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April 13, 2014

Dig This: How to Get Your Dog to Stop Digging

  • You can have a dog and a nice yard at the same time—sometimes it just takes a little effort. istockphoto

Has your dog turned your yard into a moonscape, with craters everywhere? If so, the first thing you should know is that your dog isn't doing this out of spite or a desire to destroy your landscaping. More likely he’s seeking

  • entertainment
  • prey
  • comfort or protection
  • escape
  • attention

Step one in solving the problem is to diagnose why your dog digs. Then you can follow advice tailored to your (and your dog's) situation.

Your dog needs entertainment

Dogs may dig to entertain themselves when they learn that roots and soil "play back." Your dog may be digging for entertainment if:

  • He's left alone in the yard for long periods of time without the company of his human family.
  • His environment is relatively barren—with no playmates or toys.
  • He's a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and doesn't have other outlets for his energy.
  • He's a terrier or other breed that was bred to dig.
  • He's a particularly active type who needs a job to be happy (such as a herding or sporting breed).
  • He's recently seen you "playing" in the dirt (gardening or working in the yard).

What to do
 

Expand your dog's world and increase his people time in the following ways:

  • Walk your dog at least twice daily. Not getting enough exercise is a leading cause of problem behaviors.
  • Redirect your dog's energy by teaching him to fetch a ball or flying disk and playing with him as often as possible. (A tired dog is a good dog.)
  • Teach your dog a few commands or tricks. Practice these every day for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Take a training class with your dog and practice daily what you've learned.
  • Keep interesting toys in the yard to keep your dog busy when you're not around. Kong®-type toys filled with treats or busy-box dog toys work especially well. Rotate the toys to keep things interesting.

A tired dog is a good dog.

Your dog is hunting prey

Dogs often dig in an effort to catch burrowing animals or insects that live in your yard. This may be the case if the digging is:

  • Focused on a single area rather than the boundaries of the yard.
  • At the roots of trees or shrubs.
  • In a "path" layout.

What to do
 

What not to do:
 

  • Don't use any product or method that could be toxic or dangerous to your pets or other animals. Anything that poisons wildlife can poison your dog, too.

Your dog needs comfort or protection

In hot weather, dogs may dig holes to lie in the cool dirt. They may also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold, wind, or rain or to find water. Your dog may be digging for comfort or protection if:

  • The holes are near the foundations of buildings, large shade trees, or a water source.
  • Your dog doesn't have a shelter such as a dog house or her shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds.
  • Your dog is lying in the holes she digs.

What to do

Provide your dog with the comfort or protection she seeks:

  • Bring your dog indoors more often to relieve overheating or a chill.
  • Take precautions to keep your dog safe in extreme heat or cold.
  • Make sure your dog has a comfortable doghouse that offers protection from wind and sun.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that can't be tipped over.
  • If your dog stil prefers lying in a hole in the ground, try providing a digging zone, described below. Make sure this spot is protected from the elements.

If your dog is a dedicated digger, why not set aside a digging zone? »

Your dog needs attention

Any behavior can become attention-getting behavior if the dog learns that he receives attention for engaging in it. Remember, even punishment is attention. Your dog may be looking for attention if:

  • He digs in your presence.
  • He has limited opportunities for interaction with you.

What to do

 Provide your dog with the attention he deserves.

  • Ignore the attention-seeking behavior and give your pooch lots of praise for "good dog" behavior.
  • Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis. Walks, games of fetch, and basic training are all good ways to interact with your dog.

Your dog is trying to escape

Dogs may try to escape to get to something, to get somewhere, or to get away from something. Your dog may be digging to escape if she digs:

  • Along the fence line.
  • Under the fence.

What to do

Figure out why your dog is trying to escape and remove those incentives. Make sure her environment is a safe, appealing place for a dog.

To keep your dog in your yard:

  • Bury chicken wire at the base of the fence. Be sure to roll the sharp edges away from your yard.
  • Place large rocks, partially buried, along the bottom of the fence line.
  • Bury the bottom of the fence 1 to 2 feet below the surface.
  • Lay chain link fencing on the ground (anchored to the bottom of the fence) to make it uncomfortable for your dog to walk near the fence.
  • For more detailed advice, read our instructions for keeping out burrowing wildlife
  • Work with your dog to on behavior modification to stop her escape efforts.

Punishing your dog after the fact never works.

What doesn't work

Regardless of the reason your dog is digging, don't:

  • Punish your dog after the fact. This won't address the cause of the behavior, and it will worsen any digging that's motivated by fear or anxiety.
  • Stake out your dog near a hole he's dug or fill the hole with water.

 Next step: A Digging Zone

If your dog is a dedicated digger, consider setting aside an area of the yard where it's ok for him to dig and make it clear where that digging zone is:

  • Cover the digging zone with loose soil or sand. Or use a child-size sandbox.
  • Make the digging zone attractive by burying safe items (such as toys) for him to discover.
  • When he digs in the digging zone, reward him with praise.
  • If you catch your dog digging in an unacceptable area, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise and firmly say, "No dig." Then immediately take him to the digging zone.
  • Make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive (at least temporarily) by placing rocks or chicken wire on them.

If you've tried all our strategies and you still can't solve your dog's digging problem, keep her indoors with you and supervise her during bathroom breaks in the yard. You may also want to consult a behavior professional for additional help.

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