Digging ProblemsDigging is normal behavior for most dogs, but may occur for widely varying reasons. Dogs don’t dig, out of spite, revenge, or a desire to destroy your yard. Finding ways to make the area where the dog digs unappealing may be effective, however, it’s likely that they will just begin digging in other locations or display other unacceptable behavior, such as chewing or barking. A more effective approach is to address the cause of the digging, rather than creating location aversions.
Seeking EntertainmentDogs may dig as a form of self-play when they learn that roots and soil are fun.
Your dog may be digging for entertainment if:
- They are left alone in the yard for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
- Their environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- They are a puppy or an adolescent (under three years old) and don’t have other outlets for their energy.
- They are the type of dog (like a terrier) that is bred to dig as part of their “job”.
- They are a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active job to be happy.
- They recently saw you “playing” in the dirt (gardening or working in the yard).
RecommendationsWe recommend expanding your dog’s world and increasing his “people time” in the following ways:
- Walk your dog regularly (30-60 minutes daily). It’s good exercise, mentally and physically, for both of you!
- Teach your dog to fetch and practice with them as often as possible.
- Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks. Practice these commands/tricks every day for five to ten minutes.
- Take an obedience class with your dog and practice daily what you’ve learned.
- Keep interesting toys in the yard to keep your dog busy even when you’re not around (Kong-type toys filled with treats or puzzle toys). Rotating the toys makes them seem new and exciting.
- For dedicated diggers, provide an “acceptable digging area.” Please choose an area of the yard where it’s okay for your dog to dig and cover the area with loose soil or sand. Bury treats and toys in the acceptable area, dig in it with them, and fill it back in while they are out there with you! For the first week, you will want your dog to be loose in the yard ONLY if you are there to teach and supervise them about the “right spot” to dig. If you catch your dog digging in an unacceptable area, interrupt the behavior by calling them over, and encourage the dog to use its designated digging area. When they dig in the approved spot, reward them with praise/treats/you. Make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive (at least temporarily) by setting rocks or chicken wire into the dirt.
Seeking PreyDogs may try to pursue burrowing animals or insects that live in your yard. Your dog may be pursuing prey if:
- The digging is in a very specific area, usually not at the boundaries of the yard.
- The digging is at the roots of trees or shrubs.
- The digging is in a “path” layout.
RecommendationsWe recommend that you search for possible signs of pests and then rid your yard of them. Avoid methods that could be toxic or dangerous to your pets.
Seeking Comfort or ProtectionIn hot weather, dogs may dig holes in order to lie in the cool dirt. They may also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold, wind, or rain, or to try to find water. Your dog may be digging for protection or comfort if:
- The holes are near the foundations of buildings, large shade trees, or a water source.
- Your dog doesn’t have a shelter or the shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds. NOTE: a Dogloo is NOT an adequate shelter in Alberta winters.
- You find evidence that your dog is lying in the holes they dig.
RecommendationsWe recommend that you provide your dog with other sources for the comfort or protection they seek.
Provide an insulated doghouse. Make sure it affords protection from wind and sun. Dog houses need to be insulated, raised off the ground, and have a flap over the door.
Your dog may still prefer a hole in the ground, in which case you can try the “approved digging area” recommendation described above. Make sure the allowed digging area is in a protected spot.
Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that can’t be tipped over.
Seeking AttentionAny behavior can become attention-getting behavior if dogs learn that they receive attention for engaging in it (even punishment is a form of attention). Your dog may be digging to get attention if:
- They dig in your presence or to get you to call them into the house.
- Their other opportunities for interaction with you are limited.
RecommendationsWe recommend that you ignore the behavior. Don’t give your dog attention for digging (remember, even punishment is attention).
Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis, so they don’t resort to misbehaving to get your attention.
Seeking EscapeDogs may escape to get to something, to get somewhere, or to get away from something. (see our resource Escape Artist). Your dog may be digging to escape if:
- They dig along the fence line.
- They dig under the fence.
RecommendationsWe recommend the following in order to keep your dog in the yard:
- Bury chicken wire at the base of the fence (sharp edges rolled under).
- Place large rocks, partially buried, along the bottom of the fence line.
- Bury the bottom of the fence one to two feet under the ground.
- 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.
- Punishment after the fact. Not only does this not address the cause of the behavior, but any digging that’s motivated by fear or anxiety will also be made worse. Punishment may also cause anxiety in dogs that aren’t currently fearful.
- Staking a dog out near a hole he’s dug or dunking his head into a hole filled with water. These techniques don’t address the cause of the behaviour or the act of digging and are inhumane.