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Prevent Digging

Why do dogs dig?

This is a common question many frustrated pet owners find themselves asking. Unfortunately, there is not a “quick fix” to digging since the symptom goes much deeper, and most of the time it is instinctual. Some dogs were bred to dig, some do it to cool off or out of boredom and frustration, while others simply enjoy the thrill of digging. For most dogs, however, digging is in the genes. Wild ancestors dug to hide their food and create dens to birth and raise pups. Throughout history humans have encouraged digging by selecting this trait and breeding dogs to dig up rodents and other prey from earthen tunnels. In fact, Terriers, the most popular breed for this job even take their name from the Latin word for earth — terra.

How to Discourage Digging

Digging is one of the most natural dog behaviors and is very hard to discourage, but it can be done if you are patience and consistent with your training. The following tips have been proven to work for several of my clients:
  1. Exercise

    One easy way to offset digging is to ensure your dog is getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. This can be a walk, jog or even playing fetch. By exercising your dog you are helping them burn energy that would otherwise be pent up and used to dig when left in the backyard.
  2. Dog Toys

    Make sure your dog has plenty of activities in the backyard by keeping several toys and balls around. A yogurt smeared frozen Kong with some cheerios and a Jolly Ball works beautifully.
  3. Fill in the Hole

    Many dogs will return to the scene of the crime even after you have filled in the hole and reseeded. By filling the hole with your dogs solid waste as well as cayenne pepper your dog will be less interested in digging in this spot again. Adding a 6X6 square of chicken wire underneath the topsoil can also act as an extra deterrent.
  4. Encourage the Dig?

    Filling in the hole, as outlined above sometimes cause’s dogs to simply create a new hole in another location. If this is the case, you are more than likely fighting a never-ending battle so it is time to comprise by allowing your dog to dig in a pre-designated area.
  • Start by finding a 3ft.X3ft. area in a corner of your yard, or a spot in the shade behind a tree.
  • Dig up a 3in.X3in. hole yourself until it is about 3-4in. deep then bury some bones, treats, Sam's Yams, carrots, etc. in the hole. (Do not do this while your dog is in the backyard with you.)
  • When your hole is complete, take your dog to the hole and say "DIG!".
  • When they start sniffing it and/or digging, give them a treat and praise them. Your dog will think this is a fun game and will get rewarded again when they find the buried treat.
  • If you see them digging in one of the filled holes, tell them 'Uh-uh!' and re-direct them to the proper digging spot.

Additional Tips to Prevent Digging

  • Keep your dog’s nails trimmed so they do not feel the need to ‘file’ their nails with soil. Shorter nails make digging more difficult since they will not be able to excavate as quickly.
  • Most importantly, do not punish your dog after the fact by dragging the dog to a hole and yelling or spanking him. Even though the dog cowers and acts like he knows he’s done wrong, he does not necessarily connect your anger to the hole. What humans interpret as guilt is actually a dog’s way of acting subordinate and turning off a threat.