Dogs dig holes for various reasons. Not just that they dig holes in the ground, but some of our indoor pets even enjoy digging carpets, furniture and ground out of big flower pots.
If having your backyard look like a spent minefield isn’t your idea of a proper gardening, you and your dog may have to renegotiate the rules.
One of the reasons for digging is a reminiscence of our dogs’ wild ancestors’ behavior.
In order to adapt to the climate and maintain their body temperature or cool down, wild dogs used to dig holes in the ground and use them as a temperature regulated shelter of a kind.
Food preservation was also a strong motive to dig. Wild dogs used to hide the remains of food for later use in such holes.
Some dogs never show any interest in digging of any sort, while others do it passionately. However, in order to know how to stop your dog from digging holes, you need to understand what is at the core of this behavior.
Why Dogs Dig Holes?
Different reasons could be behind your dog’s digging, so let’s check out the most common ones!
1. Instinctively Preserving Food Remains
Digging can be caused by a wide variety of reasons. Many of them are caused by dogs’ instinctive need to dig, which originates from their wild ancestors.
Digging holes in order to preserve food remains is an obvious example of the link with the past, even though the actual need to preserve food is, due to completely different living conditions, long gone.
Even some of our indoor dogs display the remains of that old behavioral pattern: since they do not have an access to a proper digging area, they compensate it by hiding food remains in places such as piles of clothes and sock drawers. The original point of hiding food is based on the uncertainty of wild dog’s next meal.
Domesticated pet dogs don’t ever have to scavenge or hunt for food, yet the instinctive need to bury it somewhere safe just in case, remains.
Some females dig holes in the ground shortly before they give birth to puppies. They do it in order to create a stable temperature and a safe place for the puppies, which is also a reminiscence of the wild dogs’ behavior.
Nowadays, our pet dogs do not have to worry about keeping their little ones safe from predators or protect them from bad weather, but this instinct based digging still surfaces sometimes. In order not to disturb the future mommy, let her dig if she feels like it.
It is, after all, a special occasion, and she will not give birth or raise puppies in that hole anyway, so the worst thing you will have to deal with is a hole to fill afterwards.
2. Joy of Exploration
“Hidden treasures” that who knows when and how ended up buried in your backyard may just be what motivates your dog to dig holes. As trivial an object as long forgotten food remains or a bone that some other dog may have buried shallowly can cause your dog to dig.
Let us just put it this way; some dogs simply like to dig, for no other reason but joy. Digging is a natural way to exercise, explore and have fun. If you are able to provide your dog with an area you would allow him to dig in – great!
Keep in mind that keeping your dog from turning the whole yard into his digging area may take some training and establishing certain rules that you should not change! Punish digging anywhere else but in the allowed area.
3. Boredom And Stress Related Digging
Combined with a taste in that kind of fun, boredom is a very common cause of digging. Dogs with too much energy left unspent do it in order do have some fun by themselves and exercise.
Occasional digging is no reason to get upset about (the act of digging, not the product of the action) – your dog may simply be bored or curious, but manic digging may suggest that your dog does it in order to release stress or anxiety.
It is not uncommon for dogs to dig in occasions that cause them fear; digging comes in as a distraction they create for themselves to ease the stress.
Fireworks and thunder storms are some of those situations. Manic digging may also be a consequence of a more serious issue of your dog feeling deprived of your attention. In that case, digging is a means to attract your attention and release anxiety.
4. Escape Plan
For various reasons dogs sometimes create “informal” exits out of the backyard they inhabit. The easiest way to create that kind of exit is to dig under the fence.
Most of the dogs do not pull it through and actually dig to the other side, but it sure is unpleasant to know that at some point your dog might provide himself with an unattained path to the street where he can get in a harm’s way.
5. Other Reasons
There is an opinion that the scent of a fertilizer is what attracts dogs to the whole idea of digging.
There is also a possibility that your dog is actually mimicking what you do. It is said that some dogs dig in order to imitate your actions, for example, what you do while gardening. It is unlikely that all of the ground-digging dogs are under such a strong impression over gardening, but the idea itself sounds interesting.
Dogs who are part of mountain rescue teams are trained from day one to dig, so they can pull people out.
Some dogs do not have an access to a ground they could dig, so they dig inside the house. It usually does not end up with actually digging hole in anything, although some more persistent diggers may damage the furniture or carpets.
Plants you keep in the house, or better say, the dirt they are planted into seems to catch some of our dogs’ attention. Since no actual digging is possible, they sometimes use their paws to pull the dirt out. Some more eager to explore “the real dig” push over the flower pots and play, roll and smudge the dirt into the carpet.
Curiosity is one reason for this type of actions, but boredom and making mess in order to attract your attention is also a common cause.
How To Stop Your Dog From Digging?
To put an end to digging means to understand the reason that causes it first, and then choose your actions and strategy accordingly.
We have mentioned several of the most common ones, and not all of them require the same approach.
Not all dogs dig, to begin with. We should acknowledge the distinction between digging for fun, exercise and exploration or instinctive actions which should be approached as training tasks and the digging as a manifestation of fear and anxiety that requires deeper analysis of the cause itself.
1. Intensify Exercise
Most people are not fine with having their backyards or furniture dug into. Dogs who dig for fun and exercise do it when the unspent energy builds up. One way to prevent this from happening is to exercise your dog regularly.
2. Include Some Form Of Punishment
Dogs that are particularly fond of the act of digging, on the other hand, do not do it because they lack exercise, but because they like to dig. A strategy regarding this issue is based on clearly displaying that this type of behavior is unacceptable and inducing some sort of punishment.
It is easier to clearly show your discontent when you catch the digger in action. If you do, be loud and punish your dog by sending him to his kennel and ignoring him for a while afterwards. Same goes for the house dogs. Dig into the rug – spend the rest of the day in the doggy basket.
Fill in the holes in the ground your dog dug in front of your dog. Sounding upset and noisy while doing that may also help pointing out how displeased you are.
3. Provide Your Dog With More Attention
Digging out of fear and anxiety is not a typical pattern of misbehavior (although the physical results are identical) and therefore should not be treated as such.
Phobia of thunder or fireworks may trigger your dog’s urge to dig. In this case, dogs do it because they do not know how else to handle fear and use the digging as a stress-release mechanism. Based on our knowledge on the instinctive behavioral patterns that originate from the past, the digging may be explained as an attempt to create a shelter that will tone down noises.
If your dog does suffer from a phobia of thunder and fireworks it is very hard to miss. If your dog is one of those dogs, rather than training him not to dig, help him adjust to loud noises or provide him with an indoor shelter until the storm is over.
Anxiety caused by a lack of attention is also to be approached from an angle of solving the cause rather than treating manifestations. Dogs that feel unloved and deprived of attention dig to attract your attention.
Drawing negative attention probably followed by a punishment should alarm you that your dog is anxious and bored to death and that he reaches out for you at any cost. Try paying more attention to your dog, play together and exercise more often.
What helps further is to provide the dog with toys that he can play with by himself. Transforming boredom into quality time may solve the seemingly unrelated problem of digging.
4. Block The Over The Fence View
Preventing the dog from digging tunnels under the fence is both a training task and a technical issue. Approach the training part the same way you would approach digging for fun.
The main difference lays in the fact that the worst thing that can result from digging elsewhere in the yard is having a hole in the ground, but digging under the fence can result in losing your dog or having him seriously injured.
Therefore you need to consider mechanisms of disabling the actual success of digging.
There are several solutions that come out of people’s DIY attempts to solve this problem.
Some owners point out that blocking the visual access to what’s behind the fence is what stopped their dogs from digging to the other side.
Some dogs are, on the other hand, motivated by sounds, smells or simply curiosity, therefore blocking the visual element will not do the trick. In this case, the goal must be to make the act of digging unsuccessful. There is a DIY solution based on installing a net by digging it into a several inches’ deep dirt all along both sides of a fence. Those who tried it noticed that dogs found digging the net unpleasant and that they stopped soon after.
Some experiences conclude that the most reliable solution is to build a concrete path along the fence. It may seem radical, yet this action will permanently remove the danger of your dog creating an unsupervised way out of the yard.