Your pup may be your best friend, but that may not be enough to keep them from digging up your expensive sprinkler heads or prize flower beds. Not all dogs are diggers, but those that are can be hard to stop. We’ll go over some of the primary reasons that dogs like to dig, as well as provide some suggestions for keeping them from doing it.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
There’s no single reason why dogs dig—many factors influence whether a particular dog engages in digging behavior. For example, some dogs start out more likely to dig than others. According to Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer and pet lifestyle expert with Rover, “Digging is part of being a dog, like sniffing or barking. Some breeds are actually bred to dig as part of their job.”
However, not all digging breeds will dig, and not all dogs with a digging habit happen to be of these breeds. Sometimes dogs dig holes with a specific purpose, like hiding something. The cartoon trope of a dog burying a bone to dig up later is around for a reason. Similarly, your dog might be looking for a cooler surface than the sun-baked ground in hot weather. Freshly turned dirt and sand may be more comfortable to lie on.
One often-overlooked cause of digging is simple boredom. “While you may be walking your dog, this is often not enough for most breeds,” says Ellis. “They need mental and physical enrichment, and hence your dog has given himself (or herself) the job of digging.” Many working breeds were specifically created to be intelligent, independent, and energetic; they can simply get bored if left in your yard or home for long periods with nothing to do.
The digging itself may be satisfying, which is why some dogs do it on couches or carpets. Alternatively, a bored dog may be trying to escape the confines of a yard to find something to do. Dogs with a strong prey drive may want to chase small animals they see outside the fence, and dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered may be seeking a mate.
Finally, some dogs may dig out of anxiety. It can be attention-seeking behavior, even if the attention it gets is negative. For example, if your dog has separation anxiety or you’re not spending much time with them, they may start digging as a way to relieve that anxiety or force you to pay attention. Figuring out why your dog is displaying digging behavior can help you control it.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Digging?
There are three main ways to stop digging behavior from being a nuisance:
- Attempt to identify and fix the reason behind the behavior.
- Restrict access to the digging area.
- Create a special place where it’s OK for them to dig. This is where knowing the motivation behind the digging will come in handy.
Addressing the Cause of the Digging
If your dog is digging for a specific reason, you can attempt to meet their needs another way. For example, if you see your dog lying in the dirt or hole they just dug on a hot day, they may need a cool spot to sit.
Make sure they have adequate shade and water, and consider investing in a dog house or an outdoor dog bed that sits up off the ground. Whenever possible, bring them in out of the heat before they resort to digging.
Likewise, if your dog has a reason to want to leave your yard, work on reducing incentives to get out. If your dog isn’t spayed or neutered—which all adult dogs should be unless their owner is an experienced, professional breeder—getting this procedure done may greatly reduce digging as an attempt to seek a mate. If your dog is tunneling into the ground to go after critters like moles or groundhogs, talk to a pest control service about removing these animals.
Digging caused by anxiety and boredom can often be reduced by giving your dog more physical and mental stimulation. This could be as simple as extending your daily walk or playing a bit of catch with a frisbee. Remember to give your dog’s brain a workout, too. Engage in dog training to teach them some new tricks, or give them a new and interesting puzzle chew toy with treats inside. Make sure to rotate dog toys every few days to keep things fresh. They may be less likely to dig with something interesting to focus on.
Working off excess energy can do wonders for reducing destructive dog behavior. However, if you remove sources of anxiety and boredom and the digging persists, consider speaking to a dog trainer or a canine behaviorist. They may be able to give you suggestions specific to your dog’s situation.
Unfortunately, if your dog is a digging breed or if they’re just committed to the cause, nothing may stop the behavior entirely. According to Dr. Crista Coppola, a certified dog behaviorist for SeniorTailWaggers, “Not a lot of tools will help prevent digging other than restricting their access to the areas where they are digging.” Indoors, this may mean keeping them away from the good furniture, carpet, or other digging spots.
Outdoors, you have a few more options for blocking off the digging area of your yard. Depending on how large the spot is, you could bury chicken wire or place large rocks on top of the digging area. However, your dog may simply move to another spot in your yard.
At the very least, you can put obstacles along the fence line to prevent your dog from tunneling to freedom. One common method is to have chain-link fencing extend a foot or more underground to block all but the most committed diggers.
Some dog owners attempt to use a scent-based repellent, like cayenne pepper, to keep their dog away from a particular spot, but this typically has limited effectiveness. Dr. Coppola goes on to say, “Sometimes sprinkling ground pepper into the ground will deter a dog from digging in a specific location, but it is most effective when combined with restricted access.”
Other owners try burying dog poop in the holes, assuming dogs don’t want to dig up their own feces, but this is usually ineffective.
Creating a Doggy Digging Zone
If you have a dog that loves to dig and can’t be dissuaded, the American Kennel Club recommends redirecting the behavior to a less destructive area. Set up a spot in your yard where your dog knows it’s OK to dig.
This can be an area of loose sand or soil or even a child’s sandbox. You can bury desirable items such as bones and toys for your dog to find. Make sure you praise your dog for digging there. If you find them digging elsewhere, stop them with a loud noise like a firm “no” and take them immediately to the digging zone.
What Breeds Are More Inclined to Dig?
As we’ve already mentioned, some dog breeds are more prone to digging than others. Daniel Caughill, a co-founder of The Dog Tale, says, “Many breeds have a long history of digging up small prey, such as rabbits, rats, and moles, from their underground tunnels. This means most terrier breeds are more inclined to dig up your yard.” Cairn terriers, miniature schnauzers, Westies, and Jack Russell terriers all routinely show up on lists of breeds most likely to dig.
Dachshunds, too, were originally bred specifically to hunt burrowing animals like rabbits, foxes, and badgers. To get to their prey, they’d often have to dig into the ground. Scent hounds like bloodhounds, basset hounds, and beagles also like to follow their noses to track their game underground.
Additionally, breeds that are better adapted to cold weather like Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and chow-chows may dig to get out of the heat. Huskies are also notorious escape artists who may be looking for a way out of your yard. Finally, exceptionally smart and high-energy breeds like border collies may resort to digging out of boredom and lack of exercise.
When Is Digging a Sign of a Health Problem?
Most of the time, digging is a nuisance, but it’s not a reason for concern for your dog’s health. However, if your dog starts digging all of a sudden, it’s worth thinking about. Is there a reason why your dog might be more anxious now? Life changes for you, including a new baby or a change in job that has you working longer hours, can affect your dog, as well.
However, if you can’t pinpoint a cause for a sudden behavior change, there may be a concrete physical reason behind it. For example, a formerly docile dog that suddenly begins acting aggressively or fearfully may be experiencing pain, even if it isn’t limping or otherwise showing obvious signs of pain. Likewise, dogs who suddenly become clumsy and walk in circles may be experiencing brain inflammation or even a stroke.
Not all behavior changes have a medical cause. However, it’s still worth talking to your vet about any sudden changes in behavior, including increased lethargy, a change in weight or appetite, excessive panting, fear, or aggression.
Digging isn’t known to be a symptom of a specific health problem, but it’s always worth running concerns by your vet. If you have pet insurance, you can be reimbursed for exam fees, tests, and medications if your dog is diagnosed with an illness or has suffered an injury.
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Stopping a dog from digging isn’t a simple matter since digging is often a deeply instinctual behavior for dogs. However, by paying attention to the causes of the digging and putting some effort into redirecting the behavior, you can often at least ensure that your dog is happy and your yard’s landscaping stays minimally disturbed.