Why dogs dig

Digging is a very natural, normal, instinctive and enjoyable activity for dogs. More than 83% of American dog owners have dogs that dig holes. They dig to bury a bone, to escape, to find a cool or warm spot depending on the season or because it is in their genes.  A whelping bitch, for example, will dig her own den to protect her pups if she does not have a better, more secluded area.

The ancestors of the modern domestic dog had to dig for survival. They dug to store and find food and to create shelter for themselves and their pups. Later, some breeds such as the terriers were bred to hunt underground prey such as moles, foxes and badgers. Digging is in their blood and if they are bored, digging keeps them busy.

It is important to remember that dogs do not dig because they are spiteful! The dog may be doing it for an important reason. He may want to escape your yard or something he fears.It just comes naturally to them to do so under certain circumstances. It is not fair to punish them for it if they are not helped. Most dogs grow out of it.
Just because he looks guilty does not mean that he understood that it was wrong. Anxiety related issues are generally the most common reason for digging. This usually takes place when the owners are away. In the same way as humans will pace up and down, chain-smoke or chew their finger nails in order to relieve inner tensions, the dog may dig or bark or run up and down the fence. (See Separation Anxiety)

More reasons for digging:

  • Digging is also a dog’s way of relieving stress.
  • To escape the summer heat
  • No obedience training to channel natural canine activities.
  • Inactivity and insufficient exercise. To get attention (even if it is negative).
  • As pack animals they need to interact with their human “pack”.
  • Boredom, isolation and loneliness, especially after hectic weekends or school holidays.
  • It is often a sign of separation anxiety if he digs when owner is absent.
  • It is in the genes: Terriers and hounds are the main culprits.
  • Being locked away while garden services dug in the ground and planted something.
  • Manure was used as fertiliser. Hunting moles or digging up earthworms.
  • Attempts to get to other dogs, animals or people on the other side of the fence.

What can be done to prevent digging?

Place some wire netting over areas where the dog likes to dig. Heavy canvas and bricks will do the same until he has forgotten to dig there. Edge garden fencing, available at most stores can be laid flat down over a hole to prevent more digging or enlarging the hole.

Supervise your pet in the yard or garden. That is the best way of stopping the dog from digging!

Obedience training will help your dog to focus on the family and be more disciplined.

Exercise outdoors for as long as possible each day or go for long leash walks. A dog will not exercise himself even on a large property. Tired dogs sleep rather than dig. A 30 minute walk twice a day if possible, helps to use up excess energy. Puppies need more short trips especially after naps and meals.

Create a digging pit filled with sand or loose earth and bury some of his toys in it. Make it fun to play there. Take your dog to the spot where you would like him to dig. Tie him up so that he can watch you bury a bone and then let him dig it up. Praise him when he digs it up. Repeat a few times. Later, bury a bone when he is not looking. Soon he will regularly check his digging pit to check for bones or hooves. Before long he will bury his own unfinished bones there and so begin to satisfy his need for digging. Railway sleepers will help to confine the pit area.

Make him work for his food by placing his breakfast in a Kong so that he will be too busy to dig.

Let him have access to a place where he can be warm or cool depending on the weather. He may dig to find warmth or to cool down.

Filling the holes with dog faeces may discourage the dog from enlarging the hole. Pinecones, aluminium foil, gravel, plastic or metal will make digging unpleasant for the dog.

Fence off areas where you do not want the dog to dig. A fence will help to confine the area.

Freshly turned soil in the flower garden has interesting scent for the dog and your scent will still be on the plants where he saw you digging and planting. Owners often complain that the dog dug up the plants they planted the day before.

Commerciallysold Dog & Cat repellent granules sold at hardware and other stores such as “Sent Off” can be used on lawns and plants to prevent digging.

A second dog for company can keep them playing happilyfor hoursbut may not always work because two dogs can dig more holes than one. I also find that the owner often cannot be sure which one is the digger.

The PERSUADER electric pet deterrent kit is legal, perfectly safe for children and pets and very effective.
Arrange for companionship during the day when you are at work, e.g. some boarding kennels provide a day care service or a neighbour’s dog could come and play.

Confine the dog to a yard where he cannot dig.

Tobacco dust and citronella oil work well. Dogs dislike these odours.
Grinding “mothballs and sprinkling them in the soil will keep the dog away.

Harsh punishment like filling the hole with water and then forcing the dog’s head into it will create more fearful and anxious behaviour because the dog cannot link your action with the hole he dug earlier in the day.

Not all the suggestions above may work for your dog. Try different ideas until you find one that works. >