"I dig because I can."
It's the motto of dogs everywhere, and completely normal behavior.
Yet the reasons behind the activity are varied. Your
dog may dig to seek entertainment, attention, comfort, escape, prey, or
protection. (Despite how you might feel sometimes, your dog won't
dig out of spite, revenge, or a desire to destroy your yard.) And just
when you think you've outsmarted the old pooch by finding ways to make
the area where he digs unappealing, your dog will likely begin digging
in other locations or display other unacceptable behavior, such as
chewing or barking.
A much more effective approach to the problem is to
address the cause of the digging. Here's advice on how to figure
out why your dog digs—and how to stop it:
Dogs may dig as a form of self-play when they learn
that roots and soil "play back." Your dog may be digging for
- He's left alone in the yard for long periods of
time without opportunities for interaction with you or others.
- His environment is relatively barren—with no
playmates or toys.
- He's a puppy or adolescent (under three years
old) and doesn't have other outlets for his energy.
- He's the type of dog that is bred to dig as part
of his "job" (such as a terrier).
- He's a particularly active type of dog who needs
an active job to be happy (such as a herding or sporting breed).
- He's recently seen you "playing" in the dirt
(gardening or working in the yard).
We recommend expanding your dog's world and
increasing his "people time" in the following ways:
- Walk your dog at least twice daily. It's good
exercise for both of you—mentally and physically!
- Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee®, and
play with him as often as possible.
- Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks.
Practice these commands/tricks every day for five to ten minutes.
- Take a training class with your dog and practice
daily what you've learned.
- Keep interesting toys in the yard to keep your
dog busy even when you're not around. Kong®-type toys filled with
treats or busy-box dog toys work especially well. Rotate the toys to
make them seem new and interesting.
- For dedicated diggers, provide an "acceptable
digging area." Choose an area of the yard where it's okay for your
dog to dig, and cover that area with loose soil or sand. If you
catch your dog digging in an unacceptable area, interrupt the
behavior with a loud noise and say, "No dig." Then immediately take
the dog to his designated digging area. When he digs in the approved
spot, reward him with praise. Make the unacceptable digging spots
unattractive (at least temporarily) by setting rocks or chicken wire
into the dirt. Make the acceptable area attractive by burying safe
items for him to discover.
Dogs may try to pursue burrowing animals or insects
that live in your yard. Your dog may be pursuing prey if:
- The digging is in a specific area instead of at
the boundaries of the yard.
- The digging is at the roots of trees or shrubs.
- The digging is in a "path" layout.
We recommend that you search for possible signs of
"pests" and then make your yard unwelcome to them. Avoid methods that
could be toxic or dangerous to your pets or other animals. For advice on
dealing humanely with wildlife, visit our information on Urban
Wildlife—Our Wild Neighbors.
Seeking Comfort or Protection
In hot weather, dogs may dig holes to lie in the cool
dirt. They may also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold,
wind, or rain, or to try to find water. Your dog may be digging for
comfort or protection if:
- The holes are near foundations of buildings,
large shade trees, or a water source.
- Your dog doesn't have a shelter or his shelter
is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds.
- You find evidence that your dog is lying in the
holes he digs.
We recommend that you provide your dog with the
comfort or protection he seeks:
- Provide an insulated doghouse. Make sure it
affords protection from wind and sun.
- Your dog may still prefer a hole in the ground,
in which case you can try providing an "approved digging area" as
described above. Make sure the allowed digging area is in a spot
that is protected from the elements.
- Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that
can't be tipped over.
Any behavior can become attention-getting behavior if
the dog learns that he receives attention for engaging in it. (Even
punishment is a form of attention.) Your dog may be digging to get
- He digs in your presence.
- His other opportunities for interaction with you
We recommend that you ignore the behavior:
- Don't give your dog attention for digging.
Remember, even punishment is attention.
- Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you
on a daily basis. That way, he doesn't have to resort to
"misbehaving" to get your attention.
Dogs may escape to get to something, to get
somewhere, or to get away from something. Your dog may be digging to
- He digs along the fence line.
- He digs under the fence.
We recommend the following to keep your dog in the
yard while you work on the behavior modifications recommended on our tip
sheet, The Canine Escape Artist.
- Bury chicken wire at the base of the fence. Be
sure to roll the sharp edges away from your yard.
- Place large rocks, partially buried, along the
bottom of the fence line.
- Bury the bottom of the fence one to two feet
below the surface.
- Lay chain link fencing on the ground (anchored
to the bottom of the fence) to make it uncomfortable for your dog to
walk near the fence.
Regardless of the reason for digging, we don't
- Punishment after the fact. This will not address
the cause of the behavior, and in fact it will worsen any digging
that's motivated by fear or anxiety. Punishment may also cause
anxiety in dogs who aren't currently fearful.
- Staking a dog out near a hole he's dug or
filling the hole with water. These techniques address neither the
cause of the behavior nor the act of digging.
Finally, if you've tried all these suggestions and
you still can't solve your dog's digging problem, then keep him indoors
with you, and be sure to supervise your dog during bathroom breaks.
©2002. Adapted from material
originally developed by applied animal behaviorists at the Dumb Friends
League, Denver, Colorado. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of
The Humane Society of the United States.