The backyard was once your favorite part of the property. You spent hours on your knees, lovingly tending your garden, planting flowers, shrubs, and trees. The lawn was lush and green – a joy to walk on in bare feet. Your family spent hours enjoying the patio and all summer you made sure to eat at least one meal a day outside in your backyard oasis.
Then your husband and children talked you into getting a puppy and all your hard work lays like a minefield – the shrapnel of your plants and the craters the holes the family dog so loves to dig!
For a dog, digging relieves boredom provides hours of exercise, and the instant gratification of finding something fun to play with is reward enough to continue the dig, even if that reward was your prized begonia!
Why do Dogs Dig?
In the wild, wolves, foxes, and bears all dig for grubs when their preferred diet is lean and if a premade den cannot be found, these relatives of our domestic dogs will dig their own.
Most breeds of dogs can be diggers although some are more naturally born to go to ground then others. Terriers and Dachshunds are bred to ‘go to ground’ after prey and digging is as natural to them as eating.
Breeds from hot climates dig to find cool, moist ground in which to lie, providing relief from the heat. On the opposite end of the hemisphere are northern breeds that dig to make themselves a ‘snow cave’ to stay warm.
There are many reasons why modern, domesticated dogs dig. Some dogs learn to dig to keep themselves entertained and relieve boredom. Digging is wonderful exercise and many dogs pick up the habit when their needs are not being met in other, non-destructive ways.
Some dogs learn to dig in order to escape their yard for one reason or another. Sometimes the dog is just an escape artist and enjoys the freedom of investigating the neighborhood. More tragic are dogs digging out of the yard due to fear or anxiety . Dogs suffering from separation anxiety have been know to do this and it is not uncommon during thunderstorms or fireworks displays for dogs to escape in attempt to find a secure spot to hide.
Digging is not normally considered a medical condition although it can become an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Sometimes it starts as digging to hide a toy or treat becomes an anxiety induced fear of continuously digging the prize up to only re-hide it in another spot. Or, like dogs that lick one spot on themselves incessantly, it is a way of keeping their anxiety to a minimum. No matter what the cause, veterinary and behavioral advice should be sought to help relieve the anxiety.
How Do I Discourage my Dog from Digging?
Learning why your dog digs is the first step to discouraging the behavior.
Dogs that instinctually dig such as terriers and Dachshunds are more difficult to retrain or stop the destructive behavior. Teaching them early that the digging behavior is inappropriate may be the only way to nip it in the butt. Spend time outside with them when they are pups and as soon as you see them pawing at the ground, give them a sharp ‘No!’ and, when they turn to look at you, throw a ball or toy to distract them from digging.
If your dog is digging to find a cool place to lie then they may appreciate a children’s wading pool to lounge in instead or provide a well-shaded area for him. In the winter, if your dog is digging to find shelter from the wind, cold and/or rain, provide them with appropriate shelter like a doghouse or bring them inside.
Is your dog digging to relieve boredom or for exercise? Bored dogs are destructive dogs and the best way to keep a dog from getting bored is to make sure they are getting sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. Provide toys to play with, teach them to play fetch, take them for two walks a day for at least thirty minutes, and work on their obedience training every day. Thinking while exercising really wears dogs out making agility, flyball, and other dog sports excellent ways to tire out a busy dog and help build a stronger bond between the two of you.
If free time is a commodity for you, what about hiring a dog walker to take him for a daily walk? Or a dog loving neighborhood child to either play with your dog in your own backyard for an hour a day or, if they are responsible enough, to take your dog for a walk? We all go through periods where there is not enough time in the day to look after all that needs to be done or maybe you are recovering from an illness or injury, should your dog suffer. Dogs that are used to getting a set amount of exercise a day will act out due to boredom if their exercise needs are not met.
Is your dog an escape artist? Why are they leaving? Neutering a male that is escaping the yard in search of love will stop that problem. Other reasons for digging out of the yard can be stopped by improving your fencing system. The cheapest fix is to dig a trench under the fence and run wire fencing through the trench. Next, attach the top of the chicken wire to the bottom of the fence. This can be hard on paws so a thicker wire is preferred. The not so cheap way to improve a fence is to rebuild the fence with a cement foundation around the perimeter.
If all else fails, section off a part of your yard and make it his special digging area. Encourage him to use this area by burying special toys, bones or treats in the ground for him to dig up. Spend some time in the yard with him. If he goes to dig elsewhere, give him a sharp ‘No!’ and then show him where he is allowed to dig. He will learn where digging is permitted and where it is not, it just takes some perseverance on your part!
Although it is difficult to stop a dog from digging, it is not impossible. Persistence, patience, and understanding why he is digging will guarantee you a perfect yard once again!
Having discovered a fondness for insects while pursuing her degree in Biology, Randi Jones was quite bugged to know that people usually dismissed these little creatures as “creepy-crawlies”.