Why do Dogs Scratch at the Doormat or Dig Holes?

Why do Dogs Scratch at the Doormat?

Thankfully, my three-year-old Clumberdoodle, Bentley, has never been a great digger, so most of my garden is as I have laid it out. But my friend has a garden that is just not safe to walk in, especially at night because her dog is a digger! Not only does he dig up her yard, but he also paws away at her carpet and front door mat. She and I decided to find out why some dogs dig holes and why do dogs scratch at the doormat?

Why do Dogs Scratch at the Doormat
Image: Public Domain, pixabay.com

Why do dogs dig?

Depending on who you ask you may get a reply like “it’s what dogs do.” I’m not sure I agree with this, so I did some homework and found that there are several reasons why your dog digs up the garden or the doormat.

It really is what dogs do

When dogs were wild, they had to dig into animal burrows to catch their prey. Otherwise, they would starve. So, there is some truth in the statement that it is just what dogs do. He may also dig to bury a bone or favorite toy. Many dogs will forget that they have hidden their treasure and never come back to it, but he has dug his hole to keep something safe.

He’s marking his territory

Dogs have glands on the pads of their feet which give off a smell for other dogs to recognize. When your dog scratches, the scent becomes stronger and more pronounced, making it known that the dog has staked out his space and he uses it to warn other dogs that they are entering his area.

Too much energy

Your dog may start to show this type of digging behavior if he is not getting as much exercise as he needs. He has all this unused energy and needs an outlet. Unfortunately, this is where your garden or doormat comes into the picture.

You may want to increase his walk time or play some extra games with him. Mental games also tire a dog out so don’t forget about those. Whatever you can do to tire him out will mean less wear and tear in your garden and house.

A good saying here – and I have found this to be true with Bentley – is that a tired dog is a good dog. The more I can tire him out, the less likely he is to adopt destructive behaviors – and that’s a good thing.

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Fear and anxiety

Some dogs display this sort of behavior because they are scared. Fireworks and storms can have this effect and make your pooch run to dig a hole or rip up the doormat.

Taking this a step further, if he only does this when you go out and leave him, then we may be talking about separation anxiety, which is something that you may want to ask for help from a professional trainer so that you can break the habit and make him a little more comfortable at home.

He may be ill

Believe it or not, there are some illnesses which will have your dog scratching at the doormat or digging holes. A thyroid imbalance, for example, may have your dog displaying destructive behaviors.

Brain tumors can also show up in abnormal behavior patterns. If you suspect a medical issue may be the cause, you should first make a note of the frequency of the behavior, and then take your findings along with your pooch to your vet so that it can be confirmed and treated.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A dog can develop OCD for several reasons, one of them being that he feels he is confined too much, or he is exposed to a stressful environment. He may also show destructive behavior if he is poorly trained or not socialized.

If this is the case, then the pattern becomes a habit which gets hard to break. Your dog does not realize that what he is doing in your garden is due to other influences. This may also show up as pacing, trying to hump you all the time, licking the same spot again and again, and scratching the doormat.

If you suspect OCD might be the reason for your dog’s behavior, you should seek help. A professional will help you and your pup deal with these issues and, hopefully, save your garden!

So, what do we do about this?

What is important here is that you do not get angry with your pooch – even though you are hopping mad!

If you are with him when he heads off towards the doormat, make a noise of some sort to distract him. Blow a whistle, say a sharp word, use a clicker, anything which will break his focus on the doormat and distract him. Don’t scare him, just take his attention away from the object.

You could try to remove the object of his attention. If the doormat is where he naturally heads, try placing it elsewhere or having it outside where he cannot get it.

If your dog’s tendency is to dig, take his lead and go for a walk. Even a short walk will distract him and get him to focus on something different.

An alternative could be to make him a place in your yard where he can dig to his heart’s content. Bury a few of his toys (not too deep) and encourage him to find them.

Once your pooch knows that he is permitted to dig in a specific spot, it will be less stressful for him, and what is left of your garden can be replanted!


“Why do Dogs Scratch at the Doormat or Dig Holes?”

Guest WriterValerie Holyoak (see BIO below) 

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2 thoughts on “Why do Dogs Scratch at the Doormat or Dig Holes?”

  1. Yes my dog is always digging my door mat. I am thinking of changing it because I thought there might be some scent that is bothering him. Maybe his scent is not strong enough so he’s trying to reinforce it hmmmm


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