By The Farmer's Dog | February 2, 2022

The Farmer’s Dog customer Sarah D Asks: “Why does my dog randomly ‘dig’ in the carpet and not necessarily before he lays down or anything?” 

Great question! Dogs dig for all kinds of different reasons. At its root (!), digging is an ingrained behavior. Putting claw to earth served a purpose in the wild for our pets’ ancestors who dug to look for and cache food, or to make a den or a cool spot to lie down. Many dogs were bred to hunt creatures below ground and to flush them out of their subterranean burrows. 

So, all dogs have the potential for these kinds of ingrained behaviors, but not all dogs will actually act on them.  Something will trigger the act, and then your dog will continue to do it because it feels good.

Many behaviorists agree that digging around bedtime is likely related to nesting behavior—simply making the safest, most comfortable place to lie down. But if digging is unrelated to lying down, as it the case here, it could mean any number of things.

With their exceptionally sensitive noses, dogs may perceive smells or errant food particles buried in carpet fibers. If they’re digging in the same place all the time, it could be worth investigating whether there’s something under the carpet or floorboards (like, heaven forbid, mice or other critters).

If they’re the burying type, your dog may also be looking to “store” an item for later.

Digging inside could also be a way of getting cool—some dogs seek relief from the heat outdoors by digging into the dirt and instinct may be driving them to do the same in the living room.

If your dog is excited about something that’s happening around them, or they’re being prevented from doing something they want to do, digging may be what’s known as a displacement behavior. They are using the digging to release energy or frustration.

They may also be digging out of anxiety or boredom; make note if they’re doing it constantly or obsessively or at times that may be associated with anxiety (when you are getting ready to leave, for example).

Relatedly, another reason that dogs do things is that we give them attention for doing it. Your dog may have learned that digging earns laughs, or pets, or other kinds of attention, and so repeats the behavior.

If it’s a more random, occasional behavior, and you’ve ruled out some of the above explanations, it may be that they simply enjoy it. If your dogs are among those who derive pleasure from ground-scratching, they may also like digging the carpet.

Before taking steps to reduce or prevent it, try to discover the root cause.

Look at the context—has any food been consumed near the digging area? Is it hot out? Does the digging happen in the same spot, or is it triggered by any action you’re taking? How often are they doing it? Does other body language indicate any stress (tucked tail, excessive licking or yawning)?

Depending on what’s driving it, and if it’s a too-frequent occurrence, you can take the appropriate steps to reduce or ward off the behavior.

If you’ve ruled out other causes and think the digging is anxiety, or boredom related, there are steps you can take to work through it. Our article on separation anxiety has some great tips and is a great place to start. If the behavior is persistent, do consult a trainer or vet to zero in on any mental or physical issues that may be driving it.

And whatever the source of the digging, mental enrichment and exercise are always a good idea. Add in some brain-taxing games, some exciting new things to chew, and/or an hour of tiring exercise to burn energy and relieve stress. Your dog may be less likely to engage in destructive digging, and the added stimulation will have positive effects beyond that carpet-shredding behavior.