Digging is a natural, instinctual behavior for dogs. Depending on the breed of dog, the desire to dig might even be a part of their breeding and hardwired into their instincts. The act of digging can be a source of joy and enrichment for dogs, but a yard filled with holes is likely a going to cause headaches for owners. Digging is not an inappropriate behavior, but the spots that your dog is indulging in its habits might not be appropriate for you. If you have a digging problem on your hands, here are some tips to channel the behavior into something more appropriate.
Step 1: Break the Habit
Is your dog digging in all the wrong places? If so, prevent his access. Your dog won’t learn new ways while he has free access to his old digs—digging is just too much fun! Prevention is better still, and easier. If your dog has yet to dig up the roses, don’t wait for him to discover how much fun it is. Teach him where to dig from day one.
Step 2: Supervise
Early on, don’t use the yard for alone-time. Give your dog ample time to learn where he is allowed to dig before you leave him out there unsupervised. Otherwise it is too easy for him to make mistakes. (If you need to leave your dog alone, use his confinement area in the house. Give him plenty of
chew toys for company.)
Step 3: Create a Digging Area
Make a dig pit or use a large pot with loose potting soil. A dig pit can be a sandbox or a 3-by-6 foot area in your yard. Loosen about 2 feet of earth, and remove any nails or wire or such. A little sand mixed in helps drainage when it rains. Then:
• Let your dog see you barely hide a Kong or some other treasure. Encourage him to find the toy and
praise him when he does.
• Gradually cover the toys with more dirt every time. Keep praising.
• Every now and then hide something new and exciting to keep your dog coming back for more.
Step 4: Redirect Mistakes
Calmly stop any unauthorized digging, then lead your dog to his dig pit or digging pot. And yes, this means you need to be around when your dog is playing outside—at least until he knows where it is okay to dig and where it isn’t.
Training Tip: If your dog has developed a liking for a particular spot in your yard, block access to that spot until he has had time to form new and better habits.
Other Reasons for Digging
Digging is an instinctive behavior, but there are many reasons why a dog might suddenly develop a desire to dig. If your yard has recently become home to ground-dwelling prey animals like moles or gophers, your dog might be digging as a way of hunting these critters down. When they can smell and hear animals under the earth, they're more likely to dig like crazy to try to find them! Digging can also be a sign of boredom. While it is a natural and enjoyable behavior for dogs, providing them with an equally stimulating alternative such as chewing, scent games, or something more appropriate (and less destructive) could help keep the habit at bay. In the summer, dogs will sometimes dig a shallow bed in the ground to help keep cool.
Digging becomes a serious concern when dogs dig to get under barriers. Escaping the yard by digging is a serious concern, and can be caused by many underlying issues including separation anxiety and even barrier frustration if the dog is trying to reach other dogs outside of the yard. If you're concerned about your dog's digging habit, you might consider consulting a professional to help determine and resolve the underlying issues.