Digging is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs. The most well known reason dogs dig is to bury or retrieve bones or treasured toys. On hot days, some dogs naturally dig and lay in a hole to escape the heat. Breeds such as terriers were bred to dig up and kill rodents and other vermin, and haven’t lost the instinct. In some cases, digging may be a dog’s way of trying to escape either physical confinement or boredom.
While we know digging is instinctive in our pets, we sometimes can’t help but wish they wouldn’t do it. Compulsive diggers and dogs that dig excessively are frustrating. Their owners don’t want to punish their pets for doing what comes naturally, but they also don’t want their yards to be covered by craters. Luckily, there are ways to reduce and even stop dogs from digging.
Before you can treat the behavior, you need to understand your dog’s reason for digging. Does she only dig when left alone? Does she always dig in the same spot? Is she digging under a fence? Does she tend to take her rawhide chews outside the minute you give them to her? Answering these questions can help you determine the right approach to take in training your dog.
If your dog digs only when she is left alone for long periods of time, she is probably trying to alleviate her boredom. A good physical workout before you leave will tire her out so that she sleeps part of the time you are gone. Be sure to equip her with toys that engage her mind as well as her body, so she can stay busy when she wakes up. Pet supply stores have an amazing array of chew toys and dog “puzzles.” These are hollow cubes or balls into which you place small pieces of treats. Your dog will be able to smell the treats inside, and must figure out a way to get to them. Usually, this requires nosing and rolling the puzzle until a treat falls out of one of many small openings.
Another way to deal with a digging dog is to channel her behavior to an acceptable spot. Some dog owners create special digging pits for their dogs. These are small areas of soft dirt in which the owners bury treats. Some are placed deeper than others, so that dogs have to use their sense of smell to find the treats. To make this technique successful, bury treats on an irregular basis, and never let your dog see you placing them in the dirt.
You may have to make an extra effort with very compulsive diggers. If your dog repeatedly digs in a favorite flower bed, you might need to put up a physical barrier to prevent her from gaining access to the spot. Remote punishment is another technique that sometimes works well. This is simply something-a blast of water, for example-that distracts the dog the moment she begins to dig. Some people suggest that the owner distract the dog personally, either with a blast from a squirt gun or by shaking a can of coins. However, this is only feasible if you are with your dog constantly. Your dog may stop digging in your presence, but she will likely continue to dig.