Why in the World do Dogs Dig?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on June 16, 2018
Posted in Behavior Management
Owning a dog can come with great joy, but it can also cause some major frustrations at times. One such frustration is a natural behavior for dogs: digging.
Dogs may dig for a variety of reasons, but one thing is certain: if your dog is digging a lot in your yard, it may become a problem when your lawn, flowers and plants get uprooted and torn to shreds. Many pet owners try to stop digging altogether, which isn’t always possible. This is because dogs are genetically built to dig.
But, why exactly do they do it?
Digging up the dirt on digging
Digging plays a large role in canine behavior and has deep roots related to your pup’s wild ancestors. One of the reasons dogs dig is to stay warm or cool. Wild canines dig dens in the dirt to keep their pups cold or warm in extreme temperatures, and your domestic pooch may mimic this behavior on a particularly hot day, digging up a spot to lay in to stay comfortable.
Another one of these behaviors is to dig to conceal valuable items like food, treats and toys. Wild dogs need to bury these types of items to conceal them and return to them later, while your pooch might do it just to conceal it from you. Dogs will usually bury things repeatedly in different spots, especially if they realize you’ve discovered their hiding spots.
Dogs also dig for entertainment as a way to stave off boredom. This typically results in random holes in different areas. Or, they may dig due to stress or separation anxiety. Digging can be a form of escape!
Finally, some breeds of dogs, like Terriers, dig more than others because they have historically hunted for underground prey such as mice or moles. This hunting behavior is simply part of your dog’s genetic code and is natural for them.
How can you stop it?
For a lot of dog owners, digging is a major problem that has led to a destroyed yard and sometimes even destroyed inside materials like couches, if the dog “digs” hard enough on fabric. This typically leads to an attempt to stop the digging.
In order to get your dog to stop digging relentlessly, you’ll need to identify the cause of the behavior and treat that problem specifically. Unfortunately, because digging is natural, it’s probably best to train your dog to dig in certain, allowable locations rather than prevent your dog from digging at all.
To start, cover your dogs most basic needs, including food, water and shelter outside. Shelter is an often-neglected one, since dogs spend a lot of time indoors, as well. If the temperatures are too hot or cold, though, your dog might use its instincts to get comfortable.
Make sure your dog has an insulated dog house available (for warmth and cold), as well as a comfortable bed and access to warming blankets or cooling fans. Making a comfortable shelter should prevent digging due to temperature regulation.
Next, look to address mental needs. Look for signs of distress or anxiety and work to rectify those if you think digging is being used as a coping mechanism. Boredom is another mental state that is easily addressed. Boredom digging can be dissuaded by playing with your dog outside or not allowing it to stay outside on its own for long periods of time without other toys to play with.
If you believe your dog is merely digging for entertainment or to hide toys and food, you’ll want to encourage digging in a special area you create for your dog. Install garden gates around areas you want your dog to stop digging in, so they can’t get access, creating a very enticing area for the dog to dig in instead.
Try burying a treat in the designated area and instructing your dog to dig there. Provide praise and treats to encourage good digging behavior in appropriate spots and use loud clapping sounds to stop your dog digging in areas it should not. After a while, the dog should learn which areas are appropriate for digging.
Encourage good behaviors
Do not punish your dog for digging through scolding, smacking or other delayed punishments, as this will only promote fear!
At the end of the day, you must remember that your canine companion is not acting out, but really acting as it is genetically designed to. If digging behaviors become problematic, work to encourage good behaviors rather than punish for bad ones, and let your pooch have its fun at the same time.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan