Is your yard starting to resemble a warzone – with multiple fighting holes dug all over it? If the answer is yes, then you likely have a four-legged digger in the family. It is not an uncommon problem, as many dogs are prone to digging, albeit some more than others. Breed, personality, even medical issues can cause the digging behavior. The key to modifying the habit is by determining the reasons behind it.
Rectifying the behavior once you have pinpointed the root cause makes it so much easier, for both you and the dog. To help you both along the way, the following guide will help you ascertain the reason, as well as walk you through how to stop dogs from digging altogether.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
This is the most important question to ask when you realize that you have a digging problem. Finding the solution to any problem is best done by identifying the cause of the issue at hand, or paw in this case. Luckily, that should not be too difficult as it generally breaks down to five basic categories:
Boredom is one of the leading causes of negative behavior in dogs (digging, chewing, sometimes even having accidents in the house). Keeping your dog from getting bored just might be the answer to your digging dilemma.
When he has nothing better to do, exploring the outside world seems like a great idea – as does digging his way to access that outside world. Extra entertainment (an assortment of toys) and safety precautions should fix the problem.
4. Unexpressed Energy
When dogs do not get the appropriate amount of exercise, they can act out by being destructive and, yes, that can include digging. This could also be them trying to get out of the yard to get exercise on his own.
Regardless, regular exercise is also important for a multitude of other reasons, with the prevention of obesity being the most, considering how detrimental to his health obesity would be. Bottom line: make sure that Fido gets plenty of exercises every day!
3. Underlying Medical Condition
Even certain medical conditions can cause your dog to develop unwanted digging habits, believe it or not. In fact, separation anxiety is a big, and quite common, one. Separation anxiety is characterized by your dog having irrational feelings of anxiety and fear when he is separated from you.
Dogs with this disorder show a variety of symptoms, including, howling, excessive barking, urinating/defecating in unacceptable places, as well as a variety of destructive behaviors (ya, know, like digging for example). Here’s an article on separation anxiety in dogs that includes causes, signs, and tips to help you better understand this disorder.
2. Natural Instincts
Breed, genetics, and even individual personalities can play a role in any canine behavior, this particular one included. For instance, breeds such as the Jack Russell Terrier tend to have an innate desire to dig, while Beagles were bred to be hunting dogs, and as such, tend to have a natural exploration instinct. And, even if yours isn’t a breed that is a natural digger, he might just have an adventurous streak in his personality.
A safe, underground barrier, such as plastic poultry fencing buried deep in the ground at his desired digging place can block access to the particular spot. Ideally, it could be applied around the entire perimeter. Eventually, Fido will give up on the digging.
There could be a whole host of things trying to lure Fido away from the safe confines of his backyard. Certain smells, new animals in the neighborhood, even an overabundance of simple curiosity can make him start planning an escape. Installing a safe but efficient barrier is one of your best options here as you can’t exactly evict the neighborhood pets and wildlife.
How To Stop Dogs From Digging
The one thing that you need to keep in mind is that every dog is an individual, so what works for Fred down the street, might not be effective on your canine companion. You must take his personality into account when choosing the best way to address the burrowing issue. The tips listed below are the most commonly used techniques and will work on most furry amateur excavation experts.
09. Change Of Scenery Walks
Sometimes, it can be as simple as a change of scenery. New sights, sounds, and smells (and maybe a few new faces too!) can prevent the urge to later attempt to go exploring. Allow him to interact with his surroundings and plan to take your time. The more he gets to see and do (and smell), the less likely he is to get overly bored, and into trouble, later.
08. Offer A Shady, Cool Area For Him
Dogs will sometimes dig holes for shade from the sun and as a way to cool down. Freshly dug holes tend to be cooler than the earth at ground level. If your pooch is digging holes for this purpose then the fix is fairly simple. Provide Fido with a cool, shaded area to escape the sun and heat.
07. Provide A Digging Zone
Designating a specific area that is acceptable for digging can discourage your dog from doing so in places that you don’t want him to. A large children’s sandbox is a great option, otherwise, fencing around his ‘dig zone’ along with a little bit of positive reinforcement should fix the issue.
06. Make It Smell Bad (To The Dog)
Dogs can have an aversion to certain scents. Spraying the area of interest down with a citrus scent, or another smell that he does not find enticing can keep him away from that spot altogether. Some recommend using red cayenne pepper flakes and although it is relatively harmless it can cause some discomfort. If other remedies do not work, it is an option but one that should be used as a last resort.
05. Hose Him Down
Even if your dog happens to like the water, chances are he won’t appreciate being sprayed full-on with the hose. If nothing else it will distract him from digging. This is something that should be done only if you catch him in the act of digging, otherwise, he won’t understand and you’re basically just spraying the dog with water for the fun of it.
04. Offer An Assortment Of Interactive Toys
Boredom is one of the most common causes of digging. Think about: Stuck in the yard for an extended period of time with nothing to do – it’s no wonder they sometimes get into trouble, it must be incredibly dull. Offering a variety of interactive toys, ones that actually pique his interest, will occupy his time and hopefully keep him from digging up the yard.
03. Redirection Technique
Physical redirection is another technique that can be used if you see Fido actually in the act of digging. Simply command him to go sit (or play, lay down, etc) or gently lead him away from the spot by the collar. It might take a few times but he will eventually catch onto what you are trying to convey.
02. Digging Repellent Spray
There are several commercial spray repellent products that can be used to deter your dog from digging. You could also make your own homemade formula using vinegar or citrus fruit peels. A dog will avoid any scents that they are averse to.
This one might seem obvious but if your precious pup is one that actually listens to commands, there is a very real possibility of training him not to dig. Consistency is key and positive reinforcement never hurts. Whether your situation is going to require a professional or not will depend on your dog’s specific personality, needs, and temperament.
The Do Not’s
- Do not use ‘pointy’ plants, such as cacti, to deter your dog from digging. This could be quite dangerous as the spines of the plant can injure him and many plants are highly toxic to canines. There are far better options, like using large rocks or mulch to discourage the digging.
- Do not use physical discipline. Striking or hitting your dog will only cause him to fear you and can very likely cause aggression and/or to lash out. As mom used to say – use your words.
- Do not ignore it. Ignoring the digging problem is not going to make it go away. If only it were that simple. The biggest risk of allowing it to continue is your dog escaping his exclosure. He could be hit by a vehicle or attacked by another animal.
- Do not use wood chips, crushed gravel, or mulch to deter from digging if your dog is a known chewer. This can cause a potentially fatal obstruction which, at the very least, will require very expensive surgeries. If your dog likes to eat or chew on random things, don’t trust it. He will eat it. A barrier is a much better idea in this situation.
- Do not forget to microchip your pet. A digging dog is more likely to get loose. If your pooch does manage to escape, you will want him to be located as quickly as possible. A microchip is the best way to ensure that he will make it home.
Your dog’s excessive digging can get frustrating. It’s an admittedly stressful situation, but, thankfully, not one without a solution. It is going to take time, patience, and likely a little bit of finesse, but the habit can be rectified. As with any training, positive reinforcement is a great way to get the lessons to stick. Let him know when he’s done something right. It’s a work in progress, but you’ll get there.
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