Dealing with a Digger: The Reasons Behind Digging Behavior in Dogs

Dealing with a Digger: The Reasons Behind Digging Behavior in Dogs

Do your dogs dig trenches in your lawn? Does it look like they’re trying to install a well in the backyard? Before you get mad and punish them for being bad dogs, let’s look at what all that dog digging is about and how to stop the digging behavior productively. 

Sometimes dog behavior we think of as “bad” is quite typical from a dog’s point of view. It’s not that your dogs are misbehaving. On the contrary, they are following instincts that were part of their ancestors’ wiring long before dogs were domesticated. From a human point of view, what makes it worse is the unsightly holes it leaves in an otherwise well-groomed lawn or the damage to flooring or other property inside the house. 

We’re certainly not implying that you should ignore the gaping holes in the ground. But you should redirect that instinct and energy toward something that satisfies your dogs and keeps your property intact. You need a dog digging deterrent!

Why are the Dogs Digging Holes?

Prey Drive

Our dogs are domesticated, but they still have some wiring in their brains inherited from their wild ancestors. For some dogs, digging a hole meant hunting for small animals that burrow into the ground. This behavior is simply part of their natural prey drive. 

Fast forward to today, where you provide for all your dogs’ survival needs. A dog is digging even though they no longer need to. The instinct is still there. Maybe there is a small animal that caught their attention. Or maybe they’re listening to a far-off call of the wild. What was once essential for survival is now, in your home, destructive. 

Breeding

Some dogs, much more enthusiastic diggers than others, were initially bred for that ability. Dachshunds, for example, were bred to hunt badgers, which burrow into the ground. So digging is in their DNA!

Here are a few breeds that are more prone to digging—and enjoying every minute of it:

  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Siberian Husky
  • Dachshund
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Fox Terrier
  • Airedale Terrier

Other Reasons

Your dogs may dig for reasons known only to them. But some typical reasons include:

  • Burying and later retrieving bones
  • On a hot day, uncovering a cool patch of dirt to lie in
  • Making a nest for puppies
  • “Helping” you with your gardening (they see you dig, so they do, too!)
  • Entertaining themselves

Emotional Issues

Some dogs use digging to comfort themselves and seek relief from emotional distress. Unfortunately, digging is often a matter of boredom, separation anxiety, or fear. If the dogs are not getting enough exercise or spending too much time alone, digging is their way to express frustration and release the energy that has nowhere else to go. 

Digging is also a means of escape. If your canine companion wants to break out into the neighborhood, digging under your fence is the way to go. Literally.

Digging in Your Heels to Stop Dog Digging

And now the moment you’ve been waiting for—how to stop the destructive digging! First, remember that digging is an instinctual behavior, and you’re not going to eliminate instinct. Instead, the goal is to redirect your dogs’ attention and energy to something else that won’t leave moon-like craters in your lawn.

Your Attention

The best deterrent for dog digging is you! Your dogs may need more of your time. Can you walk and exercise them more frequently? Take them to the park? Devote more playtime? They want as much of your attention as you are willing and able to give them. If your job or other obligations limit that time, consider daycare, dog walkers, or sitters. As pack animals, dogs shouldn’t be alone for a long time.

Training

Training is a great mental exercise for your dogs. If they’re scratching or digging, interrupt the behavior as soon as it starts. Then immediately give them something else more acceptable to do. Be sure to reward the good behaviors. If you’re having a tough time changing the digging behavior, consider a professional trainer.  

A Designated Digging Zone

For some dogs, the need to dig is so strong that they’re going to do it no matter what you do. So instead of pulling your hair out in frustration and resigning yourself to a lawn with a post-apocalyptic motif, train them to use a place where it’s okay to dig. It can be a fenced-off area in your backyard or maybe a spot in a public wooded area. They will have a little patch of paradise where they can dig to their heart’s content. 

Change Your Fencing

For your escape artists, you’ll probably need to reinforce your fencing with rocks or by lowering the fencing deeper into the ground. It may cost a bit, but it’ll keep the dogs from shimmying their way out, and the fencing company will appreciate your additional business.

Earthdog Trials

One way to use your dogs’ digging powers for good is Earthdog Trials! These are tests for dogs bred for digging in search of burrowing animals. The dogs must locate small animals (caged for safety) or a scented decoy in a tunnel or den.

Earthdog Trials is not a competition. Instead, each dog’s hunting ability is measured individually. Participation progresses from a preliminary test to junior, senior, and master level titles with increasing difficulty levels. Your dogs will have a blast! 

A Parting Reminder

Digging is a natural behavior for dogs, a holdover from life in the wild that doesn’t translate well in your home. What was once needed for survival is now destructive. 

The solution? Redirect your dogs toward more acceptable behaviors. Give them as much of your attention as you can manage, and make sure they are mentally engaged with exciting things to do when you’re not around. If the digging results from emotional issues, you’ll need to address those issues as well. And if your dogs are still committed to digging, give them a designated spot to fulfill that need. 

With some training and attention, you can have peace of mind, happy, healthy dogs, and a crater-free lawn!