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Why dogs dig and how to stop them from destroying your garden

Approx. 7 minutes read

Have you ever looked out onto your garden only to realise that you should have named your dog ‘Doug’ instead of [insert his real name here]? As a pet owner, you want a backyard for your dog to play in; perhaps to do some gardening, or just to sit under a nice shady tree with your favourite book and your furry friend relaxed and snoozing at your side.

Instead: your dog is a digger. This can be infuriating and exasperating, especially if you have a repeat offender on your hands. Fear not: Pet Hero is here to explain why dogs dig holes and how you can curb your dog’s enthusiasm for fashioning your backyard into his own personal sandpit.

Why do dogs dig holes?

The reasons dog dig holes are as numerous as the dirty pawprints they bring into the house afterwards, but we’ll explore a few of the more common ones. Do any of these sound familiar?

Digging breeds dig

Some dog breeds were specifically bred to dig into the burrows of their prey on a seek and destroy mission to rid their owners’ farms of vermin. Rats, mice, badgers – you name it. Despite many of these breeds becoming family pets instead of working dogs – decades down the line – those inbred instincts and habits seldom leave them. If you have a Jack Russell terrier, a Dachshund, Siberian husky, Cairn terrier, Airedale terrier, Beagle, mini schnauzer… then you’ll know all about breeds that dig!

Digging is a natural behaviour for them and can be extremely difficult to prevent, but we’ll discuss the matter of redirection in a moment.

Bored dogs dig

If you’ve just recognised that your border collie is a digger, but isn’t on the digging breed list, then what you may have is a BOREDer collie! Some dogs dig when they need physical and mental stimulation. Highly intelligent dog breeds need plenty of playtime, games of fetch, obedience training and lots of running just to keep them tired and happy. If they are bored and under-stimulated, they enter into an aroused state that can be relieved by natural behaviours like barking and digging. These behaviours keep the cycle of arousal and satisfaction going – the longer they are left unchecked, the more difficult they may be to break.  

Hot dogs dig

Dogs like Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, German shepherds and others with double coats can become too hot in our warm South African summers. They dig down to where the soil is cool and then lie in their comfortable hole to cool off. They put the ‘bed’ in ‘flowerbed’.  

Pirate dogs dig

Some dogs perceive their treats, toys and other valuable items to be treasure that must be buried – hidden from other pirates. This isn’t necessarily hoarding or possessive behaviour, but a natural instinct that dogs have to bury excess ‘food’ to save for when they are hungry, or to hide their resources from predators roaming in the area. Hunting dog breeds like golden retrievers, basset hounds, beagles and even the Dachshund may have this tendency to bury toys and treats.

Houdini dogs dig

Some dog breeds are notorious escape artists. If they cannot get over the fence, they will try to tunnel under it. This may be as a result of boredom, with not enough stimulation on their side of the fence, or it may simply be that they want something specific on the other side of the fence. Unneutered male dogs are particularly prone to digging to escape, to try to reach on-heat females in the neighbourhood.

Mother dogs dig

A pregnant female may exhibit the sudden tendency to dig when she’s near to her due date. This is a natural instinct towards nesting: creating a safe, sheltered spot in which to have her puppies.

How to stop dogs from digging holes

There’s little that’s more disheartening to see your hard work in the garden diminished to a hole in the ground and a pile of soil. And it’s difficult to imagine that your dog is not being ‘naughty’ – he’s simply acting out his natural behaviours, sprinkled with a bit of boredom and frustration.

In order to stop a dog from digging in your flower beds, your lawn or anywhere in the backyard, it’s impawtant to address the cause of the digging rather than focus on the act of digging alone. Here are some helpful suggestions to distract your dog from digging and to redirect his energy.

How to stop digging breeds from digging

If digging is built into the DNA of a specific breed of dog, it can be a tough (or impossible) habit to break. The solution is to assign a specific area of the garden for your digging breed to dig in. Corden off an area and provide your dog with his very own sandbox in which he can dig to his heart’s content. Encourage him to only dig in this area by burying a treat or a toy, and reward him with praise and more treats when he finds the hidden objects.

Create a routine in which your dog can dig in his allocated sandpit and be rewarded for it, and with enough consistency and positive reinforcement, he’ll look forward to seek-dig-and-find games with you in his very own digging patch.

How to stop your dog from boredom digging

If a bored dog digs, then it’s logical to assume that a stimulated, tired dog won’t have the need to dig. Dogs are naturally social, playful and energetic, so make sure you are giving your dog enough daily stimulation. High-energy dogs need a LOT of exercise and playtime to keep them happy, so when they have their exercise needs met, they will have no reason to want to go and expend more energy digging in the backyard.

Make sure your pup has his energy needs met, but go one step further and make playtime and exercise into a routine. If your dog knows he’s going for a walk in the morning and evening and has a play session in the middle of the day, he’ll keep his schedule clear and be ready for these fun times. Who needs digging when they have a playdate with their pawrents?!

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How to keep a dog from digging in flower beds to cool off

If you find your dog lying in the hole they’ve dug, then it’s likely they are telling you they need to cool off. Make sure your hot-diggity-dog has enough shade outside, or he has access to indoors during the hottest parts of the day. Always, always make sure he has enough fresh water to drink, and if you live in a really hot area, provide your pup with a cooling pad or even a kiddies’ pool to cool off in.

If you catch your dog digging to cool off, immediately redirect his attention to a cooler spot, and reward him for listening to you. Consistency is key to stop the digging altogether.

Stop a dog from digging to bury treats and toys

If your dog’s habit of burying his toys and treats comes from his perception that he needs to squirrel away his excess, then perhaps it will help to take some of your furry friend’s toys away. Dogs deserve ALL THE TOYS… but maybe not all at once! Keep your pup’s toys in a box and rotate them each week – only giving him one or two at a time to play with.

If your dog is burying his treats, then it’s time to re-assess his relationship with his treats. Give him treats as a reward for obedience – this will encourage him to eat the treats straight away and to respond positively to commands in order to earn more treats!

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Keep an eye on your pirate pup – don’t allow him to take his toys and treats outside, as he’s most likely going to go and bury them!

How to stop a dog from digging to escape

If your dog is digging to escape under your fence, it’s time to make things interesting enough for him to want to stay on his side of the fence. Just like with boredom digging, he needs stimulation and exercise so that he has no more time and energy to seek stimulation, company, and activity outside your yard. Instil and stick to a consistent routine of playtime and walking and, chances are, your dog will forget all about what’s on the other side of the fence.

If your unneutered male is digging to escape, speak to your vet about the viability of neutering him – this may discourage destructive behaviours and ensure your dog’s long-term wellbeing.

How to stop pregnant female dogs from digging

If your pregnant bitch is digging in order to prepare for the birth of her puppies, you can encourage her to do her nesting in a safer and more comfortable environment. Prepare a ‘nest’ with a comfortable dog bed, some cosy blankets, and some nutritious treats to keep her energy up in time for her puppies’ arrival.

Does dog digging repellent work?

Dog digging repellents come in all shapes and sizes – from ‘planting’ chicken wire to thwart a dog’s digging escapade, to sprinkling cayenne pepper on a dog’s favourite digging spot, or watering the soil with a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar. These may be humane ways of snapping your dog out of the compulsion to dig, but they don’t address the actual cause of digging.

Dog digging repellent can be used in your arsenal of preventative measures to stop your dog from digging, but it’s not a quick fix to curb your dog’s behaviour. Make sure you keep your dog exercised, mentally stimulated and constructively occupied.

Digging prevention strategies for dogs

  • Recognise your dog’s reason for digging
  • Keep your dog occupied with walks and playtime
  • Have a consistent activity and exercise routine
  • Don’t leave your dog unoccupied in the backyard for long stretches of time
  • Give your dog a treat toy to keep him occupied if you need to go out for a while
  • Train your dog with positive reinforcement methods so he gets his jollies in a constructive way
  • If you spot your dog sniffing around and wanting to start digging, distract him immediately

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