Digging--How to Deal
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Is your carefully manicured yard full of holes? Does your dog just love to tear up your meticulously tended garden? This kind of behavior seems frustratingly difficult to halt, because it tends to happen when you aren’t around. Digging is, for many dogs, a self rewarding behavior—a behavior that in and of itself provides the motivation to perform the act. You must first recognize the cause of your dog’s digging, and then take the necessary steps to train an alternate, incompatible action, remove the cause of the problem, or make digging no longer desirable or rewarding for your dog. There are various reasons dogs dig, and each one requires a different method to stop the problem.
Digging for Relief from the Elements
If your dog digs holes in cool shady spots, or under your deck, or it is apparent your dog has been digging holes and laying in them, he is probably digging to get out of the heat or cold. A hole makes a comfortable shelter from the wind and rain when it’s cold out. Also, the soil beneath the surface is cooler on hot days, so your dog can beat the heat by napping in a hole in a shady spot. If this is why your dog is digging, consider providing more shade in your yard. An insulated dog house might be all it takes to stop this undesirable behavior. Make sure your dog always has fresh, clean water in a bowl that he cannot tip over. You can provide your dog with a heating or cooling bed to combat the elements, and a small plastic pool is always a fun way for your dog to keep cool.
Dogs with a strong prey drive, especially ratters like some terrier breeds may be digging to root out pests. If your dog is digging at the base of trees, if the holes he digs form a path, or if they are concentrated in one place in the yard, this might be the case. These dogs were bred to perform a service, and they are happy when they have work to do. Redirect this instinct with games that satisfy your dog’s urge to seek out prey, like hide and seek. Eradicating the pests in your yard will also go a long way to stopping this problem. If your dog is digging after moles, then the rodents are probably doing as much damage to your yard as your dog is anyway. You can also consider providing a place in the yard where it is ok to dig, so your dog can satisfy the urge in a less detrimental way. Pick a spot in the yard, preferably one that is sandy or has soft dirt, and hide a bunch of tasty treats just below the surface, with one or two sticking out just above the ground. Take your dog to the spot and praise him energetically when he finds the treats. Any time you catch your dog digging elsewhere, direct him to his digging place.
Boredom, Frustration and Excess Energy
If your dog digs in random spots throughout the yard and this behavior is accompanied by other signs of boredom like excessive barking, or destructive behavior, your dog is likely digging because of boredom, frustration, or excess energy. This will often occur if your yard is relatively barren of enjoyable stimulation. Provide your dog with plenty of fun, engaging toys when he’s in the yard. Dogs that act out as a result of being bored and frustrated need to get that excess energy out. Walk your dog twice a day until he is tired and you will see a marked adjustment in his behavior. If you can’t walk far enough or long enough to make your dog tired, you can put a backpack on him to make the walk more work. Talk to your vet about how heavy it should be and how far you should walk with it. Your dog may also be bored and frustrated if you are not spending enough time with him. Think about how much time you spend away from your dog and make up for this by spending lots of real, quality time together playing fun, energetic games like fetch and Frisbee.
Fear and Escape
If your dog is digging along the fence line, he is most likely digging to get out of the yard. Your first action should be to make sure your fence is difficult to escape so your dog does not run away. The best way to reinforce your fence is to bury chicken wire extending several feet below the fence, and place cinder blocks along the fence line, so even if your dog digs, he will not be able to get out. You must also pinpoint the reason for your dog’s fear and why he is trying to escape. Is there a dog next door who teases him through the fence, or a neighborhood cat who comes in your yard and torments your dog? This type of motivator is out of your control and you should consider only letting your dog play in the yard when you are around to supervise. Your dog could also be trying to escape to find you, due to separation anxiety. Make pleasant distractions available, like stuffable toys that reward your dog for playing with them by providing tasty snacks. Learn more about living with separation anxiety to control this problem.
Outdoor repellents can halt your dog’s digging behavior by keeping him away from the places where he likes to dig. Another way for your dog to learn that digging is not ok, that is not related to you, and will therefore keep him from doing it all the time, rather than just when you’re around, is the sprinkler method. Set up a sprinkler near where your dog digs, then let your dog play in the yard while you hide out of sight with the hose kinked in your hand. As soon as your dog starts to dig, un-kink the hose so your dog gets sprayed by the sprinkler. Do this a few times and your dog will associate getting sprayed with digging and the behavior will most likely stop. You can also get this effect with the hose itself or a toy water gun. Also, think about crating your dog when you are not home, rather than leaving him in the yard to get into trouble. A crate is really the safest place for your dog to be when you can’t supervise.