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The Essentials

  • Dogs dig for many reasons — For instance, they might be bored, stressed, or seeking comfort.
  • Some breeds were developed as hunters — For many hunting breeds, digging is normal behavior.
  • Thankfully, digging can be corrected — Proper training and adequate attention can help reduce digging behavior.

What does it mean when a dog digs?

Dogs can dig for many reasons, and understanding the behavior can help you prevent or fix it. Here are some of the most common reasons why your dog may be digging —

They might be bored

We all get bored at times. Doing the same things everyday can get stale and, well, boring. Dogs are no different. 

To alleviate their boredom, they find ways to entertain themselves. And oftentimes, that can be something destructive, like digging. Your dog may even become bored enough and start displaying other annoying behaviors, like ripping up toys or furniture or barking excessively.

It’s natural predatory behavior 

Some breeds are bred to hunt — and some are bred to hunt underground

Dachshunds, for instance, were bred in Germany to hunt badgers and other small game. Similarly, the Jack Russell terrier has traits and characteristics that make it the perfect companion to hunt foxes. And German shorthaired pointers were bred to hunt mostly birds and rabbits. 

Decades and centuries later, these breeds — and many others, including huskies, beagles, and basset hounds — still exhibit this natural behavior.

Even non-hunting breeds will dig if they have a reason, like a mole or other target getting on their radar.

They are trying to escape 

Dogs sometimes try to get out of a confined space if they have a reason to leave, or they simply are curious about what’s on the other side. And it may not take much to convince themselves to make the great escape.

Your pooch might start digging to escape after getting a whiff of something interesting outside the fence line. They might spot other dogs, neighbors, or animals that they’d like investigate. Or maybe you’ve just left for work and they want to follow you.

If your dog is male, he might smell a female in heat and try to get loose to pursue her.

Your dog could also simply find a small hole under the fence and start digging just because. Many dogs don’t need much of a reason to stage an escape.

Your dog wants to be comfortable 

Like humans, dogs like to move things around to make themselves comfortable. Unfortunately, that includes rearranging your lawn.

It could be as simple as digging a small hole to lie down in, just like we pull our blankets tightly around us to get comfortable.

In hot weather, your dog might dig a hole in the ground in search of cooler soil. Northern breeds, like the Alaskan malamute and Siberian husky, especially like to find cool dirt to rest in due to their thick coats.

They have food or “treasures” they want to protect 

Some dogs like to save things for later. You might see them grab a bone, a chunk of meat, or a toy, dig a hole, stuff the item in it, and then cover it with dirt on top.

And it’s not just domesticated dogs — even wolves and coyotes exhibit this behavior. When they get lucky and have more than they can eat, they’ll often dig a hole and bury the excess to come back for later. This helps protect their food from other predators.

Our dogs share that instinct. Burying their food or a toy means they intend to save it for later or want to keep it away from other dogs. 

They’re experiencing stress or anxiety 

Digging can be a way for you dog to relieve stress or pent up energy due to anxiety. 

Our canine friends can become stressed for a few reasons: a new pet moved in, you recently brought home a new baby, you have a new work schedule that changes up their routine, and so much more.

Be sure to provide your dog with lots of enrichment, especially if you’ll be away longer than normal, or consider crate training them to eliminate the option of digging all together.

Your pooch could be nesting

Before whelping, a pregnant dog will try to create a comfortable and safe space for her puppies. If she’s outdoors, this may require digging a hole or tunnel or arranging grass to create a nest.

A pregnant indoor pet may exhibit similar behavior by moving blankets or other soft objects around to make a soft and cozy bed for her puppies.

How to prevent your dog from digging

Don’t punish your dog for digging. It won’t work, and you don’t want your friend to be afraid of you. Instead, figure out why they’re digging. Then, find a solution. 

Here are some options to help your pup quit their digging habit once and for all —

Entertain your pet

In some ways, dogs are like kids. They have loads of pent-up energy and want fun ways to expel it. 

Try giving them new toys, the same old ones can get boring after a while. You can also hide some of their toys and change them out every few days. Adding obedience training or trick training into their routine can mix things up for their mental stimulation and keep them satisfied. Or, take them for a run with you. This is a great physical activity that will help them (and you!) burn off excess energy. 

Interaction with their “pack” gives your pup something to wait for during the day — it may help avoid digging urges and divert their brain to the anticipation and reward of playing with their family.

Eliminate rodents from your yard

Pesky moles, mice, and rats love to burrow in and around our yards.

Try using safe repellents, like garlic or castor oil, to get rid of pests in your yard. Flooding their tunnels or using wind-driven vibrating devices can also work in some cases. Traps and poisons also work — just be sure to keep your dog away from them or avoid using anything that might potentially harm your pet.

Protect your dog from the elements

It’s important to provide shelter from weather extremes — including extreme heat, cold, snow, and rain.

Dogs sometimes dig holes so they can protect themselves from the elements or get more comfortable. Shallow holes in the ground can help cool them off in the summer. And deep holes or tunnels can provide warmth in the winter. 

Build them an insulated doghouse in the yard or on the porch or patio. And be sure to bring them inside when necessary, especially in extreme heat and cold.

If you can make your dog more comfortable, they’ll be less likely to ruin your yard.

Stop them from digging to escape

Your dog is convinced there’s a good reason to escape.

Make it hard — ideally, impossible — for them to tunnel their way out. If you’re currently building a new fence, you can do this by simply extending it into the ground a few inches.

If you have an existing fence, however, you’ll have to take some other measures. You can lay chicken wire or something similar on the ground to keep your dog from digging close to the fence.

Another solution may be to lay down paving stones along your fence. They’re about 12 inches square and will keep your dog from digging their way out of your yard. You can also lay bricks or rocks close to the fence. Just make sure the rocks are big enough that your dog can’t push them out of the way.

Lastly, invisible fencing is a way to prevent escapes and avoid injuries. Betterpet vet Dr. Armstrong says, “Some folks think this is inhumane, but after the number of missing and injured dogs I have seen through the years from their escapes and jaunts about the area, the point is then moot. Comfort is important, but safety is paramount.”

Give your dog a space where they are allowed to dig 

Some dogs, especially hunting breeds, will dig regardless of how hard you try to stop them. In this case, you need a solution that will allow them to practice that instinct without destroying your yard.

One option is to provide them with their own digging spot where they can dig all they want. You can build your pet a sandbox or designate a corner or other special area in your yard as a digging zone. Train them to use it by burying treats or toys there.

Try to watch them as much as you can. If they start to dig somewhere else, gently take them to the right place and give them a treat when they dig where they’re supposed to.

It’s important to be gentle and consistent with your training. They’ll soon get the message and be overjoyed to have their own special playground.

Neuter your male dog 

Intact males tend to be a little more adventurous than females or males that have been neutered. If your dog is intact and there’s a female in heat anywhere in the region, he’ll spend every waking moment trying to find a way to get to her.

The best way to deal with this? Prevention. Neuter your male dog when he’s old enough. This will not only reduce his interest in females, but you’ll also be preventing unwanted litters of puppies.

Keep your dog indoors

Of course, dogs can’t dig holes when they are indoors. If you’re having trouble with your dog excavating your yard, you may want to keep them inside more.

It’s also a good idea to crate train your dog. You may need a crate to take them to the vet or on a trip — or even just to have peace of mind knowing that they’re safe and secure whenever you’re away from home.

Combat your dog’s digging behavior with patience and persistence

Digging behavior in dogs is completely normal. 

You may never be able to completely stop your dog from digging, especially if you have a breed that was bred to burrow and hunt — some behaviors are just too ingrained. But if you follow the tips outlined in this article, you’ll greatly reduce the problem. 

Be consistent. Reward, don’t punish. With a little consistency and patience, you and your dog will be much happier.