Dogs Who Dig
March 31, 2021
Dogs dig for many different reasons. Some breeds with very thick coats (Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes) dig cooling holes to lie in. Dogs dig to bury or retrieve bones. And they dig to escape confinement; they also dig as a direct result of odours or sounds that attract them from beneath the ground as they have an acute sense of smell and are able to hear high frequency sounds. Breeds such as terriers (terrier is derived from the Latin word for ground) have been bred to flush out prey and dig for rodents. Digging is also an activity undertaken by dogs that are left alone with insufficient stimulation or attention. This is particularly so in puppies and in highly energetic dogs.
The first step in treating an inappropriate digging problem (remember your dog does not see it as a problem) is to try to determine why the dog is digging. Simply preventing the dog from digging may result in new behaviour problems such as chewing, barking or escaping.
Dogs that dig to keep cool should be provided with a cool resting place with plenty of shade and fresh water (a child's wading pool filled with water will help it to cool off). Dogs that are very young and active may require extra activities and stimulation to keep them occupied.
If your dog is outside all day and digging is taking place, we may need to ask ourselves if keeping the dog inside may be a better answer. This applies particularly to dogs that are trying to escape from the yard. If we are unable to confine the dog because of chewing or house-soiling issues, then these problems need to be addressed first.
For some dogs it is useful to create an area where the dog is allowed to dig instead of trying to inhibit its normal behaviour. The digging pit can be as simple as a child's wading pool filled with loose, clean sand or as elaborate as a soft, dirt patch surrounded by railroad sleepers and screened with a row of shrubs or a fence. To make this an area where your dog would like to dig, bury things in the pit that you know it would like to find. This may include raw bones, dried pig's ear, food filled Kong toys, and pieces of dried liver. Remember to praise it when you see it digging in its sand pit. If your dog is already using an inappropriate area to dig you may also want to 'booby trap' that particular area by placing rocks or pegging chicken wire down over the area (dogs can't dig through wire and the grass can still grow up through it).
Remember, punishment for digging will be ineffective as dogs are very place specific in their behaviour, so for punishment to work you have to be able to catch it in the act and punish it within three seconds and then it will only associate it with 'that' particular hole. (How many holes do you think it will dig before it realises it's just easier to wait until you leave the house and then dig a hole?). There is no denying how much destruction a digging dog can cause. There have been cases of dogs that have dug out the posts of a pergola and another that dug down to the footings of its owner's house!
Dogs don't realise that this behaviour is wrong and they really are just doing what comes naturally. Happy training.