Dealing with your dog's digging

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 8/21/11
By: Gail T. Fisher


Dear Gail: I have a high energy 5 year old Labradoodle that digs. Sometimes she will dig 3 big holes in my front yard at one session. She does not bury anything - sometimes she'll sit in one. She gets a lot of exercise every day - like 2-3 miles or more not on leash and mostly in the woods. I rarely see her dig but when I do she doesn't seem to understand that it's bad to dig. Her favorite places are in front lawn where she can also view and bark at any activity on the street or driveway. (I'm working on that too with limited success!) One of her sites is a flower bed and the others are a few feet away by a water run off (I live down hill -on a lake) Even when it's dry she digs! One year I had the area fenced off and as soon as the grass grew and I had the fence taken down she went back to her digging. By the way when I take her to my daughters in Ct. she sometimes digs there in the mulch in a shrub bed but doesn't harm the plant. Other than the above she's a dear pet! I read your wonderful column every Sunday and look forward to your comments on "digging". Thanks for responding - I really appreciate that. Wish I lived closer to Manchester!

There are a number of reasons dogs dig. Understanding the reasons can play a role in dealing with or eliminating the behavior. Here’s a run-down of the most common reasons dogs dig:
  • To escape—If the dog is digging is around the periphery fence, it’s likely the dog is trying to escape from the fenced area.
  • A breed propensity—Terriers dig. The word terrier comes from the Latin terra, meaning earth. These small dogs were specifically selected for their hunting ability, keeping farms free of small vermin such as mice, voles, and moles. Holes that are dug by hunters may be in any area of your yard.
  • Seeking damp coolness—Especially in the heat of the summer, many dogs will scratch at the surface soil to dig down to damp, coolness to lie in. This digging is usually in shaded areas under trees or around shrubs, or in damp areas that have been watered, such as gardens.
  • To bury (or dig up) a bone. This digging may be anywhere, but is often in softer soil such as tilled areas.
  • To get back in the house—If the digging is around the foundation of the home, especially near the doors, it often indicates a dog that wants to come back inside.
  • Allelomimetic (mimic) behavior—A fancy way of saying that your dog watches you digging in the garden, and helps you out. You plant, your dog digs up. The best solution to this might be leaving your dog in the house when you’re digging in your garden.
  • Boredom; to see what’s there—Dogs that are left alone for hours at a time will often find something to keep themselves busy and express their unspent energy. Dogs don’t tend to run around the yard to burn energy, but they often dig.
  • Making a comfortable place to lie down—We had a wonderful dog in our daycare who would daily dig a hole deep enough for her to lie down in. She’d curl up and sleep in her hole while other dogs ran around, and even over her.
As you look at the various reasons for digging behavior, the one solution that works for virtually all of these causes is to not leave your dog unattended in the yard for extended periods of time. Dogs that are bored, or lonely, or hot, or want to either come in or get out will tend to dig.

Just as importantly, there is nothing that can be done after the fact that will teach the dog not to dig in the future. The best approaches to dealing with digging are to supervise your dog, not leave her alone in the yard for extended periods, confine the dog in an area where you don’t mind holes, or accept that your dog is doing something that comes naturally.

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