Digging—like barking, sniffing, and tail wagging—is typical dog behavior. Depending on the strength of your dog’s prey drive, digging can be a relatively harmless activity (perhaps resulting in a dirty dog who needs a bath or it could lead to digging under the fence and a possible escape.
Perhaps you’ve only witnessed the extent of your dog’s “digging” in bedding or cushions before taking a nap; maybe your pup turns into The Digging-est Dog when he’s outside, leaving holes and craters all over the yard.
Digging is a classic canine instinct, which is why some breeds such as Terriers and Dachshunds were specifically bred for following prey into underground dens and tunnels and hunting small game such as rodents. If you want to get Fido to stop digging, you first need to understand why he’s doing it.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
Dogs dig for a variety of reasons. Some common explanations for digging are:
To find prey. If your yard is infested with pests such as moles and groundhogs, your pooch is more likely to dig around your yard since, naturally, he wants to find the culprit that he keeps smelling and hearing.
To cool off. When it’s hot outside, your dog may dig a spot to lie down and cool off. This is especially common in dogs with thick coats who prefer cold weather.
To bury belongings… and to find them again. Some dogs like to bury treasures to keep them in a safe space for later. Sometimes, finding those buried treasures later requires some extra digging to remember where they were hidden.
To escape, or explore. After all, digging under a fence is generally more feasible than jumping over it. An especially adventurous dog may be prone to wandering at any chance he gets, and some dogs may make some escape attempts as a result of separation anxiety.
To relieve stress or anxiety. Digging can be a way to distract from anxiety, and to release some of that pent-up energy.
To create a safe space. Dogs are naturally den animals, and may be trying to create a shelter to retreat to when he feels stressed.
- To cure boredom. Some dogs simply dig because it’s fun and entertaining. This could be a sign that your pup isn’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation, and needs another outlet.
How to Stop Your Dog from Digging
It’s not easy to completely counter a dog’s instincts. Before focusing purely on how to stop your dog’s bad habit, take some time to figure out the reason (or reasons) behind his digging. Is he feeling bored or anxious? Are there too many pests in the yard?
Regardless of your dog’s reason for digging, there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of turning your yard into an absolute mess:
Make sure your pup is physically and mentally stimulated. Regular exercise is important, but leaving Fido out in the yard to run around alone isn’t necessarily fun for him. After all, he wants to spend time with his favorite person: you. Go for regular walks together, and/or take some time each day to learn some new tricks.
- Rotate the toys that you keep in the yard so the novelty doesn’t wear off. Every so often, replace a toy with something your pooch hasn’t seen in a while—it’ll be like he’s reuniting with an old friend, and the likelihood of boredom-induced digging will decrease.
Especially in warm temperatures, make sure there’s a cool, shady place in the yard with access to water. Allow plenty of opportunities for Fido to cool off. For some, this may mean bringing him inside every so often.
Instead of giving your dog the attention he may be seeking from digging, redirect him to another activity. Use positive reinforcement such as treats and affection whenever he successfully shifts his attention from digging to something else.
Don’t confine your dog in the yard alone for extended periods of time. Even if he has plenty of room to run around, he’s still going to want social interaction with you, and possibly other dogs. Supplement your dog’s yard time with regular walks or park play-sessions to switch up the scenery.
Don’t punish your dog for digging. Instead, focus on addressing the reason why he’s digging. Obedience training doesn’t work if the behavior isn’t caused by disobedience.
- Don’t use toxic products to remove potential prey from your yard. If it’s toxic to other animals, it could be toxic to your dog.
Depending on your dog’s specific needs and behaviors, you may need to take some extra steps into consideration to put a stop to his problematic digging. Some suggestions include:
Crate training. Contrary to popular misconception, crate training is not a cruel confinement method. Instead, it creates a safe space for your dog when he’s feeling anxious, so he doesn’t resort to digging to relieve anxiety or create his own earthy “crate.”
Creating a designated digging zone, such as a sandbox. You’ll need to take some time to make it clear to your pooch which spots are okay for digging, and which ones aren’t.
Turn your dog’s instincts to run, chase, and dig into something constructive with agility courses. Consider a DIY backyard agility course for some extra bonding time along with mental and physical stimulation.
Take some extra measures to make your fence extra secure, especially if your dog is prone to escape attempts. This could include burying chicken wire at the base and setting large rocks along the bottom, or investing in a chain-link fence.
- Deterring the desire to dig by placing citrus peels, cayenne, or vinegar (or anything else that smells unpleasant to a pup) near the common dig spots. You could also try planting some thorny bushes to keep your canine away, or installing a motion-sensor sprinkler system in common problem areas in your yard.
For furry friends who dig as a result of anxiety, Pet Honesty’s Hemp Calming Chews use natural ingredients to calm anxious dogs.