- A dog with a digging habit can make your yard look bad, but might also escape.
- Digging behavior rarely goes away without intervention and training.
- Dogs dig because they are bored, have a genetic predisposition, or they think it's fun.
- Pet parents can take steps to prevent this behavior.
- If training on your own doesn't work, call in a professional to help.
The dirty paws usually give it away—dogs that dig outside bring obvious clues of their efforts inside, like mud-caked feet and a grimy nose.
Sometimes a canine digging habit simply makes your yard look bad, but digging can also lead to escape if your dog discovers how to tunnel his way under a fence or barrier.
Digging rarely goes away without intervention. In order to figure out how to stop a dog from digging, you first need to identify the reasons behind it, then apply dog-friendly training to redirect your dog to a more appropriate activity.
Why Do Dogs Dig?
Dogs like to dig for a variety of reasons. Digging can range from a fun leisure activity to a breed hallmark, or may be caused by a combination of any of the following factors:
Boredom: While dogs love spending time in the great outdoors, the caveat is that they enjoy it most when with their people. Dogs left alone outside often resort to creative ways to stay occupied, like barking or digging.
Fun: Let’s face it—digging is fun! Sinking paws into the earth probably feels good, and sometimes the dirt even plays back when dogs discover roots or scurrying bugs.
Hiding items: Some dogs like to keep their precious bones and toys hidden away and take them to the yard (or couch!) to bury them. This behavior can become an expensive habit when dogs bury every bone they receive!
Chasing prey: Many dog breeds that dig, like terriers, are driven to put their noses to the earth to find creatures underground, and even the hint of something furry under the surface is enough to encourage excavation.
Temperature control: Dogs that are outdoors in extreme temperatures (either heat or cold) might dig to find relief from the weather by burrowing into the ground.
Escape confinement: Sometimes it’s hard to resist the call of the wild and dogs will dig to get out of their yards in search of adventure. This is especially true for dogs that are not neutered or dogs that spend too much time alone outside.
Dog Breeds That Dig
Any dog can learn to love digging, but there are many breeds that are genetically predisposed to dig in search of prey.
Terrier breeds dig to uncover rodents, rabbits and other critters. Dogs from the hound group also burrow to get to prey or follow scents anywhere they might lead—including underground. Working dogs might dig to find just the right temperature.
Some dog breeds that dig include:
- Jack Russell Terriers
- Cairn Terriers
- Airedale Terriers
- Fox Terriers
Pet parents with a breed that is predisposed to digging may find it more challenging to alter the behavior.
How To Stop Dogs From Digging
The first step in figuring out how to keep dogs from digging is determining the motivation behind it. Unfortunately, there’s no single one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every dog, particularly those driven by instinct.
Using a multi-tiered approach can help keep dogs from digging in the yard. Try these tips to stop dogs from digging.
Increase daily stimulation. It’s a safe bet that every dog can use more daily enrichment, especially those that like to dig. Properly exercising your dog goes beyond daily walks. Take time to play games that engage your dog’s brain and body. Activities like find the toy, scenting games, and fun trick training will help to wear out your dog so he’ll be less inclined to dig.
Keep him busy outside. Rather than sending your dog out to the yard with nothing to do, give him a treat-stuffed activity toy or messy marrow bone that will help to keep him focused on something other than digging. However, this option isn’t a good fit for diggers that like to hide their treasures.
Make an outdoor dig pit. Creating a sanctioned digging zone can be helpful for dogs that like to dig for fun or those that dig to hide goodies. Block off an area in your yard with a border and fill it with loose soil or sand, then hide a few goodies in the dirt and encourage your dog to find them. Always praise your dog when he chooses to dig in his special spot.
Make an indoor dig pit. Dogs that like to dig in the couch when trying to bury a treasure might enjoy a dig zone that they can really manipulate. Find a box with low sides or a plastic storage container and fill it with scraps of fabric or packing peanuts, then place a few treats in the mix and encourage your dog to find them. Just keep an eye on your pup to make sure he’s not eating any of the packing peanuts.
Encourage indoor bone time. If your dog immediately heads outside whenever he gets a bone, lock the door and encourage him to chew inside only. Just be prepared—you might have to deal with sad looks as your dog adjusts to this new reality.
Supervise your dog. Rather than turning your dog outside to spend time in the yard alone, go hang out with him. Spending quality time together is always a good idea, and if your dog starts digging you can redirect him to a more appropriate activity like a game of fetch or a stuffed treat toy.
Relocate tempting yard critters. Encourage underground animals to move on to the next house with natural repellants like applying a mix of water and castor oil in their burrows, using animal-safe grub control to kill off their food source, or placing vibrating spinners along their tunnels.
How to Stop a Dog From Digging Under the Fence
Making sure that the fence line around your yard is secure is critical to ensure your dog’s safety. Advice about preventing dogs from digging under the fence usually suggests fortifying the base of the fence with cement, chicken wire, or large rocks, but the problem of repeat escapees requires more than just a prison guard mentality.
Dogs that are driven to leave the yard repeatedly most likely have needs that aren’t being met. They might be bored and under stimulated, frightened by something in the environment, or not neutered and seeking a mate.
The first step to prevent dogs from escaping in the yard is to inspect and fortify fences and barriers for safety. But, more importantly, if you want to figure out how to stop your dog from digging under the fence, consider your dog’s total wellbeing and take steps to improve his lifestyle to decrease his desire to dig and escape.
Dog Digging: When to Involve Professional Help
If your dog continues digging despite your efforts, it’s a good idea to involve a professional dog trainer, particularly if your dog can’t be redirected to a more appropriate activity or if he repeatedly manages to escape your yard.
Rehabbing a dog that digs requires supervision and dedication, but with the right approach you’ll be able to convince your four-pawed gardener to pick up a new profession!