Many of the behaviors that we humans have deemed unacceptable for our dogs are completely natural for dogs and for some breeds these behaviors are really deeply rooted in their DNA. Digging is one such behavior for many breeds. Your dog’s environment can greatly influence their success or failure. We can manipulate the environment to help avoid this particular behavior.
Identify the Reason
The first thing to do is decide why the dog is digging. Many terrier breeds such as dachshunds and rat terriers are more likely to dig because they are chasing some sort of rodent while retrievers and shepherd breeds are more likely to dig out of boredom or the need to go somewhere. Identifying the reason for the digging can increase your chances of successfully correcting the unwanted behavior. If your dog continues to dig without any intervention it quickly leads to a habit; and habits as we have all experienced, are hard to break.
Types of Digging
If you have a little more flexibility in finding a solution the first thing to do is observe the type of hole that is being dug. Terriers looking for a critter usually have one or two pretty deep holes in a similar area. A dog looking to go somewhere most often will have holes near a fence or gate. Bored dogs have a tendency to dig a lot of holes in no particular place of different depths, as they tend to lose interest quickly, but sometimes return to a hole several times. Lastly, some dogs are just scratching the surface a few inches to make a cooler spot to lay.
If you have a digging dog and just need it to end, containment is going to be your answer. A dog “run” on a slab, a crate, keeping your dog inside are all alternate forms of containment. If your dog cannot handle the freedom of the yard, limit free access by using other forms of containment.
For the bored/looking to roam dog. It comes down to time. Spend more with your dog. Make it a bigger priority. Go for a walk, play a game, do obedience games, join a dog spot, do something every day. If you do have to skip a day, check out our article on backyard boredom busters, but use them sparingly. Many times the more you interact with your dog the less need he has to do “activities” without you. They are more content to wait for you if you bring the mental and physical stimulation they need.
Another option is to give your dog an acceptable place to dig and encourage him in that spot. Create a “dig box,” which is sort of like a child’s sandbox. Instead of sand, a nice topsoil will work fine. You want the dirt to be nice and soft and fluffy as that is much more fun to dig in than hard soil. I try to put it in a place that the sprinklers will not hit and make a mud box. Start by making sure you put all you dog’s favorite toys and bones in the box. Some of them should be half buried so your dog has to get them out, some buried just barely underground. You can do the same thing with cookies. Every few days go a little deeper. The point is to make your dog know if they dig in the box they are likely to find, “buried treasure,” so it makes sense to dig in that place. Which if that is where the treasure is, why would you dig elsewhere? Just remember to keep filling the treasure box.
Digging is a behavior of opportunity. It usually happens when we are away. As a result, we have to get creative with our solutions.