It might be funny to watch your dog dig a massive hole at the beach or the park, but when it comes to tearing up your favorite flower bed? Not so much.
Digging can be a frustrating issue for pet parents to face. And while the consequences for this behavior will, in most cases, be mild (perhaps an upset tummy after ingesting something buried underground), digging can quickly turn fatal if your pup escapes under the fence and out into traffic.
In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at the topic of digging – why dogs do it and how to stop them before a bad situation turns worse. Let’s get started!
Why Do Dogs Dig?
As with most undesirable doggy behaviors, understanding why your dog digs is key. There are a few different reasons why a dog might dig, including:
- Escaping Harsh Weather
- Escaping Confinement
- Hunting Small Animals Underground
- Hiding a High-Value Item (such as a bone or favorite toy)
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to support the idea that dogs dig intentionally out of spite or to get a rise out of their owner. But instincts and genetics may have something to do with it!
Understanding Your Dog’s Digging Behavior
Keep in mind that the ancestors of our domesticated dogs once lived freely in the great outdoors – back in the days before dogs were kept as house pets who rely on humans for food and enrichment, these dogs spent their days hunting for prey underground.
Back then, a hole in the ground was also a great place for a dog to hide something of value.
Given this history, it’s easy to understand why a suburban backyard dog might revert to his primal instincts when looking to stash a new bone or when the scent of a burrowing bunny catches his fancy.
However, most digging behaviors nowadays stem from other things like boredom or anxiety.
When left alone with no source of enrichment, the modern-day dog may resort to digging to relieve boredom, stress, or anxiety.
And in extreme cases, this anxiety-driven behavior or fear of being alone may even lead him to try to escape an enclosed area by digging a tunnel under the fence!
This type of digging poses the greatest threat to the safety of the dog who escapes, as well as to other people or animals in the surrounding area.
If you are the parent of a hole-digging hound, a little bit of amateur detective work may be needed to determine the cause – and the following questions are a great place to start!
- Does your dog’s outdoor area provide sufficient shelter from harsh weather conditions?
- Is there a pup on the other side of the fence your dog is trying to play with?
- Is your pet’s outdoor play area bland and boring, or is it filled with toys and other modalities for enrichment?
Carefully observing your dog’s environment can help you determine the best way to implement a few dog-digging deterrents.
Preventing Dogs From Digging Outside
Dogs require a lot of exercise to burn off energy and satisfy their need for mental stimulation.
Simply sending your dog out to “play” in an outdoor area with no enrichment will not address those needs and could lead to unwanted behaviors such as digging.
Let’s take a look at a few different ways you can keep your pup entertained while playing outside.
One way to spice up your dog’s outdoor playtime is to tap into his natural instincts. If you have space, this portable agility tunnel allows your pup to burrow and hide safely.
Plus, starter tools such as this are a great first experience for pet parents who may be interested in agility training!
Sandboxes: Made to Play
Rather than restricting your dog’s desire to dig, why not embrace the digging by creating a designated digging area with this plastic sandbox?
This 6-foot oval sandbox has a cover and can be put together easily – no tools required!
Once assembled, simply fill it with safe play sand, dirt, or even plastic balls to ramp up enrichment for your playful pup!
By creating a digging box for your dog, you can allow him to explore his natural instinct to dig while also creating a safe spot to redirect him should he dig outside the box.
Add More Playtime to Your Pup’s Routine
There are also many ways to provide your pup with mental and physical stimulation by using items you already have on hand.
For starters, grab your favorite leash and collar combo and take your dog for a nice, long walk.
Walking increases physical activity for you and your pet and provides a great opportunity for mental stimulation – especially if training goals (stopping at intersections, ignoring distractions, etc.) are practiced at the same time!
For pet parents who can’t walk long distances or simply prefer to stay home, a classic game of fetch or hide and seek can offer plenty of mental and physical stimulation for dogs.
After a long walk or play session, your dog will feel less stressed, more relaxed, and less likely to tear up your lawn.
Pro Tip: Create an extra layer of protection to prevent dogs from digging under fences by placing large stones at the base of the fence or burying chicken wire.
Indoor Options For Digging Dogs
For many dogs, digging inside is just as fun as outdoor digging, whether on carpets, furniture, or dog beds.
Luckily, there are many simple, enrichment-heavy ways to help channel those behaviors in safe and fun ways.
Durable Dog Beds for Diggers
If you need a durable dog bed for your digging pup, look no further than this Carhartt Canvas Bed. This highly reviewed bed is perfect for dogs who like to dig and “fluff” their sleeping area.
Available in sizes Small, Medium, and Large, this mid-priced model is made with the same strong fabric used in Carhartt clothing. With a washable cover and concealed zipper, this bed is a winner for dogs who dig on their beds.
Digging Mats for Indoor Enrichment
Simply stash some high-value treats under the machine-washable flaps, and your dog will have a fun burrowing toy that offers mental and physical stimulation.
Training Methods for Dogs Who Dig
Now that you’ve revamped your dog’s indoor and outdoor play areas, it’s time to answer one lingering question:
What can you do in the moment if you catch your dog digging?
This is where a few basic training tips come into play.
When a dog is trained to respond to “leave it” or to your recall command, the benefits reach far beyond preventing your pup from digging.
Reliable recall or a well-trained “leave it” command can also prevent your dog from ingesting poisonous items on the ground or running off into an unsafe area.
The best part is that teaching these commands can be done over a few training sessions at home without spending a cent.
You’ll need to be consistent and patient when training your dog to come when called or to ignore something.
As with learning anything new, it takes time and consistent effort to make it stick, so don’t give up! Setting aside a few minutes each day for training will allow you to see the benefits in no time.
Another important aspect of training is to remain positive throughout each session. You and your dog will benefit more from the training sessions if the mood is light and fun.
Even if you feel your pup isn’t progressing as fast as you’d like, use the power of positive reinforcement to your advantage.
Offer plenty of verbal praise, pets, and a wide variety of high value treats whenever your dog responds to your cues regardless of how long he takes.
If you or your dog become frustrated during a training session, end it and pick it back up at another time. Return to training after you’ve had time to refresh and reset.
Remember– harsh punishments can be counterproductive and may delay progress, so they should never be included in your training sessions.
Digging dogs are easy to manage once you can confidently answer the why behind their behavior. Taking the time to assess your dog’s environment and behavior can help you take the steps needed to defeat destructive digging for good.
By understanding and embracing your dog’s natural instincts, you can reclaim your outdoor oasis, peacefully share your space with your canine companion, and create safe ways for your dog to dig as nature intended.