As pet owners, we love sharing our homes with our beloved dogs, but why do some dogs dig when they are on the couch? Canine vs. couch conflict is a challenge that many dog owners know well.
There are ten reasons that your dog may dig on the couch:
- Marking territory
- Release energy
- Seeking safety when anxious
- Searching for lost snacks
- It may be hiding toys
- It may be a habit
- Fleas may be a problem
- Instinctive den digging
- It may be a breed characteristic
Understanding why your dog digs on the couch and knowing how to remedy the problem go hand in hand. Fortunately, there are solutions, and with patience and some practical tips, you can keep your dog happy and your couch safe.
Why Do Dogs Dig on the Couch?
We love our dogs, but the familiar scratching sound of claws on the living room sofa seat is enough to jangle anyone’s nerves. Regular scratching on the soft surface is sure to cause damage, so it is essential to put a stop to this behavior.
At the onset, it is essential to note that overreacting or punishing the dog will not solve the problem. In fact, any sudden attention you give the dog while it is digging on the couch may be interpreted as reinforcement which may cause it to repeat the behavior.
The best first response is always to stay calm and observe what is happening. Check where the dog’s attention is focused while it is digging so you can gather clues about what is causing this behavior.
There are lots of reasons that your dog may be digging on the couch, and if you know why, you may be able to solve the issue instantly. It may be something as simple as a snack that has fallen into the back of the sofa, and your pooch is trying to retrieve it.
The top of a sofa offers a soft, familiar, tactile surface that is easy and comfortable to dig. Dogs that are frequent couch diggers probably also display this activity on other soft surfaces like carpets and outside in soft soil.
Couch digging is a commonly observed behavior that has several possible root causes. Let’s go through these and then discuss ways to redirect this energy in a more couch-friendly way so that your best friend will continue to have fun and wag his tail.
1 – Couch Digging May Be Territory Marking
While you may only notice your dog scratching up your sofa, your dog is innocently telling you how much he loves it and is making it his own. Dogs also do this with their beds or other favorite areas.
Dogs have scent glands under their paw pads that create their own particular mark of ownership while rubbing. Don’t worry; there is no noticeable smell that a human would be able to detect, but other dogs will instantly know that the sofa has been claimed.
2 – The Couch Digging May Be Releasing Energy
Much like young children, some dogs can become overexcited and need an energy release valve. Sometimes just the anticipation about a daily walk or hearing their favorite person coming home will send them into a spurt of enthusiastic super-activity.
Frantic happy couch diggers often wag their tails and look about while digging. The eager dog is simply not able to contain its excitement and may also run around, jump onto the couch, dig a few times, run around again and repeat in a flurry of anticipation.
This hyperactivity digging is especially common in younger dogs, especially those that spend a lot of time indoors. The excited agitation needs expression, and unfortunately, that may be on the couch.
3 – Dogs May Dig to Seek Safety When Anxious
A couch is a soft, warm surface. If your dog is feeling scared or anxious, it may begin digging and circling on the sofa in an agitated way, almost like it is trying to dig itself inside to hide.
Keep in mind that domestic dogs evolved from wild ancestors who lived in dens, and they would need to scratch the ground to make it softer or create shelter. If your dog digs on the couch when a storm is approaching or during loud activity, it is trying to stay safe.
This type of couch digging is usually marked by a lowered tail, hunched posture, and sometimes cowering. The dog looks like it is trying to make itself smaller and get the couch to swallow it up.
4 – Dogs May Couch Dig to Look for Lost Snacks
Sometimes there is a highly reasonable explanation for why your dog may be digging on the couch. It is simply trying to retrieve some delicious morsel that has fallen down the back or between the cushions.
While you might have forgotten about the crumbs or popcorn that dropped on the couch during an exciting movie, its scent will be calling your dog like a thousand sirens. Dogs can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans, so even the smallest flake of a dropped cookie will need to be retrieved and consumed by your dog.
5 – Boredom or Separation Anxiety May Cause Digging
Dogs don’t just need food and love; they also need exercise and mental stimulation. If they become bored, dogs may start to engage in destructive activities and rip things apart simply to have something to do.
If you notice that your dog only damages the sofa while you are out, it is probably stressed because you are leaving or getting bored while you are out. Be sure to provide plenty of reassurance when you go as well as stimulation activities like a classic Kong treat-filled toy to keep them happily entertained and busy while you are out.
6 – A Dog May Dig on the Couch to Hide Toys
Some dogs instinctively try to hide things that they value. That is why you may find well-loved dog toys scattered all over the house and even hidden in your bedding as your pup tries to save its things for later.
The deep area behind and between the sofa cushions may be a perfect spot for your dog to be able to stash its treasures inside the house. If you notice your dog digging on the couch while holding one of its toys in its mouth, it is probably looking for a good spot to hide it.
7 – Couch-digging May Be a Habit
It is not just humans that learn from one another. Dogs also learn and mimic one another, especially when new dogs are in the home or puppies. They often pick up habits from the more established animals.
While you may not have noticed or been too perturbed by occasional small couch digging motions from your tiny Chihuahua, it may become a problem when a new large-breed puppy starts to mimic it.
If you adopt an older dog, be aware that it may also come with some pre-learned habits, which will take some patience to re-train. Take precautions like keeping your couch covered for a few weeks while they settle.
8 – Fleas May Cause a Dog to Dig on the Couch
Fleas can drive anyone crazy and make even the calmest soul act frantic. If you notice your usually calm dog scratching and digging on the top of the couch, check that neither the dog nor the couch has any irritating fleas lurking.
Even if you only suspect that there might be a flea involved, it is best to take immediate and swift action. Once fleas gain a foothold in furniture and carpets, it can be tricky to eradicate them quickly.
Keeping fleas at bay can be done effectively by regularly vacuuming all carpets and soft furnishings. Use a natural product like diatomaceous earth or another pet-friendly flea treatment to apply as a dust coating to areas below the couch cushions and below the sofa.
9 – Couch Digging May Be Instinctive Den Digging
If your dog is digging on the sofa before settling down for a nap, it is in all likelihood doing it because of natural instinct. Wild dogs often make a spot cozier to sleep by circling, digging, or scratching a few soft materials together.
No matter how pampered and groomed some of our domesticated canines may be, many of them still carry some pretty strong wild dog instincts. You may have noticed that besides a few quick scratches to the surface, some dogs may also repeatedly circle before lying down.
If your dog is expecting puppies and she starts digging on the couch or some other soft surface like a bed, know that she will give birth soon. Maternal instinct may kick in, and a dog that has never been a couch digger before may dig to create a soft, safe, and warm place to make a nest for her puppies.
10 – Some Breeds Dig More Than Others
If your dog seems determined to dig on every surface it can find, including the couch, do some research on its breed. Keep in mind that many dog breeds were selectively bred for a specific purpose, and terriers and some other small dogs were specifically bred to ‘go to ground.’
This natural digging characteristic was a major plus factor when these dogs were used to root out critters below the ground. Modern-day Earthdog trials still test the ability of some breeds to hunt and retrieve prey from underground.
Some larger Northern breeds like Huskies would naturally dig a spot out of the snow to lie down. Besides just trying to create a hole instinctively, these fluffy breeds may also be looking for a cooler below-surface place to take a nap.
How to Stop Your Dog from Digging on the Couch
The first step to re-training a dog that digs on the couch is to protect your surfaces. Training is not going to be a quick process, so it is best to keep it covered to prevent further damage to the couch.
Add a few thick blankets to the surface of the couch and tuck them in at the back. Some pet owners simply train their dogs to stay at ground level and offer them comfortable alternatives to the sofa.
Provide other comfortable bedding, blankets, and toys at ground level in a place where the dog will still feel like part of the family. After all, one of the reasons your dog loves the couch is probably to be close to his people.
However, most of us love sharing our couch with our 4-legged friends, so before you begin any re-training, determine the root cause of the digging behavior. Stopping the behavior may be as simple as retrieving a long-forgotten piece of jerky that fell into the couch cushions.
If your dog couch-digs because of anxiety or fear, provide a few quiet, safe spots where it can retreat and feel protected. Offer it plenty of love and reassurance.
Some dogs love to dig and bury things. This may be a strong natural instinct, and the best you can do is redirect the behavior. Providing a sandbox or making a space in the garden where it can dig, bury and retrieve items will go a long way to ensuring that your dog stays happy and stimulated.
If you don’t have a suitable outdoor space, you can keep your digging dog entertained and happy rummaging by creating a dog-accessible box filled with shredded newspaper or cloth towels. Stick with safe items that the dog can safely rummage through to find treats or hide its treasures. Don’t include anything that can be easily swallowed, like lost socks.
When you catch your dog digging on the couch, immediately distract it. The aim is to stop the behavior and redirect it to a more positive activity. Don’t frighten it, or you may end up with a fearful dog.
Call the pet’s name, distract it, and engage it in unrelated activities. Do not do anything that will reinforce the digging, and the dog should not learn that it will get attention if it digs on the couch.
If you have a determined couch digger that you want to discourage, you can try the following:
- place a plastic carpet runner on top of the couch with the nub side facing up.
- Use a pet repellent spray on the sofa.
- Use couch covers on the top of the sofa, which will protect the couch and still look good.
- Set up dog gates so your dog can’t get to the couch when it is not supervised.
There are several possible reasons why dogs may dig on couches and other soft furnishings. These can range from natural instinct to boredom.
Figuring out why your dog is digging on the sofa is the most important aspect that will help you to address this challenging behavior. With understanding, patience, practical steps, and consistently redirecting the digging, you will be able to keep your couch safe from your dog’s digging behavior.
I have two Associate’s degrees, one in Medical Assisting and the other in Computer Technician, and I am roughly five classes from a bachelor’s degree. Though I never ended up working in the medical field, I have five and a half years of experience in IT. I recently became a stay-at-home mom to my two young boys, and I’m so excited to start this adventure with them! In my spare time, I love to bake and read pretty much anything I can get my hands on.