Help, my dog is digging! What can I do?
It’s definitely frustrating to see that your dog is digging holes in the yard. Keep reading to learn why this may be happening and what you can do to change your dog’s unwanted behavior.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Digging is a normal exploratory behavior for dogs. There are many reasons a dog may dig a hole. The first step is identifying the cause. The second is trying to change the behavior. Keep in mind some dogs may have been bred to dig, so it might be a good idea to provide them with an area where they’re allowed to dig, instead of attempting to dissuade digging altogether.
Why do dogs dig?
- Out of boredom, lack of stimulation, lack of exercise, separation anxiety, being left alone for a long time, no toys or other dogs to play with, saw you gardening and mimic the behavior
- Many types of terriers are bred to hunt mice/rats and other animals that live underground, so it’s built into these dogs’ nature to dig, dig, dig!
- “Hey mom, look at me! Come play with me!”
- “Even if you yell at me for digging the hole, at least you’re paying attention to me!”
- To find a bone they buried in the back yard yesterday/last month/last year
- To follow the scent of a mole/vole hole
- To get to that tasty plant root (caution: some are very toxic!)
Comfort & Protection
- To make a hole so they can lie in the cool dirt or create shade
- To create shelter from the cold/wind
- To find water
- If they can’t jump the fence, they may just dig under it to get to what’s on the other side. The grass is always greener!
How to stop a dog from digging
Give your dog exercise
- Walk them on a leash twice a day, because even dogs with back yards love to roam and need variety in their surroundings
- Play with your dog
- Use interactive toys like frisbees, fetch balls, etc.
Teach your old dog some new tricks
- The old adage is false, they can learn new tricks at any age! Even a few minutes a day can teach them well and keep them occupied and focused on something other than digging
- Bring your dog to a training class
- Doggie play dates or walks with other dog friends are important. Imagine if you lived with only dogs, how excited you would be to see another human being!
Interesting, long-lasting toys
- Fill a Kong with peanut butter and put it in the freezer or purchase “busy-box” dog toys. When you’re busy and can’t focus on keeping your dog entertained, this is a handy treat that will occupy them for quite a while. Don’t always give the same toy/treat, rotate, and keep it interesting.
- Fence off your vegetable garden, your compost pile, and areas where burrowing animals may live
- Install fencing 1-2 feet into the ground and put boulders or logs on the ground along the bottom of the fence line
- Provide your dog with shelter from the hot sun, the cold wind, and make sure they have fresh water at all times when left outside. Remember, if it’s too cold or too hot for you, it’s too cold or too hot for them, too!
- Is your dog an intact male? He’s likely digging a hole under your fence to escape and roam the neighborhood because he can smell an intact female in heat down the street. Sadly, one of the biggest causes of dogs being hit by cars is male intact dogs that have escaped their yards to roam for a mate.
For more information on neutering, read our article, What You Need to Know About Neutering Your Male Dog!
Things to Avoid
Do not give your dog attention for digging the hole – regardless of the cause of the digging. If you give a lot of attention (even punishment), your dog may continue to dig in order to elicit a response from you. You may have inadvertently taught your dog to dig for attention. Quietly remove them from the area and follow the steps above to prevent the digging behavior before it happens, depending on the suspected cause.
Do not fill the hole with water – this won’t prevent digging, and your dog will likely just make a muddy mess with enthusiastic gusto. Placing a rock/boulder in the hole to prevent digging is a lot more likely to be effective.
Do not give your dog access to the area of the yard in which they dug the hole.
What to do if your dog is a “digging breed”
If your dog is a terrier or a “digging breed”, consider dedicating an area of the yard they are allowed to dig in. Work on training and behavior modification to prevent them from digging elsewhere. Use positive reinforcement only. This means encouraging them to dig in the dedicated area by burying treats and toys with loose soil or sand. You can even provide them with a sandbox. Reward your dog for digging only in that area. If you catch your dog digging in the “no digging zone”, clap loudly to get their attention, say “no dig” in a low, firm voice, and immediately bring them to the “digging friendly zone”.
Have more questions about your dog’s behavior?
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