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You love your pup, but those new holes dotting your yard? We’re guessing you love those a lot less. While digging is a common problem for pet owners, if left unattended, it can cause severe damage to your landscaping and lead to costly repairs. Sound familiar? It may be time to ask yourself: “Why is my dog digging, and how can I stop it?"
Digging, or the instinctual and hard-wired act of uprooting and moving the earth somewhere else, is one of the most common behaviors observed in man's best friend. While it may be frustrating to come home to mounds of dirt scattered around your yard, it's essential to understand why your pup may be so taken with this particular activity.
Dogs dig for various reasons; some use it for play or exploration, while others use it as a coping mechanism when feeling stressed or anxious. Some dogs dig as an attention-seeking tool; others dig to find warmth and comfort (it’s common among wild canines to dig dens to sleep in and raise their young). Some even want to dig as a form of resource guarding, hiding food in the ground for a rainy-day snack. Other dogs? Well, they dig for the sheer joy of digging itself!
Whatever your dog’s unique situation, owners need to understand that digging isn't caused by a desire to break the rules; it’s much more nuanced than that.
When considering your dog’s motivation for digging, start by considering their age and breed. Puppies and younger dogs, or rescue dogs new to your home, are still learning boundaries and developing an understanding of their environment. This may result in destructive behavior like digging, as they are not fully aware of your expectations. Alternatively, if you’ve made a shift in an established home (think: new roommate or a child), it may be causing your dog anxiety and, as a result, they are acting out.
It’s also important to remember that certain breeds are naturally more inclined toward digging than others and require more attention when it comes to controlling this behavior. Dachshunds, for example, were initially bred to hunt badgers – their bodies were designed to be low to the ground for tracking and chasing animals through narrow tunnels. Years of such specialty breeding have resulted in a stubborn, albeit cute, and fearless dog who is hard-wired for digging, a habit that will take additional effort from which to break free.
Identifying the motivation for your pup's behaviors is the first step in taking corrective action. If you believe your dog is digging for entertainment or due to boredom, providing more opportunities for physical and mental exercise — either through games or other activities such as puzzle toys — will give him better outlets to cope. Check out this blog for some extra ideas on how to provide mental stimulation! Providing ample exercise also helps reduce their need to expend energy on inappropriate behaviors, so make sure you have regular walks scheduled for your pup.
When you do catch your dog digging, instead of punishment and negative reinforcement, opt to change the behavior or redirect the energy to a more appropriate behavior. Distract and/or substitute undesirable digging with a favorite toy or different type of play, such as chasing a ball or chewing a bone; either will likely keep their attention away from the digging instinct.
Alternatively, you can create designated “dig spots” in an area you approve of (some people even opt to buy a small sandbox or rope off an area) filled with highly desirable treats or toys so your dog becomes motivated to use these areas instead of creating holes elsewhere. Some retailers even offer toys designed to replicate the digging sensation in a designated, dirt-free space.
It’s also helpful to block off digging spaces by using fences or landscaping blocks to restrict access to susceptible areas; find out what works best for your pup, and you will be on your way to having a dig-free yard!
As a bonus tip, regularly check for any new holes in your yard and fill them. Even small divots can be seductive to dogs prone to digging. And make sure to properly maintain designated dig/play spaces so they are prepared for the next adventure. With time and appropriately placed positive reinforcement, digging will become an issue of the past.
If all these practices fail, consult available resources for age- or breed-specific solutions to help keep digging from becoming a reoccurring behavioral issue. Try talking to a vet or practiced trainer for age- and breed-specific tips, and remember it takes patience and understanding, above all, to make sense of this behavior.
Although the instinct is hardwired in dogs and other animals, it’s still possible to control digging behavior by understanding why your pup is digging, correctly identifying the cause and addressing it with a consistent strategy. With some patience and training, you can have a beautiful, hole-free yard.
Need additional ideas on what else you and your dog can do together? Check out all K9 & Co. offerings here. We can’t wait to see what you and your dog’s next adventure will be.