Destructive Dog Digging

Destructive Dog Digging

My dog makes me laugh. He usually has little interest in digging, until he sees me doing it. If I dig a hole in one area, I guarantee that if I turn around, he will be giving a hand somewhere else in the garden. So why do dogs like digging so much and why in some cases this can be seriously destructive and requires corrective action?

Dog Digging – Why?

Our dogs early ancestors learnt the art of digging from an early age. They learn that burying food for later retrieval, kept it safe from other predators. They learnt that digging dens can help keep cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. The also learnt to dig out prey that lived underground. So it should be no surprise to find that our domestic friends still have a significant digging instinct. Dog digging is a natural canine activity for which they can find highly enjoyable and therapeutic.

In the case of the domestic dog, digging behaviour can be caused by a number of factors. One thing for sure is that they don’t dig your garden up out of spite, revenge or simply the need to be destructive. Dogs are not humans and they do not think like we do.

How do I stop dog digging?

Understanding your dog’s motivation to dig helps in determining the solution to stop or reduce this behaviour. Below are some suggestions to help correct digging behaviours. It is difficult to pin dog digging down to a single cause and to some extent most digging is motivated by boredom or the sheer fun of it. In all cases, punishing dog digging (particularly after the event) does not work and in all likelihood, it will cause anxiety that may make the situation worse.

Motivation Symptoms Possible Solutions

Protection or comfort Dogs that spend a great deal of time outside can resort to the instinctive desire to have shelter, a place to keep warm and secure.

Usually this would be as near to you as possible, perhaps near your house walls, possibly under windows so that they can hear you. Rarely would this sort of digging be in the middle of your lawn We never recommend leaving dogs outside for prolonged periods unattended. They are pack animals and need to be part of family life. If they are left outside, ensure your dog has a kennel near the house and possible under a window that is often open. It should not be in the hot sun or cold winds.

Recreation or Boredom For some dogs, digging can be one of their most favourite things to do. It is one way of expelling unused energy, perhaps from lack of exercise. Other dogs simply love digging, they love the earthly smells, the feel of the mud and dirt, and the pleasure of digging.

Refocusing this behaviour often achieves better results than attempting to stop it altogether. Install a digging pit filled with sand (see below for more details). You can start to refocus the digging by hiding treats in the sand. Also, ensure your dogs environment is full of interesting things and toys. Activity toys such as the Aussie Dog and stuffed Kongs are ideal for outside activity. Have a range of activity toys to rotate to make them seem new.

Food Some dogs are highly motivated by food. This sort of dog digging usually takes place at the foot of trees and shrubs, rather than at walls or boundaries.

The digging can be in a ‘path’ layout, as the dog attempts to track burrowing animals such as moles. Some say that you should look for signs of underground animals and seek ways to deter them from your garden (at Canine Concepts, we believe all animals are equal and only condone humane methods to ‘deter’ rather than eradicate animals). Providing other forms of activity (see digging for ‘recreation and boredom’) may also help. Hiding food treats in a digging pit would also help refocus this dog digging behaviour.

Attention seeking Digging in your presence is a symptom of this. Any behaviour can become attention-getting behaviour if dogs learn that they receive attention for engaging in it (even punishment is a form of attention). Ignore this dog digging behaviour.
Give your dog plenty of attention and human interaction.

Seeking escape Usually involves digging along a fence line. In this case you will need to look at the reason the dog wants to escape. These can be wide and varied and would warrant an article of its own. Some options to prevent digging at the fence line are to bury the bottom of your fence a foot or so
underground, or lay chain link fence on the ground and anchor to the fence.

How to Build and Use a Digging Pit

Building a digging pit is often the most effective way of focusing your dogs digging habit. A pit of around 6ft by 3ft is usually ample and it should be around 18-24″ deep. Find an area that is out of prolonged direct sunlight and cold winds. One of the best methods is to build a frame from railway sleepers. Rest the frame level on the ground and dig out about 8-10″ of soil. This will give you a pit of the required depth, which you can then fill with sand. If your soil is fairly loose, you can just mix the sand with the soil and save having to remove so much soil.

Let your dog watch you dig the pit and praise them warmly if they give a helping hand. Encourage your dog to dig by making a fuss of burying his favourite toys in the pit and praising them when they dig them up. Start to introduce a command such as ‘digging pit’ and further develop the habit by hiding a dozen or so treats in the pit for them to sniff and dig out.. If your dog does go to dig elsewhere, use your command ‘digging pit’ to redirect them to the correct location.

Some Products you Might Find Useful

The makers of the MasterPlus Remote Training Collar claim it has significant success in reducing digging problems. Although we don’t doubt this success, in our view this is recommended only for extreme cases where the other methods have not succeeded.

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About Patricia Hunter

Patricia Hunter at Canine Concepts is a qualified full-time dog behaviourist and trainer. Some of the articles on our site were written by Patricia with her full permission to use the literature on our site.

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