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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. Photo by 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.

Contents

  1. Entertainment
  2. Hunting prey
  3. Comfort and protection
  4. Attention
  5. Escape
  6. What doesn't work
  7. Next steps: A digging zone

Entertainment

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

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

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What to do

Expand your dog's world and increase their 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 them to fetch a ball or flying disk and playing with them 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.

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Hunting prey

Dogs often dig in an effort to catch burrowing animals or insects who 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.

Comfort and 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 doghouse, or their shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds.
  • Your dog lies in the holes they dig.

What to do

Provide your dog with the comfort or protection they seek:

  • 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 still 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? »

Attention

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

  • They dig in your presence.
  • They have limited opportunities for interaction with you.

What to do

Provide your dog with the attention they deserve.

  • 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.

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 they dig:

  • 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 their 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.
  • Place 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 on behavior modification to stop them escape efforts.

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 they've dug or fill the hole with water.

Punishing your dog after the fact never works. Positive reinforcement training tips »

Next steps: A digging zone

If your dog is a dedicated digger, set aside an area of the yard where it's OK for them to dig, and teach them 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 them to discover.
  • When they dig in the digging zone, reward them 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 them to the digging zone.
  • Make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive (at least temporarily) by placing rocks or chicken wire over them.

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

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