Dog Training E-mail

Kick the Digging Habit

Digging is a normal instinctive behavior for most dogs. It might be a search for burrowing prey, it might be that your dog is craving attention or escape from his yard - or it could just be that Fido’s bored and trying to entertain himself. In any case, he’s not doing it to spite you - he’s just giving in to his doggy nature. Punishment after the fact isn’t really effective; it’s much more productive to figure out why Fido’s digging, and try to remedy the underlying cause.

Only the lonely
If boredom is the culprit, it may be that he’s spending too much time alone without human or canine interaction. Does he have no steady playmates or favorite interactive toys in his outdoor environment? Try spending more time with him each day, and engage in Frisbee catching or "fetch" sessions together as often as you can.

If Fido specifically digs in front of you, he’s probably decided that any attention from you - even disapproval - is good attention. Just like an unruly kid, he’ll act out in ways he knows will get him your attention, if not your love. First, you should never react when he digs in your presence - just ignore him completely. And second, go out of your way to give him as much positive attention as you can, as often as you possibly can. The digging should quickly lose its allure if it no longer gets a response from you, and he’ll be thrilled to have positive interactions with you instead - it’s all he ever wanted in the first place.

The young and the restless
If your dog is still a puppy or an unruly teen (younger than 3 years old), he might be digging because he’s got so much energy he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. If your young dog is a crazy, wiggly bundle of energy in general, this may be the reason he digs when he’s alone. Take him out for thorough exercise - running, swimming, etc. - as often as you can, and try to be patient. Eventually he should mellow out into a calmer adult.

Tally ho!
Some dogs are bred to be hunters of burrowing creatures; Terriers in particular consider the underground hunting of small rodents to be both their job and their reason for living. There will be no convincing a Terrier otherwise; your best bet will be to set aside a part of the yard for "acceptable" digging, and let him knock himself out.

Your intrepid hunter might be pursuing subterranean pests that live in your yard. These are the telltale signs:

  • The digging is in a very specific area, usually not at the outer edges of the yard
  • The digging is at the roots of trees or shrubs
  • The digging is in a "path" layout

If this is the case, conduct a search yourself for burrowing pests, and use nontoxic methods to get rid of them.

The workaholic
Some extremely active breeds, such as herding dogs are blessed with tons of energy and a deep need to be employed at meaningful work. These traits have been carefully bred into the dog, there will be no convincing him that he should be on vacation instead. If your herding dog hasn’t got a few hundred head of livestock to chase around all day, he’s going to be mighty pent up and frustrated. Get him thoroughly exercised as often as you can, and by all means, give him a small patch of your yard for a digging pit. He needs all the concentrated activity that he can get.

The big dig
In fact, any dog that seems tremendously attached to his digging activities (even after you’ve remedied the underlying issues as best you can) would greatly appreciate a small section of yard set aside for approved digging; think of it as a sandbox for your furry child.

Choose a spot in the yard where it's okay for Fido to dig, and fill it with loose soil mixed with sand. A 3 x 6 ft x 2 ft deep area should be enough. Bury some of his favorite toys and treats while the dog watches you, then help Fido dig them up. Once he gets the idea, praise him and repeat, "dig in your pit!." If he digs up a treat, let him eat it right away. If it's a ball or toy, immediately play a short game of fetch, then bury the toy again. Do this process over and over, each time repeating the command, 'dig in your pit!' Fido will quickly figure out what the command means. If you catch him digging in some other unacceptable area, clap your hands sharply and say, "no dig!" then take him to his designated digging pit and say "dig in your pit!". When he digs in the approved spot, praise him for being the clever and good doggy that he is, and reward him with a treat. If Fido’s an especially slow learner, you should also make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive by burying sharp rocks or chicken wire (sharp ends rolled under) into the dirt. Once he’s stopped digging there, you can remove them.

Doggy see doggy do
Are you a gardener? There’s always the possibility that because you love to get your hands in the soil, your pup just wants to play in the dirt the way he sees you do it. If you planted new spring bulbs on Saturday and find them all dug up on Monday, it might just be that Fido’s trying to share in your fun. This is an honest misunderstanding; let him know that it makes you sad to see this area dug up. If he has no other underlying issues that are causing him to dig, he should stop as soon as he realizes it makes you unhappy.

Gimme shelter
Is your dog exposed to the elements? In hot weather, dogs sometimes dig holes so they can lie in the cool dirt. They might also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold, wind or rain. They’ll even dig for a water source if their own water is insufficient. Your dog could be digging for protection or comfort if:

  • The holes are near foundations of buildings, water sources or large shade trees
  • Your dog doesn't have a shelter or his shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds
  • You find evidence that your dog is lying in the holes he digs

Give Fido an insulated doghouse, and make sure it protects him from both wind and sun. Provide him plenty of fresh water in a bowl that can't be tipped over.

The great escape
There’s something Fido wants either to get away from, or to get to. You’ll know this form of digging is escape-oriented if he’s digging along or under the fence line. To read more about escape digging, see the furry escape artist.

To keep Fido safe in his yard while you’re figuring out the source of his escape issues, try laying chain link fencing down on the ground along the full length of the fence, securely anchored to the bottom of the fence. This should make it uncomfortable and unappealing for Fido to get close enough to the fence to start digging.