Updated: Aug 19, 2022
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If you have a dog that truly loves to dig, you probably know that they've never looked happier than when they are merrily digging away with the dirt flying! Unfortunately, this doesn't usually mesh too well with a nice looking yard... or at least a yard you can walk across without twisting your ankle. So how do we get our darling dogs to stop destroying our yards?
Any time we're dealing with a "problem" behavior, it's always best to figure out why it is happening. One thing I can guarantee, your dog is NOT digging out of spite. They may be bored, looking for a prey animal, trying to get out of an enclosure, looking for attention from you, or just plain having fun! Much like when we visit a garage sale or watch Storage Wars hoping to discover some wonderful hidden treasure, dogs like to dig because there's a chance they will unearth something wonderful! What is the reason your dog is digging?
Reasons for Digging
Lack of Stimulation - This is the most common cause of digging that I've seen. If your dog is left alone in the yard, they are more likely to dig. Young dogs and puppies are more likely to dig if they don't have a sufficient energy outlet. If your dog is a terrier or other breed that has been bred to dig or a working dog that has been bred to have a job, they are more likely to dig. If your dog isn't receiving the appropriate level of mental and physical stimulation, they are more likely to dig. Your dog may even dig in front of you just to get the attention and stimulation they crave.
Freedom! - If your dog has containment and/or separation anxiety and they are digging along the fence line, they are likely trying to dig their way out. They may also dig along the fence if they have the lack of stimulation mentioned above and there is stimulation outside the fence.
Prey Drive - Has a rabbit paused on that spot lately? Are there moles, gophers, or insects burrowing in your yard? If your dog has a strong prey drive and they tend to dig in one specific area or along a certain path, they may be digging to seek out prey.
Lack of Resources - If your dog is spending time in your yard without proper shelter and/or water, they are more likely to dig. Holes can provide your dog with shelter from inclement and also provide a cooler place to lay when it is hot outside. If your dog is laying in the holes that have been dug, this is likely the cause of their digging. If your dog doesn't have access to water and they tend to dig near your foundation or water sources, they are likely seeking out water.
Now that you have a better idea why your dog is digging, let's figure out how to stop the digging.
Ways to Stop Digging
Management - The single most effective way to stop your dog from digging is to monitor them while in the yard. Until you are able to determine why your dog is digging and implement a solution for the digging, it's best to stay in the yard with their pet. This is also the safest option for a variety of reasons: your dog won't be able to escape the yard without you noticing, you'll be there if they try to eat something they shouldn't, and you'll be there to keep them safe if other people or animals enter your yard. You could also provide your pet with a place where it is ok to dig, like a sand box or dirt pile. When you catch your dog digging, simply redirect them to dig in this area. Make sure that you're ok with flying dirt! If your dog really gets digging, dirt could be scattered pretty far. Adding taller sides or fencing may help to contain the mess a little more.
If your dog is digging due to lack of stimulation... Add stimulation! Stimulation for our pets comes in many forms, but to prevent digging due to lack of stimulation you'll want to find a structured option that exercises their brain AND their body. Here's some great options:
Structured Exercise - Exercise outlets like tug, fetch, agility, and loose leash walking will help your dog to be calmer and relaxed during their yard time. Incorporating commands (like leave it, drop, and sit) as well as structure (no pulling on leash, no jumping on you, etc) will help to improve your dog's impulse control too! [Need help with teaching your dog fetch? Check out this blog post about using drop to make fetch easier for both of you!]
Puzzle Feeders - Work out your dog's brain by harnessing their most basic drive - food drive! If your dog is new to puzzle feeders, you can start out simply by scattering their food on the floor or grass or giving them a slow feeder. (BONUS: Slow feeders can help prevent choking and bloat if you have a dog that's usually a speed eater!) To up the physical activity level, check out a Toppl or Wobbler. They'll need to move or roll the toy around to get the kibbles out of it. If you're looking to up the mental stimulation, a more complicated puzzle feeder may be in order. We like the easy to clean puzzle feeders from Outward Hound!
Training - Whether you are working on tricks, basic obedience, or behavioral modification, training is a simple and beneficial way to get your dog much-needed stimulation! Set aside a few 5-15 minute sessions a day to work on training your dog. These shorter sessions will help your dog to quickly and easily master new concepts without either of you getting frustrated! Need extra training help? Book a consultation with King's Creatures today!
If your dog is digging to try to escape... If your dog has containment or separation anxiety, you certainly won't want to leave them alone in the yard. Stay outside with them to keep them safe and manage their anxiety. C0nsult with your veterinarian and your trainer to get help with your pet's anxiety. Much like many humans with anxiety that need both medicine and therapy to manage their anxiety, your dog may need a combination of medication and training if they have clinical anxiety. Working on calming behaviors and building up duration of commands like place may help your dog's anxiety. Help make your yard more exciting for your dog than the things on the other side of the fence by playing with your dog, training your dog, and providing stimulating toys for them.
If your dog is digging due to their prey drive... Give your dog a positive outlet for their prey drive. Play games with your pet by utilizing a flirt pole to give them a chance to chase "prey" or enroll your dog in barn hunt or lure coursing classes to give them a chance to hunt prey while winning awards! It's also a good idea to look into safely removing the prey animals your dog is digging for from your yard. If your dog manages to catch and eat a prey animal, like a rabbit, they may contract tapeworms or tularemia. Contact your local wildlife rehabilitator or pest control agency for methods to safely remove prey animals from your yard.
If your dog is digging due to lack of resources... Make sure you are providing your dog with enough water, food, and shelter from the heat in your yard. Cooling mats, shady dog houses, and elevated pet cots are all excellent options for providing your dog with a cool place to lie down.
Cooling mats are filled with water which stays cooler for longer than many other surfaces. Make sure to check the mat for holes to avoid a muddy mess! Bring the mat inside to the air conditioning to get it extra cool before using it in the yard to cool off your dog.
Shady dog houses provide protection from the sun, but if they don't have proper ventilation they may still be too warm for your dog (think of a closed car in the hot sun!). Make sure it truly is cool inside the dog house if you want your dog to rely on their doghouse for a cooling area.
Elevated pet cots in the shade can help your dog to cool off by allowing for air flow all around their body. Get a mesh cot and place it in the shade for optimal cooling!
If your dog will be spending a lot of time in the yard, make sure you provide access to clean, cool water. A simple option for this is to bring your indoor water bowl outside whenever you're spending a lot of time in the yard. If you do have a water bowl that is permanently outside, make sure to keep it clean to keep bacteria at bay!
Is your dog a digger? Let me know how these tips work for you! Still struggling? Contact King's Creatures for help! Sometimes getting a second set of eyes on a behavioral issue can make all the difference!