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How to Stop Your Dog from Digging

October 15, 2022 8 min read

How to Stop Your Dog from Digging

How to Stop Your Dog from Digging

Digging is a natural behavior in dogs, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when your pup turns your well-maintained yard into a series of holes. To stop your dog from digging, you first need to pinpoint the reason(s) why they are digging, and then take practical steps to prevent it from happening again. Let’s delve into the ultimate guide to stop your dog from digging:

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Understanding Why Dogs Dig

Dogs may dig into your yard for many different reasons, and knowing why your dog is digging is key to being able to successfully stop their behavior. To start off, digging is a perfectly natural behavior — just like chasing squirrels or enjoying bully sticks for dogs — so it’s not exactly fair to expect them to never do it. However, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your yard doesn’t turn into a collection of holes.

Certain dog breeds, in particular terriers and other hunting dogs, have actually had digging instincts reinforced through being bred and trained to chase down prey into their burrows. If you have a dog that belongs to one of these breeds, don’t be surprised if they exhibit a strong drive to dig, especially if you have vermin in your yard such as moles or gophers. In fact, dogs of any breed may dig a hole in your yard in pursuit of this prey, even if they are not normally prone to digging.

why dogs dig list

Dogs may also dig a hole for comfort or protection. In the wild, animals dig holes to create shelters from wind, rain, cold, and other inclement weather. At your house, your dog may dig a hole in a shady or protected space, such as next to a building or under a tree, if they are digging for shelter. Your dog might also dig in an instinctual attempt to find water if they get dehydrated.

Some dogs dig to escape, either because they want to get out of the yard or because they see something on the other side of the fence that they want to chase. Usually digging to escape will be confined to the area around the fence or other barrier that prevents them from leaving. Dogs that dig to escape usually don’t make holes in the middle of the yard.

Dogs may also dig if they are full of energy, bored, and/or not receiving the mental and physical stimulation they need. This is more common in high-energy breeds that require a lot of physical exercise. Dog breeds that need a lot of training and stimulation may also dig if they don’t get the challenges that they need to stay happy.

If your dog digs a hole and then covers it up, they might actually be digging as a strategy to protect food or toys. Dogs in the wild do this to protect food and resources that they can’t take care of right away. Try unearthing the hole to see if they have buried anything in it.

Finally, your dog might simply dig in a bid to get the attention of you and your family. Even “negative” interactions such as yelling at them still counts as attention in their eyes. If you’ve had a recent change in your schedule that keeps you from spending as much time with your dog as usual, and the digging started around this time, then your dog might be digging as a way to try to get your attention.

Your dog may dig for any one of these reasons, or possibly a combination of them. Take some time to think critically about when the digging started and what changes might have precipitated them. Note that some of these causes may vary with the seasons. For instance, dogs won’t usually dig for shelter if the weather is pleasant and mild, but they will when there is inclement weather outside.

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How to Stop Your Dog from Digging

Now that we’ve talked about how to figure out why your dog is digging, it’s time to discuss how to stop it. Here are 11 specific ways to stop your dog from digging:

Don’t punish them for it.

Yelling at your dog after the fact won’t teach them to stop digging a hole. If you happen to catch them in the act, tell them “no dig” firmly and redirect them to another, less destructive activity. However, in most cases, you won’t realize that they have been digging until the deed is already done. Resist the temptation to yell at them or punish them for it, which can accidentally reinforce their behavior by giving them temptation. Instead, focus your efforts on the other tips on this list, which will help you stop the digging before it starts.

Monitor your dog while they are in the yard.

Being able to intervene at the very first sign of digging is key to breaking your dog of this habit. If possible, try not to leave your dog unattended in the yard, especially if you plan to leave them for a long period of time. Instead, keep a close eye on them and intervene as soon as they make a move to start digging. This is also a good strategy to pursue if you haven’t been able to determine the exact cause of digging just from looking at the evidence in your yard after the fact.

give plenty of love

Give them plenty of love and attention.

If your dog is mostly digging out of a need for attention and entertainment, spending lots of quality time together might be the solution to their behavior. If you’ve been really busy lately, try carving out some time to do your dog’s favorite activities, such as throwing around the ball, visiting the dog park, or just cuddling on the couch. Make sure that you spend time together at least once a day. If you have other family members or roommates, ask them to pitch in as well so that your dog gets plenty of love and attention.

Treat your yard for pests and vermin.

If your dog is digging in order to pursue prey like gophers and moles, then treating your yard pests is the obvious solution. Unfortunately, a lot of chemical treatments that are toxic to these rodents are also toxic to dogs, making them unsuitable for your needs. Instead, use safe and humane methods to make your yard unappealing to these pests. If you don’t want to DIY it at the hardware store, your local exterminator should have pet-safe treatments they can use in your yard.

Exercise your dog often and vigorously.

A high-energy dog is a destructive dog, while a tired dog is a well-behaved one. To that end, make sure that you are exercising your dog on a daily basis. Every single dog has different energy needs that will vary according to their needs as well as their age (older dogs typically need less exercise). Some dogs only need a daily walk, while others need three sessions of strenuous play to tire them out. If you’re not sure how much you should be exercising your dog, talk to your vet about what activity benchmarks to shoot for.

Challenge them mentally, too.

Just exercise won’t be enough for some dogs. They need mental stimulation as well. Teaching your dog new tricks at home is an easy option. Make sure to have plenty of treats for dogs to reward them every time they do a trick right. Also, keep some engaging puzzle toys on hand and rotate them in and out often so your dog doesn’t get too used to them. If your dog needs even more stimulation than that, an obedience class or even an agility class might be a great way to get them out of the house.

teach new tricks

Give them interesting toys, but not too many.

Speaking of toys, these can be a great tool in your toolbox as you work to get your dog to stop digging. However, you do need to be careful if your dog has been digging and then burying their toys as part of their urge to hide items. If this is the case, it’s best to leave them in the yard with only one high-value toy so they don’t feel compelled to bury the ones that they can’t play with out of fear they will be taken away. As your dog learns that their toys are not going to disappear, then you can slowly increase the number of items they can take with them into the yard.

Create a comfortable shelter outside.

If your dog is digging in order to create a shelter for themselves, then giving them a comfortable place to rest should help to reduce their digging behavior. Make sure that their outdoor shelter is insulated against extreme temperatures and provides plenty of shade and protection. Make sure that they also have a bowl that they can’t tip over and fill it up with fresh water every day. When the weather is very hot or very cold, try minimizing their time outside and keep them indoors whenever possible so they will stay comfortable and not feel the need to dig for shelter.

Block the bottom of the fence.

If your dog is digging to escape, then you need to prevent this from happening by putting up a physical barrier. There are many different ways to do this, including burying the bottom of your fence one to two feet below the ground’s surface. You can also bury the chicken wire at the base of the fence or place chain link fence on the ground around the fence (just be sure to protect against sharp edges that your dog might accidentally cut themself on). You can also partially bury large, flat rocks in the most common digging spots to further deter digging and subsequent escapes.

Leave your dog in the house while you garden or do yard work.

If you garden or otherwise work in your yard, your dog might have noticed you digging with your trowel and is seeking to emulate your behavior in their own way. If you typically take your dog out into the yard with you while you do yard work, try keeping them in the house where they can’t see what you are doing. You should also keep them confined inside if you have contractors who come to take care of your yard for you. Basically, you don’t want your dog to see any behavior that might look like digging to them to avoid accidentally enforcing the behavior.

dog digging in sandbox

Create a safe spot for digging.

If your dog digs for fun or is descended from a breed that was trained to dig, then you might not be able to stop them from digging completely. Instead, create a safe spot in a child-sized sandbox or another contained space. Fill it with loose sand or soil that will make for a satisfying digging experience. Make the digging safe zone attractive to your dog by burying desirable toys and long-lasting dog bones for them to discover, and reward them with praise whenever they use the digging box instead of tearing up the yard.

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