Dogs love to dig! They find great joy in burrowing through piles of dirt, leaves, and mulch. While it’s natural for owners to view these excavations with less-than-loving eyes (think rose bush or newly-planted tree), you can apply ingenious ways to stop your dog from digging up a storm.
Does it sometimes seem like your dog is on a mission to dig a hole in your yard?
You’re not alone.
Many pet owners struggle with this issue. And it’s not just your garden that becomes the target. Dogs also dig the floor, the bed, and through other furniture.
Fortunately, this isn’t a problem without a solution.
Knowing how to stop dogs from digging is crucial not just for your sanity but also for your pet’s overall well-being.
Read on for tips on keeping your dog from becoming a digger and causing damage to your lawn or home.
Here’s what Mikkel Becker, dog behaviorist and lead animal trainer at Fear Free, has to say: “It’s an expression of who they are as a species, similar to how cats naturally like to scratch. They are hardwired to do this,” Becker shares.
Dogs are naturally hardwired to dig. In the wild, they do this to explore their environment and hide things for safekeeping, like bones or toys.
But for domesticated dogs, there are other reasons like boredom, anxiety, instincts, or a desire to escape.
Below are some of the most common:
Dogs may dig simply because they want to play.
And exhausting multiple variations of “no” and “stop digging”, don’t necessarily help.
Redirecting them to an alternative activity, or physically removing the object of their burrowing don’t seem to be working either.
And you’re at your wit’s end, wondering, “Why does my dog keep on digging? Is there something wrong?”
The good news is that there likely isn’t anything wrong, except perhaps for the sorry state of your furniture, carpets, couch, or lawn!
Sometimes, dogs are just plain bored.
When dogs don’t have enough toys to play with, lack exercise, or are otherwise left alone all day, they may resort to digging out of boredom. This is common among puppies or adolescent dogs that need an outlet for their energy.
Breeds known for their high energy include Belgian Malinois, Brittany Spaniel, and Vizsla. So, if you have one at home, be sure to provide it with plenty of toys and activities that challenge its mind and body.
— Jan Flint (@JanFlint) February 20, 2021
No matter how cute your pet is, there’s still a little bit of that hereditary wild animal in them!
Especially if your dog is a hunting breed, like a Beagle or a Pointer, it may feel the urge to dig for prey whenever outdoors.
With dogs, it usually happens when they find something that triggers their predator instincts, such as insects, rats, or moles. In this case, they would concentrate on one hole, maybe two. More often, they do it near the roots of trees or shrubs where insects are aplenty.
Most dogs in the wild excavate soil to build a den to create a protective shelter from enemies. Foxes and wolves, for example, create underground caves to raise their pups.
Similarly, domesticated dogs hollow out a “lair” where they can rest or hide their toys. Breeds like Dachshunds and Terriers are prone to such habits.
If your pet possesses an instinctive desire to dig a little hole to curl up and sleep in, it might do it on beds or couches. Others could end up literally digging a hole in your yard to feel safer and more secure when outdoors.
In the wild, dogs are social animals that live in packs and need each other’s support to survive.
So, it’s not surprising when they act up to get their owners’ attention or approval. This is especially true if you’re a working dog parent and leave your pet home alone the whole day.
When dogs are left alone for too long or don’t receive enough love and care, they may resort to destructive behaviors, like digging, chewing, or marking, to be noticed. For some pets, even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
One of the best ways to address this is to provide your pet with mental stimulation as well as physical activities to keep it entertained and occupied throughout the day.
Finally, some dogs may dig to get away from a perceived threat or a real discomfort. It could be outdoor pests like mosquitoes, too much noise and traffic in the area, or an unfamiliar environment that doesn’t provide adequate comfort.
If your pet tends to burrow to avoid these irritants and assumed hazards, try to address the root cause. For instance, if it is bothered by loud sounds or too much sunlight, consider installing a sturdy shade or getting earplugs.
Sometimes, your dog will dig its way out to follow something interesting it has caught a whiff of but can’t reach – like a squirrel or another dog.
In this case, it’s best to set up boundaries to keep your pet from getting out of the yard while preventing it from feeling too trapped in its environment.
Certain breeds spade through the earth because they need the comfort of cool dirt. Huskies and Malamutes, for example, prefer to be in cooler regions. And if they aren’t, you’ll find them getting comfortable within the deeper part of the soil.
Huskies do the same in the snow, too, as the cold temperature feels good on their paws and skin.
In such cases, providing a cool place for your dog to relax during the hotter months of the year is best. This could mean getting it an evaporative cooling mat or an ice pack it can lie down on when indoors.
You might be wondering – do dogs grow out of digging? Some naturally do as they get older and more mature.
Unfortunately, for others, it can be an ongoing behavior that will need managing throughout their pet’s lifetime.
On the other hand, if you own a puppy and find yourself Googling, “Why does my puppy dig at everything?” – it might be helpful to know that many pups outgrow their digging behavior.
However, if it persists into adulthood, you should enforce positive reinforcement measures to discourage the behavior.
Approach your pet’s digging from a positive perspective. Offering both physical and mental stimulation with praise and rewards when your dog does the right thing is a great way to start.
Check out the following ways on how to stop a dog from digging in the dirt (and everywhere else):
When you find your pet digging in the dirt, there’s a good chance it’s trying to deal with some sort of stress or anxiety.
One common way dogs express their tension is through destructive behavior.
For instance, do you wonder: why does my dog dig in the corner of the room?
Well, when dogs are anxious, they want to feel certain about their environment, so they claw at the walls or the corner of a room to make sure their home is safe and secure.
To help address the issue, you’ll need to do a bit of detective work. Figure out the source of stress so you can remove it and stop your pet from digging indoors or outdoors.
The following are possible stressors:
A dog digging at a specific hole is most probably hunting for prey like rats, moles, gophers, and insects. Sometimes, your pet could be after the bigger ones, like squirrels and chipmunks.
To drive away rodents and other animals that hype it up, you must first remove the pests’ food source from your yard.
Check if your dog is pregnant because if it is, then it’s creating a shelter for its pups. You can stop the digging by building a safe home for your pet and its family.
Did you introduce new plants in the garden? Are you landscaping? Is a modification project underway? The unknown could scare your dog and prompt it to start plowing in search of whatever it thinks is familiar.
You can’t exactly stop renovations and upgrades if they’re important for your household. What you can do is train your dog to adapt to the changes.
Most dogs fear loud sounds like thunder, fireworks, and trains.
There are also everyday household noises that may not be as loud but could still scare your pet, like the ding of the microwave or the buzz of the vacuum cleaner.
When a dog hears “scary” sounds, its first instinct is to find a safe place, which would prompt it to poke at the nearest object until it bores a hole big enough to snuggle in.
Your pet may experience separation anxiety when left alone for the first time, especially if it’s used to having you around always. Digging is its way of acting up because it misses you. It sounds sweet, even though the holes in your yard are anything but.
In this situation, you might ask: What can I use to stop my dog from digging holes?
Try administering calming treats for dogs formulated especially for stressful occasions.
Or you could simply leave behind a piece of unwashed clothing so your familiar scent can feel comforting.
Lack of physical activity is another reason dogs develop behavioral problems, including burrowing. And if they’re cooped up in the home, they become increasingly curious about the smells coming from the yard.
When you take your pet for regular walks, it becomes acquainted with different aromas and odors, reducing its curiosity about the smells of the outdoors.
There are other benefits to walking your dog, like strengthening your bond, reducing anxiety and stress, and improving its overall health.
Aside from taking it for a daily walk, you can play with your pet using toys that encourage its curiosity and intelligence. Enrolling it in training classes will also stimulate its mind.
Combining exercise, enrichment activities, and strong obedience training will ensure your dog is happy and healthy. And, you’ll also be able to curb unwanted digging behavior.
Enrichment toys are meant to mentally stimulate your dog and keep it mentally and physically healthy while preventing boredom in pets. Remember, one of the reasons dogs dig is for entertainment.
Want to know how to stop a dog from digging in the yard? The answer is pretty simple: Play with it!
You will find a wide variety of interactive enrichment toys for dogs, such as nosework toys, puzzle games, and toys that dispense treats, available online and in pet stores. They are a good investment. You can use them regularly to keep your dog occupied and content. Gradually, you will notice a considerable difference in its behavior.
Mental stimulation involves brain exercises to keep your dog alert. While you can use enrichment toys to provide mental stimulation, there are other more practical ways, like allowing it to sniff away during your walks.
Discovering new things will only broaden your pet’s knowledge about its surroundings.
Further, you can teach your pet the names of its toys and use that knowledge in a game of “bring me.” Training your dog to follow basic commands is a great way to keep it mentally stimulated, so make sure to incorporate this type of training daily.
Remember: “Almost all ‘bad habits’ from animals stem from them not being stimulated enough”, says Anthony Smith, with a BS degree from Community College in Portland, OR.
Why do dogs dig on beds and couches? It’s because they are seeking warmth. Much like when you rub your hands together in cold weather. And they will do the same in the yard.
To prevent that, you must ensure your dog has a comfortable living space both inside the home and in the yard.
And why do dogs dig on the floor? They’re staking their claim on the area they scratched!
So, if you want to save your carpet and flooring from the wrath of your pet’s paws, provide it with a comfortable and secure outdoor nest it can call its own.
Add a kennel or gazebo to your front or back yard so your dog always has a cool shelter when it’s in the mood to spend time outdoors. Make it off-limits to humans and other pets to establish it as your pet’s territory.
Want to do the same indoors?
Create a dog-friendly crash pad. Get a bed or couch your dog can snuggle up on, and provide it with plenty of toys to keep it entertained. Some dogs prefer indoor crates or dog teepees to rest in when tired.
These things will not only help prevent digging but also help keep your dog happy.
Training is an important part of owning a dog. Aside from providing your pet the essential mental stimulation, it’s also a way to bond with it. Training will also reassure your pet that it is part of a pack and that you are in control.
The key to successful training is to do it regularly and consistently.
This involves teaching it essential commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “come”, as well as instructing it to follow your lead and respect your personal space.
Coaching pets with various tricks is also a great solution if you’re wondering how to stop dogs from digging under the fence.
You can educate your dog on the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors with consistency and patience. And once it is trained, you will find it is much less likely to engage in digging.
To really stop your pet from digging holes in the yard, you should add some reinforcement. Consider methods like fencing the perimeter of your property, installing motion-activated sprinklers, and planting flora that emits smells dogs hate (e.g., citrus, chili).
Using these deterrents effectively ensures that your dog doesn’t engage in burrowing. And by taking steps to manage the situation, you can help prevent any long-term damage or destruction of your property.
A few dog owners get pets but aren’t attentive to their needs. As mentioned in the previous section, your dog sometimes digs holes merely for you to notice it. It doesn’t matter if it gets punished. What matters is that your pet has got your attention.
And it will engage in destructive behavior if that’s what it takes for you to pay it some attention.
Simple acts like patting, rubbing its belly, and cuddling will make your pet feel loved and wanted and go a long way in keeping it from resorting to attention-seeking behaviors.
This is not a guilty digging face! Well you see what happened was under the fence there was a ball and it said ‘rescue me’! So of course I did a rescue. I know it’s not my ball but that’s a small detail that doesn’t matter 😗 #dog #dogs #dogtwitter pic.twitter.com/Shn0Ac264t
— Cooper (@weegoldencooper) May 5, 2022
Learning how to stop dogs from digging is expected of responsible dog owners.
Like their other natural behaviors – chewing objects, chasing other animals, retrieving or fetching items, sniffing – digging can be prevented.
It’s just a matter of identifying the specific reason your pet is doing it. Then, you can apply the appropriate solution.
The bottom line? There’s nothing that patience, care, and attention can’t surmount!
A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.