Digging holes in the garden is among the most commonly reported behavioral problems of dogs. It is also very disappointing to spend months on creating a beautiful flowerbed, just to discover a fresh hole in the middle of it. To make matters worse, dogs appear to have a natural willingness to dig on a freshly plowed soil. Made a new flowerbed or filled your dog’s yesterday’s pit? Expect to have some excavation in there.
Fortunately it is possible to prevent your dog from digging. In this article you will learn why dogs dig, and how to stop this unwanted, but natural behavior of your dog.
Why dogs love to dig so much?
You might be interested to know that there may be several different reasons why dogs dig holes. To solve your dog’s problem, you will need to investigate what may be prompting your dog to dig because the cause will determine the proper solution.
Here are most common reasons why dogs dig:
- To keep himself entertained. This is the most common reasons why household dogs dig. You are likely to see that your dog is enjoying the process and that he in doing it for no apparent reason.
- To hunt. A dog can literally try to dig prey animals, such as rats and moles, out of your yard, or he can instinctively dig holes in an empty location. This behavior is very common for hunting breeds.
- To bury food. If there is a food left over, it must be preserved and hidden, which is done by burying it. In this case, you will notice that your dog is trying to cover a treat in the hole.
- To escape. In this case you are likely to see your dog digging around the perimeter, under the fence or near the gates. We are not going to focus on digging to escape here, because digging is not your dog’s main problem. Solve your dogs urge to escape, and the digging will also disappear.
- To cool off. In this case you are likely to see that your dog sleeps in the pit afterwards. Try to provide an appropriate place to cool. Create a shaded area, provide a small garden pool or bowl of water, buy a dog house, or keep your dog inside during mid-day when the air is the hottest.
How do you stop a dog from digging?
Okay, now that you know why dogs dig, you are ready to stop this behavior. What’s below mainly applies to a dog digging for fun, exploration and hunting, but some of the tips may also apply to other causes.
1. Understand that digging is a natural behavior of a dog
Unlike certain behavior problems, digging is completely normal for dogs, though not always welcomed by humans. Instead of trying to train your dog not to dig, you should try to focus his energy on something else. And by that we mean:
- Provide a location where digging is allowed
- Provide alternate activities that replace your dog’s desire to dig
- Do both
We will talk about this below, but hopefully you now understand that digging provides your dog with physical exercise and exploration. Can you provide these two some other way? You sure can!
2. Walk your dog to stop digging
Walking is a necessity for your dog, and it’s a myth that dogs who have a yard do not need to go for a walk. Walking provides exercise, time with the owner, communication with other dogs, and, most important, walking also provides dogs with a chance to explore.
How often should you walk your dog? There is no golden rule (“the more, the better” always apply), but here’s a challenge for you to try:
Initially, walk your dog at least 30 minutes every day for 10 days. We can guarantee that after those ten days, or even sooner, you will not recognize your dog. The digging may be not gone completely, but it will definitely be reduced, and other misbehavior, such as constant barking, will diminish, too. After that, of course, you need to realize that walking works, and continue to do it every day or, at least three to five days per week.
You can try other activities, too. Walking is not the only one available, there’s also fetch, biking, swimming, agility and others. The most important thing is to find something that you will enjoy yourself, too. It’s not that hard when there are many ways to keep a dog active.
3. Create a food hunt in the yard
If your dog is digging due to hunting instinct and/or boredom, a great way to redirect this energy is to create a food hunt in your garden. Here’s how to do it.
Take one of your dog’s meals and, instead of simply putting it in a bowl, divide it in 3 to 5 or more parts and hide inside your garden for your dog to discover.
The first time you do this, you probably will have to hide the food in easily accessible locations. You also want to place one of the pieces in your dog’s bowl, so he understands that it counts as a meal. Later on you can make it harder by hiding the food under and behind certain objects. The trick is to make it increasingly difficult for your dog to retrieve them.
NOTE: If your garden is inhabited by animals that dogs prey upon (rats, mice, rabbits, groundhogs and similar), you should get rid of these because if a dog sees his natural prey disappear in a cave, there’s nothing you can do to stop him from going after them. It’s instinctive.
4. Make the holes inaccessible.
Next step is to make the area where your dog loves to dig either inaccessible or undesirable.
You can fill the hole with rocks or water, install a chicken wire around it, or even put a motion activated dog deterrent, which is intended for outdoor use.
Motion activated deterrents work well because they are consistent and work independently. It can be exhausting guarding a hole in the ground just to keep your dog from digging. It’s always better to let machines do the work for you.
IMPORTANT: This is only an additional aid to keep a dog from digging. You still need to do most of what’s mentioned above because if you don’t, your dog will easily find a new spot to dig in.
5. Create a location where the dog is allowed to dig.
As we mentioned several times, digging is a natural behavior of the dog. This means he needs it, and, if your dog particularly needs it badly, create a spot in the garden where your dog is allowed to dig.
- Make the undesirable digging location inaccessible as mentioned above.
- Locate a soft soil location where it is okay for your dog to dig.
- Teach your dog to respond well to basic obedience commands, such as “sit” and “come.”
- Whenever your dog digs in an undesirable area, interrupt this behavior.
- Call your dog to yourself and lead him to a desirabe location.
- Show your dog a treat and cover it with dirt in that location.
- If your dog responds by digging it up, praise him.
Note: There may be other techniques to train a dog to dig in a desirable location instead of the undesirable one. The above methods may work in most cases, but other methods may be needed, especially if your dog responds to things other than food.
6. Do not punish your dog for digging
Last but not least, never punish your dog for digging in your garden. Not only is it cruel, but it also will not prevent your dog from digging. In addition, punishment may have negative effects.. For example, if your dog digs holes to escape from the yard, beating him will only increase his desire to escape. In case of boredom, punishment will make a dog anxious, but not less bored.
What’s most important is to provide your dog with regular activity. Keep your dog happy and exercised, and he won’t need to dig in your flowerbeds for entertainment. If, however, you still have problems, find a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.