Why dogs like digging holes, and how you can help prevent Fido from turning your yard into a moonscape.
If you’ve spent a lot of time and money turning your yard into a beautifully-landscaped oasis, you’re bound to feel frustrated if your dog’s favorite pastime is digging unsightly holes in your flower beds and lawns. Stopping this behavior includes understanding why he’s doing it, then redirecting the digging toward less destructive activities.
3 reasons why dogs dig
There are a few possible reasons why your dog is digging up your yard. It’s important to do a little detective work to find out which one applies to your own dog.
1. For entertainment and the pure joy of digging
Dogs can be silly creatures that like to have fun at every turn. If your dog is left alone in the yard for long periods, he’s likely to get bored. You may think your yard is the perfect place for him to watch the neighbors, run around, or lie in the sun, but he may find this boring after a few minutes and start resorting to less favorable activities to pass the time.
And the fact is, dogs enjoy digging. You may think this is strange, but you’ve probably seen children digging big holes in beach sand just for the fun of it. Dogs are often regarded as having the mental capacity of a human toddler, and this can be seen in the way they respond to their environment. In short, digging is just plain fun!
What to do: Instead of trying to teach your dog not to dig, teach him where and what to dig. For example, sandboxes aren’t just for children; dogs can learn to love them, too. Purchase a child’s sandbox, kiddie pool, or make one from scratch. Place it in a shady location or purchase a shade sail to place over the sandbox. Fill it with natural, non-toxic sand and train him to use it (see sidebar.
If you aren’t able to create a special digging spot for your dog, hide his toys instead of burying them. Start with your dog on a “stay” behavior as you place a favorite toy or treat 5′ away from him. After you set it down, tell him to “find it”, and encourage him to get the prize. Once he grabs it, reward him with a bonus treat and play a short game. Repeat this process. Gradually, increase the distance at which you are placing the prize until it’s just out of sight. At this stage, your dog is still watching where you place the toy or treat; but once he’s a champ at this part, start hiding the items when he’s not looking and tell him to “find it” as you encourage him to hunt for the toy or treat. Once again, reward him for his successes and play a quick game.
When your dog understands this concept, you can hid various toys and/or treat-filled toys around the yard and ask your dog to “find it” when you let him out. This will give him an appropriate activity to engage in instead of digging up the yard.
2. He’s trying to stay cool or warm up
Dogs also dig holes in an effort to get warmer or cooler. If a dog is left outside in summer heat, he may learn that the deeper he digs, the cooler it gets. In the winter, it’s the opposite; the deeper he goes, the warmer he feels. In this situation, your dog’s digging is simply caused by a desire for more comfortable temperatures.
What to do: The solution to this digging problem is simple. Bring your dog indoors when the weather is too cold or too hot for him. Additionally, in warm sunny weather, make sure he has access to shade, fresh water, toys filled with frozen food, or even a child’s pool to splash in. In the colder weather of fall and winter, provide him with cozy dog apparel such as a coat or warm sweater, and a set of doggy boots – but be sure to keep an eye on him when he’s outside so he doesn’t get his garments caught on anything.
3. He’s hunting critters
Even our smallest lapdogs love a good hunt-and-dig game. Dogs are known for their incredible sense of smell. It is estimated that their sense of smell is at least 10,000 times better than ours.
So you may notice your dog with his nose to the ground, moving back and forth across your yard. Before you know it, he’s digging furiously at the dirt until he’s up to his elbows. If he’s a good hunter, he may retrieve a chipmunk, mouse, or even a beetle, toss it up in the air, and possibly roll on it or even eat it. While he is super proud of his accomplishment, you stand there staring at the mess he has created!
What to do: There are a few ways to rectify this issue. First, depending on the critters your dog is hunting, one option is to humanely trap and remove them from your yard. Do not use any kind of poison – remember that poisons don’t distinguish between “pests”, dogs, cats, and children.
If this is not an option, calmly redirect your dog to a more appropriate game, such as the “find it” game mentioned above. If he is obsessed with his hunt, you may need to leash walk him for a little while, possibly in another part of the yard. This will likely be temporary as the critter moves along and your dog forgets about the scent.
Whether your dog is bored, feeling too cold or hot, or is on the hunt for the chipmunks family nesting in your yard, it’s important to narrow down the reason for his digging so you can find ways to stop it. In many cases, preserving your hard-earned landscaping is as simple as ensuring your dog is comfortable, has enough to keep him occupied, and isn’t spending too much time in the yard by himself!