BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Keep Dogs from Digging: Why Dogs Dig Holes?

How to Keep Dogs from Digging
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Digging is a normal instinct that dogs of all breeds exhibit. The urge to dig is embedded in every dog’s genes – wild canine animals dig holes in the ground to survive harsh weather conditions, to hide food surpluses or to find food. As “normal” as this behavior is, it is also one of the most dreaded dogs’ habits among dog owners.

Even the slightest notion that their dog might be “a digger” can throw most dog owners into genuine panic. Indeed, there is nothing more frustrating than coming home to a pet covered with dirt and a garden looking like a minefield. That’s why the question how to keep dogs from digging has been and remains one of the most debated topics among dog owners and training professionals.

Household dogs dig holes for a number of reasons, and sometimes – for no reason at all. Dogs may start digging holes just because it is a super fun and rewarding activity.

Big dig

Obviously, it is not that easy to find a solution to something that your dog doesn’t consider a problem and that is so rewarding and pleasurable. In the following lines we will summarize the basic reasons that may provoke digging in dogs. Next, we will explain in detailя how to keep dogs from digging and which behavior correction techniques to avoid.

Why do dogs dig holes?

Dogs dig holes for variety of reasons and very often it is a combination of factors that provoke them – looking for cool or warm place to stay, being bored, frustrated or anxious, trying to escape and so on. In order to deal with this problem efficiently, first you need to understand why dogs dig holes do in general, and second – why your dog dig holes in particular.

Being aware of the core reasons why dogs indulge into this destructive behavior and pinpointing the exact reasons why your pet does it will give you the solution. Here is a short list of the most common reasons for that behavior:

  • Breed predisposition. Digging is a natural behavior among dogs, however some dog breed exhibit stronger tendency to dig holes in the ground and/or to bury items than other dog breed. These are dog breeds, specifically selected to dig holes and tunnels in order to hunt vermin or other small creatures.
  • Lack of physical activity. Insufficient physical activity may provoke compulsive digging in dogs. Larger dog breeds, working dog breeds and breeds that are generally more active are prone to developing such destructive habits if not provided with enough physical exercise – one to three hours a day, depending on the age and breed of the dog.
  • Insufficient mental stimulation. If not provided with enough mental challenges a dog becomes… bored. Just like small children in a sandbox dig holes to entertain themselves, dogs dig holes anywhere they see loose soil or sand for entertainment or simply because they have nothing better to do.
  • Hiding valued items. All canine animals hide highly valued items instinctively. Some household dogs are prone to burring items in the ground or looking for other pets’ hidden treasures.
  • Behavior problems. Sometimes digging holes in the ground is a sign of more serious behavior problem such as frustration or some type of anxiety disorder. To help cope and find solutions to these problems, check out our article on solutions for problematic dog behavior.

Dogs that dig holes are very rarely provoked by a single motive. Usually, you should be looking for a combination of factors. For instance, a dog breed that is predisposed to dig will certainly start digging if he or she is not stimulated with other challenging activities; a dog that is kept inside and alone for prolonged periods of time may start digging out of frustration and lack of enough physical and mental stimulation.

How to stop your dog from digging holes and burying things in the ground?

Although there is no single, definitive solution that will stop your little friend from digging holes in the ground and hiding items in them, there are plenty of things you can do to correct these unwanted behaviors. An easy way to find out how to stop your dog from digging is to check out the list below and find the statement or statements that best describe your situation.

Doggy pit with fence

It is in my dog’s breed to be “a digger”

Those who happen to own a dog from one of the infamous “digger” dog breeds probably feel like there is nothing they can do. Well, that is not the case: dogs with strong instinct and constant desire to dig must be trained where it is acceptable to do it rather than trained not to do it at all. A very simple, affordable and effective solution is to provide your little friend with a tempting digging pit – a place of where digging is not a problem but a fun desirable activity. Of course, you will also need to teach your dog to dig in the pit and not anywhere else.

You can do so by following these straightforward steps:

  1. Clearly define the borders of the pit with a low fence or stones.
  2. Fill the pit with combination of sand and loose dirt.
  3. Encourage your dog to dig in the pit by hiding desirable items in the soil (small treats, bones, toys) and even digging a whole there yourself.
  4. Correct your dog every time you notice that he or she starts digging outside the special digging pit.

My dog digs holes to entertain itself

If digging holes in the ground is a form of entertainment for your pet, you will need to occupy him or her with something more interesting. The question is what. Step into the shoes of your dog for a second: digging a hole in the ground is exciting and rewarding by itself – and what can be more exciting and rewarding that you can offer?

A simple solution is to engage your dog in various training activities, especially if you have an agile, intelligent and active dog breed. Start teaching your dog some new, simple tricks while gradually increasing the difficulty level of the tasks. Agility training kits that include different types of obstacles and tunnels are very suitable to stimulate your dog’s intellect and to redirect its attention and energy away from digging in the ground.

Dog pit

Teaching your dog new commands, tricks and games will help eventually but will not solve the problem overnight. In the meantime, limit the access of your dog only to certain areas of your yard and supervise him or her closely. Another option is to decide where it would be tolerable for your pet to dig, place fences around the rest of the yard and build a dedicated digging pit. However this might not be a good solution if your final goal is to completely eliminate this unwanted behavior.

My dog loves to hide things in the ground

Burying items in the ground is an instinct your dog has inherited from its wild ancestors. Wolves, foxes and other canine animals typically dig holes to hide food or to look for food. Just because your dog is enjoying regular meals, doesn’t mean he or she will not want to bury bones or other goodies in the ground. If this is the case with your dogs: do not leave food leftovers in your dog’s bowl; correct your dog every time you notice he or she is trying to bury something in the ground.

My dog needs more physical exercise

Insufficient physical exercise is a very serious problem for dogs, and especially for active dog breeds such as Golden retriever and German Shepherds. Additionally, constant lack of physical activity normally causes frustration in dogs, and digging may be one of its signs. Luckily, there is a simple solution – provide your dog with enough physical exercise. Try to engage your pet in some type of intense physical exercise at lest an hour or two every day.

Additionally, dedicate some time to less intense physical exercise such as flyball, fetch or tug-of-war. An hour of running or swimming and an hour of another joyful activity in the morning and in the evening should exhaust your four legged friend enough to forget about digging holes in your garden. You can discover even more great ideas in our article about exercising your dog.

My dog only digs holes when I am not home

A common cause for this and other compulsive destructive behaviors in dogs is a condition known as separation anxiety. Put simply, your dog hates it when you are away. Nobody knows exactly why some dogs develop separation issues while other dogs do not. Most dog training experts believe that change of residence or family member, as well as drastic changes in daily routines, can trigger this problem. Dogs adopted from animal shelters or other pet that have been abandoned at some point of their life tend to be more prone to it.

Typical signs of separation anxiety include urinating and defecating inside, howling, pacing as well as various destructive behaviors such as digging in the ground and chewing household items. So, if your dog digs holes in the ground only when left alone, you should pay attention by looking out for the signs detailed in this article about separation anxiety in dogs.

Tips for a friendly home

Mild cases of separation anxiety in dogs can be treated easily by giving your dogs “tasks” to complete while you are not home. Food puzzle toys are very often the preferred choice – stuff one or two toys with something really tasty and give them to your dog before you leave. These toys will keep your pet busy and take its attention away from digging holes or ruining other household or personal items.

What to avoid when training your pet?

There are various behavior correction techniques that professional employ to correct unwanted behaviors in dogs. Modern methods used for correcting unwanted behavior in dogs are much more positive and tolerant to dogs compared to older training systems. When it comes to digging, most dogs respond better to positive and relaxed training as opposed to harsh, insensitive practice.

The following techniques are likely to have adverse effect on your dog so it is recommended to avoid them, when trying to teach your dog how to stop digging or burying items in the ground:

  • Burying your dog’s feces in the holes your pet dug. First of all, dog feces are not necessarily as disgusting for dogs are they are for humans. In any case, if your little friend finds feces in the hole they dug yesterday, he or she will just start a new hole somewhere else in your garden.
  • Rubbing/burying your dog’s face in the hole he or she dug. That is a very harsh method that never renders positive results. Calling your dog after the event, rubbing their face in the ground or burying it may not only harm your pet but will teach them absolutely nothing. Your dog will have no clue why you are punishing them and will only feel hurt and frightened.
  • Filling a hole with water and submerging your dog’s head in it. This is one of the extremely inhumane methods used in the past. It can cause severe heath complications and will not solve your dog’s digging problem. In fact, such harsh correction methods are known to cause additional behavior problems in dogs.

Digging is natural behavior among dogs. Although this nasty habit can turn your yard into a mud field or completely destroy your flower or vegetable garden, dogs do not realize why they should be corrected or punished for that.

Dirty dog

Dog owners that are able to accept that fact are also those who are likely to tackle the problem faster and more efficiently. The most important things to keep in mind when trying to figure out how to keep dogs from digging include identifying the real reason (or combination of reasons) that motivate the dog and finding a suitable solution.

Similar to any other habit – good or bad, digging cannot be corrected in a day or two; there might be months before you and your dog make any progress. The key to success is in being extremely patient with your dog and keep correction training positive the whole time.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Daisy Simmons

    Our dogs, while not obsessive diggers, dig occasionally and sometimes the sheer number of the canines and the long trips to the grooming parlor makes a sizable sum of expenses. Hopefully we could find the cause of their habits and I sure do hope we can discourage it. Our grooming expenses (and wallet) would be grateful!

  • Florence Riley

    My neighbor had a sort of sand box for her dog to dig and hide her treats. Now everyone is happy – both dog and human. There’s less mess, sand is easily brushed off and the dog is happy in her activity.

  • LeahJacobySmith

    How do you keep a Golden Retriever from digging holes in your yard? Every year, my sister
    comes to visit with her Golden Retriever who can’t be left alone. She ended up digging our entire yard the last time they visited. My dad suggested getting a shock collar, but I felt that to be too extreme. What do I do? I have newly planted flowers this season.

  • Jennie Mele

    I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT he digs holes A LOT. . So, leaving home is always a challenge for us.
    My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

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