Why does my dog scratch my bed sheets? Expert insights from behavior specialists

Do the scent and style of your bed sheets drive your dog crazy? Here's how to soothe your pet and save your sheets

A dog on an ottoman at the food of a bed
(Image credit: James Merrell)

My best friend just got a new puppy, and we're both obsessed. Before she brought the pooch home, she spent hours researching dog beds, and dropped a small fortune to get her dog the very best. Turns out, it was a total waste of time: the dog sleeps best in my friend's bed, under her bed sheets. 

A lot of pet parents prefer to spend the night beside their pooch. When you open the bedroom door and allow your puppy in, you run the risk of shed hairs, soiled bedding, and scratched sheets. If you hate to see your pet in distress, but you don't like to see good sheets go to rack and ruin, you might just be at your wits' end. 

That's where I come in. As H&G's resident sleep writer, I know a thing or two about the best bed sheets. I'm here to help you find supple sheets that are strong enough to withstand muddy paws and long, sharp nails. I've consulted bedding experts and behavior specialists to get their takes on why dogs scratch sheets, and how to stop them.

Why does my dog scratch my bed sheets?

Rustic bedroom with large alcove

(Image credit: Photography Douglas Friedman/Styling Mieke ten Have)

Dogs do a lot of strange things, from barking at the mailman to chasing their own tail. To really get your pet, you'd need to be a dog whisperer, or else an animal behavior specialist, like Dr. Paola Cuevas. Paola understands why dogs might like to scratch bed sheets. 'Scratching on a surface before lying down and taking a nap is an instinctual behavior for a dog,' Paola explains. 'Their ancestors did it in their dens, and your domestic dog will carry on the tradition'. 

'Just like us, dogs have their preferred textures and smells,' says Paola. Tightly woven sheets might feel more satisfying to scratch, while more absorbent materials can better retain sweat and other smells. Paola has observed that 'certain materials, such as natural cotton, will absorb their owner's body odor better than others. This might prompt a dog to scratch that specific sheet'. 

So, maybe your pup is scratching your sheets because they love you so much. That's a nice idea, but there might be another, more distressing explanation. 'In many cases, a dog's scratching is unrelated to the sheet, and says more about their mental state,' says Paola. 'Scratching is often triggered by anxiety'.  

A picture of Dr. Paola Cuevas holding a cat.
Dr. Paola Cuevas

Paola is a veterinarian and animal behaviorist with more than 15 years of experience in the field. She offers her knowledge, insights, and expertise to the team at Dogster, an all-things-dog website dedicated to advising and educating pet parents. 

Can my dog damage my bed sheets by scratching them?

Unless your pet is particularly distressed, they're unlikely to rip your sheets from seam to seam. With that said, smaller nips could make a lot of mess over time. One little scratch might break and tangle cotton fibers, creating those tiny balls of fuzz or 'pills', which could ruin the look and feel of your sheets. 

I asked Byron Golub, Vice President of Product & Merchandising at Saatva, whether dogs could do more damage to certain types of sheets. He identified cotton as most susceptible to wear and tear: 'percale is a more robust weave among cotton options, but neither percale nor sateen is particularly suited for dog's paws and nails. There would eventually be fraying and pulls in the fabric'. 

If you aren't keen to change your cotton sheets, Byron has a few suggestions. 'Pet owners would benefit from using a duvet and cover combination instead of a comforter to protect the top of their bed,' he says. Your pet might still pierce the cotton cover, but leave the bulk of the bedding untouched. Plus, says Byron, 'duvet covers are easier to clean and, if necessary, replace'. 

If you're shopping for a new set of bed sheets, Byron recommends tight weaves and thick fibers. 'Linen threads are usually longer and thicker than other fabrics, including cotton, which makes the material highly durable,' he says. 'High-quality linen bedding can last for decades,' withstanding the nightly wear and tear of pets and people. 

Headshot of Byron Golub.
Byron Golub

Byron has worked for Saatva, the smarter luxury sleep company, for more than five years. He has intimate knowledge of Saatva's products and merchandising, and understands just how much damage scratching can do to sheets. 

You might already own a set of linen sheets. Just in case you don't, I've rounded up a few of my favorites. The best linen bed sheets combine durability and breathability. They should let scents and smells pass in and out of your sheets, so that your pet isn't attracted to particular odors.

How can I stop my dog from scratching my bed sheets?

Black bedrooom with iron headboard painted in Farrow & Ball railings

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

You might not want, or feel able to afford, a brand new set of bed sheets. After all, some of the best bedding costs hundreds of dollars, and you might not have that kind of cash lying around. 

If that sounds like you, then you're in luck: pet behavior consultant Ali Smith reckons you could make a much smaller purchase to stop your dog scratching your sheets. All you need to do, she says, is 'give your pet a productive outlet for their behavior. That could be anything from an indoor ball pit to an outdoor sandbox. Once you create an area conducive to digging to satisfy that need, your dog will be far less likely to dig your bed'. 

Top-quality toys can be hard to find. I've spent hours searching the web to bring you the best scratch posts and sandpits at the lowest prices. You might not even need to buy something new. You could repurpose your kids' old sandbox or ask your cat to share their scratch post. That way, your dog can unleash their energy, and it won't cost you a thing. 

The best and easiest way to prevent your pet from scratching your sheets is to not allow them anywhere near the bed in the first place. 'If you know your dog is a digger,' Ali says, then 'try not to leave them in your bedroom unattended'. Whether or not you can bear to part with your pooch at night, you should try to keep an eye on them during the day. 

Picture of Ali Smith in the park with her dog.
Ali Smith

Ali is a dog behavior specialist, based in Maryland. As the founder of Rebarkable, she offers affordable week-by-week training for puppies, so that pets and their parents can live in harmony at home. 

Dogs in bed FAQs

Is it OK to let your dog sleep in your bed?

There's no one right answer to this question: it depends what works for you. If you like to let your dog sleep in your bed, and their mess and movements don't bother you, then there's no need to stop sharing that comfort and companionship. With that said, I wouldn't recommend that sleepers with sensitive skin allow their pet to share their bed. All that dust, dirt and dander could aggravate your allergies in the night and leave you sneezing in the morning, 

Can dogs bring in bed bugs from outside?

It's not impossible, but it isn't likely, either. Bed bugs don't live in your yard, the way that fleas and ticks do, so you should try not to fret that your pet will bring them to bed. 

Our verdict

A dog on the Avocado Green Eco Organic Mattress.

(Image credit: Avocado Green)

Your dog might be scratching your bed sheets because they miss you, and want to smell your scent; because they're anxious, and they want to unleash their energy; or because they're bored, and they want to play. Dogs might be more likely to scratch cotton sheets, which retain sweat and smells. With that said, it should be easy to redirect your pet with a sand box or a scratch post. If all else fails, you should consider leaving your dog out of the bed, or staying with them in the bedroom. 

Emilia Hitching
Sleep Editor

Emilia is our resident sleep writer. She spends her days tracking down the lowest prices on the best bedding and spends her nights testing it out from the comfort of her own home – it's a dream job. Her quest to learn how to sleep better has taken her all around the world, from mattress factories in Arizona to sleep retreats in Scandinavia. Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford. She also worked on the other side of the aisle, writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky.