Does your dog fancy himself as an earth removal specialist? In plain English, does he love to dig holes the size of the Grand Canyon in your backyard? Many dogs go through phases when they love to dig. Some dogs, such as Dachshunds and terriers are digging fools. Digging is in their DNA. Maybe your dog, with his keen nose and hearing, knows that there’s a tiny critter just under the surface of the grass and if he digs deep enough he can catch that varmint!
Why do dogs dig?
Digging is a natural behavior for dogs even if most of us find the holes in our yard unsightly – not to mention dangerous at times. Your dog’s ancestors would dig elaborate underground dens for safety so they could whelp their litters and keep them warm. Even today many female dogs have the urge to dig before they have puppies.
Dogs will also dig to bury bones and other tasty morsels, or even toys. With food items, dogs don’t mind if bones and meat do a little aging underground. They share this trait with their wolf relatives and some other large predators who will bury a kill and return to it later.
In some cases dogs can also dig because they are bored or anxious. If your dog spends a lot of time outside and he doesn’t have toys or another dog for entertainment, he might start digging to amuse himself.
Dogs will also dig under bushes or trees because these places offer cool spots in the shade when it’s hot and they can be warm and cozy when it’s cold. Even if you provide your dog with a deluxe dog house or he spends most of his time indoors, he may follow his instincts and dig himself a comfy hole for a nap.
In the case of breeds like terriers and Dachshunds, they have been bred for hundreds of years to seek out underground prey such as vermin. If your terrier suspects you have rodents underground, he could easily dig up your entire yard.
How to stop the digging
Since digging is an instinctual behavior for dogs, it can be difficult to stop, especially if it’s become a habit. If possible, you should try to stop the digging behavior as soon as you begin to notice it so your dog won’t become too addicted to it.
One way to stop your dog from digging is to distract him whenever he starts to dig. To do this you need to watch him each time he goes outside. When you see him begin to dig you should be prepared to do something to get his attention so he will stop thinking about digging. Many people like to use a shaker can full of pennies. You can shake the can to get his attention. Then follow up by getting him involved in a behavior that’s more acceptable. You can start playing with him, throw a ball for him, or run through some basic obedience commands that you are sure he knows. The idea is to get his mind off digging and do something fun. Be sure to reward him while playing with him so he knows that when you get his attention it’s a good thing. Sometimes all you need to do is toss some treats to the ground so he has to look around for them.
Provide your dog with his own digging area
Since digging can be hard to stop, you can also try to control it. You can do this by providing your dog with his own digging area where it’s acceptable for him to dig. This is an old method but it works for many dogs. You can use landscape beams or bricks to set off a part of your yard that’s only for your dog’s digging area. Fill it with material that your dog enjoys digging in such as sand, mulch, or peat moss. (Most people use sand.) Then place some of your dog’s favorite things in the zone such as some of his toys. Take time to lead him to the area and dig with him. Make sure he starts to find some of his toys. You might sprinkle a few treats on the surface of the area at first to make it more appealing. From that point, whenever you see your dog start to dig somewhere else in your yard, lead him over to his own special area so he can dig there. Make sure you maintain the area so it will stay appealing to your dog.
Teach your dog the “Leave it” command
Teaching your dog the “Leave it” command can be another good way to discourage digging. With this command, the dog learns to drop or stop whatever he’s doing and come to you. You can teach the command by rewarding your dog for ignoring something (such as the hole he’s digging) and then gradually asking him to turn away and avoid the thing you want him to “leave.” This command can be useful for many things such as if your dog is about to eat something dangerous on the sidewalk, for example. But it can also work to get your dog to avoid digging, at least in theory.
Provide your dog with plenty of mental stimulation
Since some dogs do dig out of boredom, make sure your dog has plenty of toys and fun things to do whether he’s indoors or outdoors. It’s even better if you can spend time playing with your dog when he’s outside. Many people assume that a dog with a backyard can keep himself entertained but that’s not necessarily true. Many dogs left alone in a backyard are lonely. Even if you have two or three dogs in your backyard they can get bored. Provide them with some fun toys. There are more creative, interactive toys today to help stimulate dogs when you can’t be home with them. Check them out.
It can take time to overcome a dog’s problem with digging. Your dog doesn’t see it as a problem. For him it’s a natural behavior. He has no idea why his holes make you angry or why he shouldn’t dig up your flowers or dig to try to find a mole in the yard. He thinks he’s doing his job. Try the suggestions offered here, especially giving your dog his own special place to dig. Watch him when he goes outside so you can distract him when necessary. Gradually your dog should get the idea that he’s not supposed to dig in the yard. If you continue to have problems after trying these suggestions, talk to your veterinarian. S/he may recommend a trainer or behavioral specialist.