Is your dog digging? Does he dig holes in your yard, or worse yet, dig his way out of your yard by digging under the dog fence? A puppy digging out of the yard can be a terrifying experience, and having huge holes in your yard ruining your lawn can be frustrating. Digging is an unwanted behavior for most dog owners, but is a very natural instinct for many dogs. While most dogs have some digging instinct, the extent of the behavior often varies across different breeds. For instance, some dog breeds were bred for digging prey out of holes.
Digging is one of the top dog behavior problems. Training your dog to stop unwanted dog digging behaviors, however, involves understanding why your dog is digging, and basic knowledge about dog behavior and training. Stopping dogs from digging is ultimately a great lesson in dog training, behavior modification, and the importance of being creative with your solutions!
Your dog may dig for a variety of reasons. While digging is a natural instinct, it is always done in response to some stimuli, and knowing what is triggering the behavior in your puppy will be the key to redirecting her energy.
If your dog is digging holes in your yard, but not attempting to escape the yard itself, there are several possible causes for this behavior:
- Boredom: Just as with puppy biting and chewing behavior, your dog may be digging because there is nothing better for her to do, especially if your dog is left outside for any length of time.
- Storing, hiding, or hoarding: Dogs sometimes like to save things for later, including treats and bones you may have given him. This is another natural instinct in dogs, resulting from the nature of hunting in packs. When dogs would hunt together and kill their prey, quickly stashing food to save for later when resources were short was a practice of survival. Or, conversely, dogs may have stashed food to save for later when food was so plentiful and the dog was no longer hungry.
- Heat Response: The dirt in the ground is always cooler than the ground’s surface, and the deeper you dig, the cooler it gets. If your dog does not have access to enough shade, he may be digging in an attempt to find a way to stay cool.
- Scent Response: Your dog may be digging holes in response to any number of smells outside, including other animals or even bone-based fertilizers. The smells of the outdoors can trigger hunting instincts in dogs in addition to digging instincts.
While all of these reasons could also contribute to a dog fence digging behaviors, it is more likely if your puppy is digging near your dog fence, it is in an attempt to escape your yard. Dog containment systems can help, but what is more important is figuring out why your dog might want to escape.
- Boredom: Your dog may feel as though he or she does not have enough attention, or may be triggered to approach something on the other side of the fence, such as a squirrel, another dog, or someone walking by, just for the activity and interaction. Boredom is a likely cause of dog fence digging if your dog stays relatively close to home when/if he escapes.
- Space: If your yard is too small for your dog, not providing adequate room for him to explore, and he spends long periods of time there unattended, he may need more space to roam and is digging to get that space. This is, again, more likely the cause if your dog does not run away or go to far if he gets under the dog fence.
- Mating: If your
dog or puppy has not been spayed or neutered, the strong natural
instinct to mate could be driving the desire to escape your yard.
Now that you understand what may be causing your dog’s digging behavior, you can begin to work on modifying the behavior. It is important to remember that instincts cannot really be removed, but there are ways to manipulate the behavior to something more acceptable. Teaching your dog where it is okay to dig rather than trying to stop dog digging entirely will be the most effective way to get things back on track!
In most cases, creating a dog digging pit will be your best option for correcting dog behavior and training your dog to dig more acceptably. Select an area to place your digging pit. Especially for dogs that dig to try to stay cool, it is a good idea to select an area that is shaded. Loosen the soil in the area, build a small wooden frame, or purchase a sandbox. Sand for digging is usually better than using soil, mainly because it is easier to clean off your dog. Once your pit is built, begin the dog behavior and training steps as follows:
1. Bury a dog training treat for your dog in the designated digging pit. The treat should be something that has a very strong smell, especially if it is being buried in soil not sand, since soil can have a strong odor.
2. Bring your dog to the designated area and say “Dig!”
3. Praise your dog when he uncovers the treat.
4. Repeat the command several times and begin treating your dog by hand when he digs.
5. Watch your dog carefully in your yard. If he begins to dig in an inappropriate area, say “No!” and bring him to his designated digging area and repeat the “Dig” command.
This dog training technique can take several days or weeks to complete, depending on your dog and how much time you can dedicate to the dog training. Behavior modification is difficult to do, and training will need frequent reinforcement.
When working with your dog on changing his behavior, please keep in mind that sometimes the issue is coming from your routine with your dog. Fence digging is often an attempt to escape your yard, and is usually coming from an emotional source.
If your dog digs because she does not have enough space, you should consider adding walks to your daily routine. She will get more opportunity to roam and really stretch her legs if you take her for a walk and this will reduce the amount of digging she does in your yard as well.
For dogs that become bored quickly, attempts to escape the dog fence by digging can be more easily by turning the outside yard experience into a more positive one. Try playing games with your puppy while she is in the yard and encourage her to exercise. Dog exercise can often alleviate boredom, and having your company helps too!
If your dog digs because he is unneutered, he should be neutered right away. The urge to mate will not go away, even if you are successful with your attempts at dog containment, and may trigger him to dig in inappropriate ways when you are not prepared.
Ultimately, the key to solving any dog behavior problem is understanding why your dog does the unwanted behavior and working hard to modify it. Dog digging is a natural instinct that exists for many reasons, but with time, attention, and practice, harmful dog digging can become a problem of the past!