable in its territory. Introduce new dogs slowly and make sure your dog has his own designated spaces to eat and relax.

Illness or Physical Pain

Certain illnesses in dogs can cause them to become destructive. These illnesses can range from innocuous ones like hyperthyroidism and heat strokes, to potentially life-threatening ones like tumors.

Since dogs have no other means of expressing their discomfort, they are likely to engage in behaviors like scratching to tell you that they are in pain. Practice paying attention.

Suggestion: This one is fairly self-explanatory. If your dog has suddenly begun scratching flooring and looks agitated while doing it, it’s time for a visit to the vet.

Separation Anxiety

Research indicates that some dogs, especially those with a traumatic past of being abandoned in shelter homes, experience extreme separation anxiety from their humans.

If you frequently return from work or grocery store runs to find your floor scratched up, chances are that your furry baby doesn’t like the fact that you are gone. The scratching is just a way for the dog to find an outlet for its anxiety.

Suggestion: Whether you are leaving for work or returning from it, try to be as low-key as possible, so your dog learns to accept your entry and exit as normal. You could also leave clothes that contain your scent to comfort your dog in your absence.

If all else fails, you could always consult your vet and try some mild tranquilizers.

Lack of Enrichment

This is more of a breed-specific behavior. If your dog belongs to a large and energetic breed—like a German Shepherd or Golden Retriever—and they are frequently stuck at home, they are most likely bored.

When dogs do not find an outlet for pent-up energy, they tend to engage in ‘nuisance behavior’ like excessive vocalization and digging of carpets or flooring.

Suggestion: When you decide to bring a dog into your life, it falls on you to spend quality time with the animal, no matter how busy you might be. Set aside at least 30 minutes every day to play and socialize with your dog.

Changes in Routine

Newly adopted puppies might fall into a habit of scratching the floors of their new houses, especially in the days immediately following adoption.

An obvious reason for this is the massive change in the environment of the puppy—going from a shelter full of dogs and lively noises to a house that is most likely completely free of noise, especially at night.

Suggestion: It takes anywhere between a few days to weeks for a shelter puppy to find its new environment safe and comforting. Be patient with them. However, if the issue persists, it might be time to see an animal behaviorist.

Seeking Attention

This one might seem funny at first glance, but is quite tricky to get rid of. It could be a possibility that you have, somehow, accidentally taught your dog that floor scratching equals attention from the human.

You might not have meant for this to happen. But dogs are simple animals, and when you yell at them for scratching your carpet, the most logical association that their brains make is—scratching = attention.

Suggestion: Since this is a learned behavior, and one of positive association, you are going to have to entice your dog with something equally or more attractive than your attention, like treats or playtime.

Lack of Grooming

Sometimes, instead of a deep-seated behavioral issue, the reason for your dog’s scratching can simply be that their nails need trimming. This one’s on you, dog parent.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that your dog’s nails shouldn’t touch the floor when they are standing. If they are, and your dog is scratching the floor, they are just trying to finish what you forgot to do—trim their nails.

Suggestion: Your pooch needs an impeccable paw care routine, one that you need to stick to as religiously as your salon appointments. If you can afford it, professional dog groomers are a great idea. If you can’t, try these paw care tips by WebMD at home.

Getting Your Dog to Stop Scratching

Dogs are complex beings with their own thoughts and motivations. What might appear as ‘problem behavior’ to you might be a coping mechanism on your dog’s part.

The key is to take it slow—narrow down the cause of your dog’s scratching and work together to resolve the issue. Here’s the game plan, and it’s going to be detailed.

Investigate

Closely observe your dog and identify any changes that might be triggering the scratching behavior. Try to narrow down possible reasons for the scratching—whether it is a response to anxiety or boredom or discomfort.

Dog Proof

The easiest solution is, of course, to replace expensive carpeting or flooring in your house with alternatives that you don’t mind seeing scratches on. You could also try out carpets and mats specially created to engage dogs.

Distract

Use the fact that dogs are easily distracted to your advantage. Whenever you notice them pawing at the floor, redirect their energy to something more exciting, like playing fetch, followed by a treat.

This trick, however, needs a word of caution. If you give your dog a treat every time they scratch the floor, they might link the two activities and redouble their scratching. To avoid this, only dispense the treat a few minutes after your dog stops scratching.

Eliminate Stressors

If your dog is anxious, it is best to identify the cause of the stressor in their immediate environment. It could be the loud booms of firecrackers or your neighbor’s lawnmower.

If you can’t make the noises stop, shut your doors and windows so that your dog doesn’t have to bear the full brunt of these noises.

Reward, Don’t Punish

Keep in mind that while floor scratching is a minor inconvenience for you, it might be the manifestation of extreme distress in your dog.

While training, practice a reward based, positive reinforcement approach instead of a punishment-based approach. The former has been shown to make dogs happier, while the latter just adds to their stress.

Training

If you think your dog’s scratching tendencies might be behavioral, and nothing you try seems to be working, it might be time to link up with a licensed dog trainer or behaviorist.

Also Read: Why Do Dogs Spin In Circles When Excited?

Ending Notes

Living with a dog who you adore, but who also makes life difficult for you, can be a challenging and frustrating experience. However, as with any other family member, the key is to exercise patience and show your pooch a whole lot of love.

Your dog might be uncomfortable, bored or simply in pain. Observe, identify behavioral triggers and work patiently towards a resolution. Chances are that this obstacle will turn into a bonding opportunity for you and your dog.