How to Stop a Dog From Digging

Apr 7, 2017 | Training

How to stop a dog from digging.

Why do dogs dig?

One of the questions I get a lot from my dog training clients is how to stop a dog from digging. This may be followed up with asking me why dogs dig in the first place. As with any dog behavior question, the answer can be summed up in two words, “it depends.” I know, probably not the answer you had hoped for, but don’t worry, I will discuss the top five reasons why a dog digs and offer you some solutions to get a dog to stop digging.

Top Five Reasons a Dog Digs

1.  Bored Dogs and Digging is Fun: I often find that when a dog is allowed to roam free in his fenced-in yard unsupervised, digging in the flower beds or digging under the fence is a pretty common dog behavior. Dogs are very intelligent animals, and if not properly engaged will find a way to entertain themselves. When dogs are digging in the yard, they are not doing it for spite; they are doing it because it’s fun.

How to stop a dog from digging in the yard starts with active supervision outside. I know, I know—you feel since you have a great big fenced yard that your dog should have the freedom to roam and wander as he pleases. But, if your dog is doing something in the yard you are not a fan of, such as digging, he needs to be entertained while outside and politely re-directed to a more appropriate activity. Read this article on why I’m not a fan of unsupervised yard time.

Make the yard an amusement park for your dog. If you have lots of fun and doggie-approved activities in the yard, your dog may be less likely to dig a hole and more likely to do the activity you wish.

Fill a few hollow dog toys with your dog’s meal allotment, freeze overnight and hide them in various spots the next day (learn how to teach your dog to find it, learn how to stuff a hollow dog toy). Once your dog finds his filled treat toy, he will spend the next 20-30 minutes unstuffing the food.

Provide your dog with a dog sandbox. First, ensure the sandbox is placed in a nice spot in the yard that receives shade. Bury a treat, toy, or filled treat ball halfway in the sand. Show your dog the prize and encourage him to dig and cheer him on as he does. Over the next few days, continue to bury dog toys in the sandbox and encourage your dog. Randomly add toys and goodies in the sand when he’s not aware, so he can find the prizes on his own time. Wow. His sandbox now becomes a good place to dig. If you see him digging in an off-limit spot, ask him to come to his sandbox for a dig. Yes, you still need to supervise him.

2.  Hunting Behavior: Yes, most dogs are quite the hunters. Whether they are hunting for bugs, worms, food, or critters, their noses can get them into all kinds of mischief, including digging to find the prize.

This isn’t limited to outside digging, but can also including digging in your house. We recently had a critter under our house and the first one to know about it was Dexter. It was quite a thing to watch. First, his nose went up in the air as he scoured the air for the source of the scent. His nose then dropped to the ground and trailed the floor and led him to various floor vents. That’s when the digging started. Once he “found” the source, he started to dig at the vents. Our solution was three-fold. First, I re-directed Dexter off the vents and onto something else. At various times Dexter was very focused and adamant about wanting to dig, so I had to lock him out of the vent/room in question. Second, I placed cotton balls inside the vent with peppermint oil. This discouraged the critter from hanging out in that spot and possibly Dexter too, or maybe he stopped because the critter wasn’t there—I’m not sure. Thirdly, we trapped the critter.

3. Stay Cool: If your dog is outside for any extended amount of time during the summer, he may decide to dig a hole to lie in. The ground is cooler the deeper you go. Solutions include shorter times outside during the summer, and including ways for your dog to have fun cooling down. Baby pools, sprinklers, cooling jackets, shade, and ice cubes are loads of fun for hot summer days.

4. Stress: When a dog is stressed, a whole lot of things can happen. I remember my thunder-phobic dog, Theo, digging like mad when he was stressed. I’m not sure where he thought he was going, but he seemed to think he could dig out of the house and escape the storms. I always thought of it in two ways, trying to escape and over-reacting to a stimulus, like biting our nails. Solutions include addressing the dog’s stress, redirecting, and keeping him safe.

5. Digging the Dog Bed: Why do dogs dig in bed? Oh, I know you know what I’m talking about. You and your dog are getting ready to call it a night and before your dog lies down in his orthopedic dog bed, he digs and circles, and digs some more. This digging behavior probably stems from a long time ago when dogs were street dogs and fended for themselves. It is likely an old instinctive behavior started to clear a sleeping spot from tall grasses and brush. It may also serve as a way to mark their territory since dogs have scent glands on their paw pads. And now? Maybe it’s become their sleeping routine, sort of like you brush your teeth, shut out the light, etc. before crawling into bed.

How do you stop a dog from digging the bed? I’m not sure you do. I don’t think we have to totally rule our dog’s lives. If he feels like he needs to root around in his bed or blankets before settling in, let him. However, if your dog seems a bit obsessive about digging or is digging the carpet, here are some ideas. First, if it’s his dog bed or dog blanket and he just keeps going and going, gently distract him and ask him to lie down. You can even give him a healthy treat for complying. If your dog is digging your carpet before bed, buy him is own dog beds and encourage him to use them.

So there you go. Five reasons a dog might dig and a few solutions to help you stop your dog from digging.

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