How & Why Your Dog Digs—Plus How to Get Them to Stop
If your dog is digging—whether it's holes all over your yard, or an escape hatch under the fence—it's important to identify the reasons why your dog is digging before addressing the behavior. Some pet parents are simply trying to understand the strange, sometimes random-seeming digging behavior. Others are desperately trying to save their garden. And still more are hoping to keep their dog from escaping under the fence.
While there are many reasons why your dog might be digging, understanding the basics of why dogs dig is the first step in managing the habit. Jennifer White, a behavior rehabilitation specialist from the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, offers her advice on how to help keep pets (and your yard!) safe.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
"Some wild dog relatives, like foxes and wolves, dig dens to raise their young," White notes. With these canine relatives instinctively resorting to dens for protection and comfort, it's not surprising when we see our domestic dogs sharing some of those behaviors. "Our pet dogs share the desire to sleep in and under things that resemble a den," says White. "They often dig at the ground and circle before lying down, as though they're trying to make a softer resting place."
Some dogs simply love to dig, and tend to do so when they're trying to stay warm or cool, as digging a hole or den to rest in can protect them from hot or cold weather. But often, dogs dig for entertainment (it's just fun!) or to bury things, and even to hunt down animals. "Dogs may also dig when they're anxious or to escape a yard," White points out, "so identifying the cause of your dog's digging is an important first step to addressing the behavior."
Identifying Why Your Dog Digs
Managing and reducing your pup's digging habit requires understanding why they're digging, as the best way to address the behavior varies based on the reason. Here are some common ways to identify what makes your dog dig, and how to counter the behavior.
The Comfort Digger
If your dog digs a hole, circles a few times, and lays down in it, she's a Comfort Digger. White points out that our dogs' ancestors would dig holes to sleep in. The same goes for today's companion canines—especially if there's no shelter with a milder temperature to offer than the air outside. "If you suspect your dog is too warm or too cold, consider providing an insulated dog house in cold weather, or providing more shade in hot weather." You can plant a tree to create more shade, or simply encourage your dog to spend more time inside when it's hot or cold. In extreme heat, many dogs enjoy standing or sitting in a shallow pool to cool off, too.
The Happy Digger
A pup that simply seems to enjoy digging, and randomly digs deep holes at all times of the day, whether you're home or not, is most likely a Happy Digger. Some dogs just enjoy a "good dig," and often don't differentiate between digging in a barren dirt area or the vegetable garden you've worked so hard on. If you have areas of the yard you'd like to protect, White suggests putting up a low fence to keep him out, and supervising him when he has access to the area. "This will allow you to interrupt the behavior right away, and redirect him to a more appropriate spot, if one exists," she notes. "Reward your dog with praise and a treat or two when he performs a desired behavior such as digging in an appropriate place or simply leaving your flower beds alone."
With Happy Diggers who clearly enjoy digging as a hobby, it might be best to give them a designated spot to dig and bury things in. White suggests building a digging pit. Bury some treats and treasures for your dog to discover on his own in the designated spot to make digging in the correct area fun and reinforcing.
The Boredom Digger
Boredom Diggers only dig when left alone, often for long periods of time. They might also bark or chew while you're gone. White recommends beating those boredom blues by giving your dog some more stimulating things to do. "Playing fetch or tug and going for longer sniffy walks can not only provide physical stimulation, but more importantly, offers quality time with you," she notes.
Giving your pup plenty of chew toys and food-dispensing toys to keep them busy will help take their mind off your absence, and help engage the mind of your canine best friend. "Break up long days by hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to doggy daycare once or twice a week, if he enjoys the company of other canines," White suggests. Either way, the best way to curb boredom digging is to keep your furry friend entertained and mentally stimulated.
The Hunting Digger
If your dog is barking and whining, and inexplicably focused on the ground, they are likely fixated on a rodent trail. These dogs are inclined to dig when hunting. The best way to address the Hunting Digger is with supervision, White explains. "Interrupt fixated hunting behavior before your dog starts to dig and either distract her with play, if possible." You can also move indoors, and redirect your dog's attention to play or a food dispensing toy or chew. It would also be useful to find ways to deter the ground critters from coming into your yard, and eliminating your dog's desire to chase them down and dig them up.
The Escaping Digger
Some dogs have a keen sense of adventure, and will try to dig under a fence to escape a yard. The best way to curb this type of digging is with plenty of more vigorous exercise. The goal with increased activity is to wear your dog out a bit more, so games like fetch and tug can help burn off extra energy, as well as going for a run together. White also recommends a little DIY ingenuity to help keep your dog enclosed. "Reinforce the ground near your fence by pouring cement or burying chicken wire to discourage digging," White says. And since male dogs who are not neutered will often seek out neighborhood female dogs in heat, she advises pet parents to consider neutering to reduce the likelihood of roaming.
The Anxious Digger
If your dog exhibits behavior like whining, pacing, and panting before you leave the house, he or she might be digging to escape because of anxiety. Anxious Diggers often chew and bark at entrances and exits. If your pup is showing signs of severe separation anxiety, White strongly recommends consulting with a qualified professional to find the best way to relieve your pup's anxiety. "A Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB) and your veterinarian [can provide] guidance in helping your dog feel more relaxed when left alone," White suggests.
No matter the type of digging your dog is engaged in, there are plenty of ways to help address it—and it's always a great idea to seek help from your veterinarian or a certified behaviorist who can help you understand your dog's behavior. Most importantly, it's essential that you avoid scolding or punishing a dog for digging, since digging often happens hours before you find the resulting evidence and it's difficult for your dog to understand why he's being punished. Plus, scolding and punishing a dog after the fact is unlikely to curb the behavior, and will instead scare or upset your pup. Instead, try to understand what's causing your dog to dig, and adjust your pup's environment to keep them from all of that unnecessary excavating.