It can be incredibly frustrating when your beloved canine companion decides to start using your nice sofa as a scratching post, digging and clawing at the upholstery. But this common destructive dog behavior actually arises for several understandable reasons rooted in normal dog instincts and tendencies.
By learning what motivates and drives dogs to scratch furniture, you can better understand why the behavior occurs. This allows you to then take steps to effectively curb or prevent sofa scratching in your furry friend.
Natural Instinct to Dig and Scratch
Digging and scratching behaviors are innate tendencies built into all dogs, tracing back to their ancestral wolf roots. Wolves commonly scratch and dig at the ground to create dens to sleep and rest in, to bury food for later, to mark territories in the wild, and to generally create suitable spots for themselves in their environment. This instinctive need to dig and scratch remains strong even in highly domesticated pet dog breeds.
Scent Marking Their Territory
Dogs have scent glands located in between the pads on their paws. Scratching and digging behaviors allow them to distribute their own individual scent from these glands onto surfaces and objects within their environment. Dogs will intentionally leave their mark via scratching on sofa upholstery as a way to establish ownership, familiarity, and security with important items in their home territory.
Claiming Their Space
Related to scent marking, when dogs aggressively scratch furniture or other items, they are communicating that the scratched spot or object belongs to them and is part of their defined territory at home. Spreading their smell helps reassure them of their position and status within the household. Marking territory makes anxious dogs in particular feel more secure and confident of their space.
Self-Soothing for Stress and Anxiety
The repetitive physical motions involved with focused scratching serve as effective self-soothing, calming mechanisms for dogs who may be feeling stressed or anxious. The actions release endorphins in the body that alleviate nervous energy. Scratching or digging at the couch can signal underlying separation anxiety or environmental stress that your dog is attempting to relieve through this behavior.
Removing Physical Irritation on Hard-to-Reach Areas
Scratching furniture can also be a reaction to itchy skin, fleas, dry skin, or even joint pain or muscular itches in areas difficult for a dog to reach to scratch themselves. Rubbing and scratching the textured surface of a sofa applies pleasing pressure and leverage to parts of their body they cannot easily scratch or bite themselves.
Naturally Filing Nails
The rough texture of most sofa upholstery fabrics feels pleasing to scratch for dogs. It helps them naturally file down and blunt their nails, keeping their nails trimmed without the need forclipping. They will be attracted to sofas and other textured surfaces for nail filing purposes.
Some dogs learn that aggressively digging and scratching on furniture gets a strong scolding reaction from their owners. They then repeat the undesirable sofa scratching behaviors intentionally to gain attention, even if the attention is negative. It becomes an ingrained habit.
A lack of sufficient physical and mental exercise leads to boredom in dogs. Destructive scratching and digging provides an outlet for expending pent-up energy and relieving boredom when dogs are understimulated and home alone without more constructive activities to engage in.
Curtailing Unwanted Sofa Scratching
While scratching items in their environment is natural dog behavior, aggressively destroying sofa upholstery with scratching is of course undesirable and destructive. Here are some tips for curtailing unwanted furniture scratching:
- Provide appropriate scratching surfaces like doggie scratching posts. Redirect scratching urges to these acceptable outlets.
- Keep dog nails trimmed short to minimize damage when they do scratch.
- Use positive reinforcement and rewards when they scratch acceptable surfaces to encourage the behavior on proper scratching tools, not your sofa.
- Consider using furniture covers or double-sided tape on the sofa when away to make it unappealing to scratch.
- Limit access to the sofa using baby gates or doors when you are away and can’t monitor behavior.
- Ensure your dog gets adequate outdoor exercise and playtime to prevent boredom and restless energy.
- Consider whether anxiety issues need to be addressed by providing calming aids, training, or behavioral therapy.
With patience, consistency and by addressing the underlying motivations, you can curb or eliminate undesirable sofa scratching behaviors for a more harmonious home.