Why Do Dogs Scratch the Ground After Defecating?

Cuteness may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
A little girl walking her dog on the grass in a park.
Image Credit: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When you pick up after your pup, you may get hit by a projectile of flying grass or a clod of dirt as he enthusiastically scratches the ground after he poops. It's annoying, particularly if he's kicking around in your garden or leaving pits in your lawn, however it's natural behavior for him. Scratching the ground after defecating is your dog's way of saying "I was here."

Why All the Fuss?

Your dog isn't too concerned with cleaning up after himself when he poops, nor does he care much about covering his tracks. As a matter of fact, he's all about letting everyone know he's been on the scene. When your dog kicks and scratches the ground after he poops, he's not wiping his feet off; instead, he's putting an exclamation point on his work, marking the spot as his territory.

Scented Paws

There's more than padding on your dog's paw. His paw pads contain scent glands that secrete pheromones. When your dog scratches, paws or kicks the ground, he's leaving a trail. The scratches in the ground serve as a visual statement while the scent of feces and urine provide olfactory clues. As your dog scrapes and scratches, his paw pads release their scent into the ground to further designate the spot as taken. That line of pheromones leads right to your dog's waste.

Everyone Does It

It's not just your dog who kicks up his heels after he's taken care of business. His canine cousins -- wolves, foxes and dingoes -- also scratch the dirt after their work is done. Scratching is not just for the members of the family Canidae; male deer scrape the ground and bear scratch on tree trunks to leave their scents.

Scratch and Circle

Chances are, when you go out on your daily stroll with your pup, he doesn't immediately get to work. Instead, there's likely a bit of sniffing and walking about as he searches for the right spot to make his mark. In addition to scratching and kicking after urinating and defecating, a dog may go around in circles before he settles down to business. Though it's not exactly known why dogs engage in this behavior, the University of California Santa Barbara ScienceLine offers several theories about circling behavior. The dog may be hearkening back to his wild roots, attempting to "tamp down" the spot for pooping or keeping an eye open for predators. He also may be trying to gauge what other deposits have been made there before or positioning his waste for maximum effect.