Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
In order to stop your dog from digging in the yard, you need to first assess why your dog is digging in the first place. Because dogs dig for several reasons, you may need to put your investigative hat on and analyze a bit your dog's digging behavior and in what exact context it tends to happen.
Only by assessing your dog's digging behavior, you can then take the necessary steps for stopping that exact form of digging. This is important, because many times, dog owners are given advice on how to stop dogs from digging in the yard, but then, if the root cause isn't tackled, this may lead to (you guessed it!) more digging! On top of that, if the dog is prevented from digging, the onset of other troublesome replacement behaviors may take place, and sometimes these may be even worse than the digging behavior itself!
No worries, in order to understand why your dog is digging in the yard, you won't need to take a course in canine psychology or have your dog lie down on a psychoanalyst's couch to engage in pointless rambling.
For your convenience, I have compiled several reasons dogs dig in the yard and their main characteristics (or shall I say "modus operandi?'") along with the most appropriate resolution to the problem. Your dog may be digging in the yard because of one particular reason or a combination of several.
Table of Contents
- How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to escape
- How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to hunt
- How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to dig up plants
- How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to build a den
- How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to relieve boredom
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging in the Yard to Escape
Modus operandi: digging by the fenceline.
By closely looking where your dog digs exactly, you may be able to deduce Rover's inner motive. If your dog tends to dig mostly by the fenceline this may be suggestive of your dog's desire to vent his barrier frustration or perhaps even dig a tunnel under the fence in order to escape.
No offense, taken. Your dog is most likely not trying to escape from you, it's just that he has likely seen or smelled something that has attracted him or he feels lonely. Perhaps he just wants to join the other dogs he hears barking a few feet away or wants to gather up with the next door kids who are playing with a ball.It could also be that your dog wants to hunt down that pigeon pecking nearby the road or chase your neighbor's roaming cat.
Sometimes, dogs may dig by the fence-line as a manifestation of separation anxiety. Have you ever watched the movie Hachiko? It's the perfect example of a dog who all he wants to do is be with his owner. In this case, your dog will dig by the fenceline shortly after a family member leaves the house. If your dog seems to dig by the fenceline when you are out of the house, it could therefore be that your dog is digging in an attempt to reunite with you.
How to stop a dog from digging in the yard to escape?
There are several ways to tackle this behavior. If you suspect the behavior is due to loneliness or separation anxiety, it may help to hire a dog sitter or dog walker to keep him some company during the day. Doggy day care can too be an optimal solution for lonely pooches. Dogs are social animals and they suffer being left alone for a good part of the day. If you work long hours, being left in the yard may sound like a good way to keep your dog entertained but this may lead to troublesome behaviors such as barking, digging and chewing. For separation anxiety, you may need to enlist the help of a dog behavior professional to help your dog out.
While it may help to bury some chicken wire at the base of the fence as dogs don't like the feel of it (keep the sharp edges rolled up and away so to prevent your dog from getting hurt), this tackles only one part of the problem. The digging in this case is just an outward manifestation of an inner, emotional turmoil. The ultimate solution is therefore to let your dog feel less lonely or bored.
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging the Yard to Hunt
Modus operandi: sniffing and digging with a purpose.
Many dogs are attracted to hunting, it's an instinctive behavior that goes back to many years. Digging is just a part of this instinctive drive as digging brings dogs closer to several critters that live underground. With their powerful sniffers, dogs can easily detect the presence of any burrowing animals such as moles, badgers voles, mice and gophers.
If you notice your dog repeatedly sniffing first and then intently digging, there are chances he has caught the scent of some burrowing animal and is determined to get it.
Some dog breeds in particular are very attracted to digging in search of underground critters. Namely, the small, feisty short-legged terriers (from Latin word "terra" meaning dirt, by the way) win first prize as diggers, for the simple fact that they were purposely bred to "go to ground" digging through dens and burrows to reach underground critters. Rat terriers, wire fox terriers, Australian terriers, and Yorkshire terriers are just a few names of earthdogs with a passion for digging.
Dachshunds, although officially belonging to the hound group, were used to hunt down badgers. Dachshund is the German word for “badger dog,” and these dogs sure made great badger dogs! Blessed with long, low bodies, specifically crafted for subterranean works, Doxies were remarkable in digging their way into a badger den quickly dispatching its occupant.
How to stop a dog from digging the yard for hunting purposes:
One of the best ways to tackle this form of digging is to obviously find a humane way to get rid of the critters populating the yard. With no more critters, your dog may feel less predisposed to turn your yard into Planet Mars. However, your dog may likely still have this strong instinct to dig, so why not find a compromise?
If your dog belongs to a breed that was bred for digging, why not enroll him in some fun earthdog trials? Your dog will have a blast as he gets to put his biggest passion to work. In earthdog trials, your dog will have to navigate his way through man-made underground tunnels in search for a rat. No killing or bloodshed is necessary, here: the rat is often kept safe behind wooden bars.
Alternatively, why not create a fun digging area purposely for your dog where he is free to dig to his heart's content? You can designate a part of the yard for fun digging or fill a sandbox with sand. Instead of hunting for critters, you can have your dog hunting for toys buried in the sand cheering him and then praising your dog lavishly when he finds them.
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging in the Yard to Dig Up Plants
Modus operandi: digging up plants, bulbs and tubers.
If you thought you were the only one with a green thumb in your family, think again. Rover may not order seeds through Thompson and Morgan, but he sure has fun digging up anything you plant. Whether he's playing "tug" with your roses' long roots or is digging up your tulips, who can blame him: after watching you dig up holes and plant, he wants to take part in the fun too! Indeed, many dogs discover their "green thumb" after watching their owners gardening. Even some studies seem to suggest that.
A recent study has found that dogs are prone to being great imitators. Dogs in the study were found to being capable of copying human behaviors as long as 10 minutes after they happened.
If your puppy loves to participate in gardening, the biggest problem is that his fun doesn't always coincide with yours: you like to plant, while your dog likes to unearth all the stuff you plant; however, rather than reprimanding him and sending him to the dog house, why not let him enjoy some innocent gardening too?
How to stop a dog from digging in the yard and ruining your garden
The idea solution is to protect your garden by fencing it up. This way your tulips or tomatoes are safe from your dog but also from other critters too. A well-fenced garden is also a deterrent to rabbits, mice and other critters who would like to steal your greens.
You can build a nice sturdy fence economically by using some chicken wire and then burying some underground to discourage digging. Make sure you bend the buried portion away to prevent your dog from getting hurt.
While your yard is protected, you may want to still provide your dog with some innocent digging opportunities. Channeling your dog's natural instincts is important so that your dog doesn't feel frustrated. Provide your dog with a digging area where he is permitted to dig as much as he feels like.
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging in the Yard to Build a "Den"
Modus operandi: dog digging up an area to then lie down on it.
OK, dogs are not really den animals in the real sense of the word, but this type of yard-digging is often found in dogs who are left outdoors in the yard for most of the day. Although many dogs may seem to fare well outdoors, dogs are not meant to being exposed to some weather extremes.
A dog left in the yard on a cold or hot day may seek ways to feel more comfortable temperature-wise. Without the pleasant temperature-controlled privileges associated with living in a home, outdoor dogs may do what their instincts say is best: seek ways to cool down or warm up to to maintain good temperature homeostasis.
In the summer, it's not unusual for dogs to notice how cool the dirt is. They will therefore dig up an area and lie down on it, so to expose their belly (an area with less hair) to the refreshing soil.
When winter is around instead, dogs may feel compelled to dig up holes in the snow for the purpose of building a cave-like environment where they can curl-up and obtain repair from the elements as opposed to being directly exposed.
How to stop your dog from digging in the yard to build a "den:"
To stop your dog from digging in the yard to protect himself from the elements, the most important step is to provide your dog with something to help him warm up or cool down. An insulated dog house with layers of soft blankets may help Rover feel nice and warm in the winter while in the summer Rover may need a nice shaded area or perhaps even a nice, shallow (to prevent your dog from drowning) wading pool.
The overall best solution however is to invite your dog inside the home to share all the perks of a cozy bed and no more exposure to extreme temperatures! Your dog will thank you and will love being around his family.
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging in the Yard to Relieve Boredom
Modus operandi: digging when nothing else is going on
This is probably one of the most common forms of digging in the yard. A dog who spends a lot of time in the yard and has nothing better to do won't just start to engage in innocent thumb twiddling. In a perfect world, bored dogs would engage themselves with crossword puzzles or games of Sudoku, but dogs are dogs so they will do what dogs do in this particular circumstance which may be either barking at sights and sounds, chewing things, digging or more digging...
If your yard is starting to resemble Swiss cheese, chances are, you have a bored dog, just like an unemployed fellow looking for a job to do. Digging allows dogs to vent their frustration and enrich their lives with the mental stimulation they crave.
Did you now? Digging unravels a fascinating underground world from a dog's perspective. Karen Overall, in her book "Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats" explains that by digging, dogs unleash aerosolized scents that may have otherwise been hidden. The scents derived from digging therefore lead to engaging explorations which are likely to become quite addicting over time if there's nothing better for the dog to do.and the dog needs a "job" to keep himself busy during the day.
How to Stop Your Dog From Digging in the Yard to Relieve Boredom
Active supervision when your dog is outside is important so that you can redirect your dog to an alternative activity when your dog is about to dig. Call him to you and encourage him to play a game of fetch or provide him with a fun toy to play with. Add more mental enrichment to your dog's life! Explore brain games, provide interactive toys, add some exercise and training so that your dog will choose these activities over the digging.
Then, if you want to make your dog extra happy, you can fill a small pool with loads of sand and then you can bury some of his favorite toys under for him to find.
Please note: While using some popular strategies such as filling digging areas with poop, burying balloons that will pop when the dog digs or installing motion-activated sprinklers, may seem like effective solutions, these yield poor results longterm because dogs learn to not dig in that specific spot but will soon choose to dig in other areas. On top of that, these methods don't tackle the underlying cause which is boredom and a strong need for more mental stimulation.
- Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, by Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
- American Association for the Advancement of Science, Your Dog Is a Copycat, by Virginia Morell, retrieved from the web on April 2nd, 2016
© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 14, 2008:
Thank, you. Your feedback is always greatly appreciated!
Cindy Lawson from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on September 14, 2008:
Excellent tips all round.