Breaking the Digging Habit in Puppies and Dogs

Is your yard filled with holes? Does your dog regularly escape through a self-made hole under the fence or arrive at the back door with muddy paws and a dirt-covered muzzle? It’s hard to find fault with dogs, but if we “dig deep”, we can come up with a few things!

Digging is a natural instinct in dogs, but it doesn’t jive well with the human way of life. Breaking your dog of their digging habit can be tricky, but with the right approach it’s possible to have your yard (and your sanity) back in one piece.

Why Dogs Dig

The ancient wolf genes that all dogs carry are to blame for the digging habit. Wolves may dig to get at prey (some dogs, such as terriers, are actually bred for their ability to dig out rats and other prey from underground). Like their wolf relatives, dogs may also dig a hole to bury and hide a prized possession, such as a toy or bone. 

Not all digging is ancestral, however. Some dogs will scratch out a cool spot in the earth to nap on a hot day, while others dig as a way to escape a fence or other barrier. Digging is also just fun – a great way for a bored dog to stay entertained and burn off some excess energy.

Breaking the Digging Habit

Getting a handle on the digging habit means understanding why your dog is digging in the first place. Simply blocking the areas where your dog digs may not be effective as many dogs simply move to a new location or develop other behavior problems such as destructive chewing. 

Providing for all of your dog’s needs while reducing the motivation for digging is the key to success.

  • Reduce boredom – Making sure your dog gets plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation each day will drastically cut down on excess energy and boredom that could be the cause of digging. A daily walk, game of fetch, puzzle toys, and even brushing up on obedience training are all excellent options.
  • Redirection – Every time you catch your dog digging, redirect their attention with a toy, game, or other pleasurable activity. Reward them with treats and praise for turning their attention to something other than digging.
  • Supervision – Leaving a dog alone in the yard for hours on end is a recipe for trouble, no matter how much they seem to enjoy it. Let your dog out for potty breaks and always supervise when they are in the yard for longer periods of time.

If you’ve tried everything and are still dealing with digging, we suggest “embracing it” by redirecting the behavior to something more appropriate. Carve out a corner of the yard reserved for digging, or use a sandbox as an alternative. Bury toys and bones in the new digging spot for a fun game and to encourage use of the area.

As always, your team at Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care is here for you! Don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions or concerns regarding digging or any behavior problems.