Having a beautifully landscaped yard is a wonderful thing. To have an outdoor space you can be proud of takes some planning, money, and old fashioned hard work.
... and then your dog proceeds to dig a bunch of holes in the yard, making it look like a minefield.
This can be a particularly frustrating behaviour for dog owners to deal with, as beautiful lawns and gardens can suffer substantial damage in a short amount of time.
But why do dogs dig? What are they really trying to accomplish? And how can you curb this unwanted behaviour? The good news is that, with some diligence, this behaviour can be stopped, or at least reduced considerably.
Before we look into solutions to problem digging, we must first try to understand why dogs dig.
Digging is a natural behaviour for dogs, and for many reasons. Several breeds, like terriers, are natural hunters, and will instinctively dig in search of small rodents. Dogs may also dig to unearth a distinctive smell; perhaps from insects, rodents, or anything compelling enough to pique their interest.
Anxiety may also play a significant role in a dog’s problem digging. For a dog with separation or isolation anxiety, he may dig in an attempt to 'escape' his anxiety, especially if he is left alone for prolonged periods of time. Anxiety caused by loud noises; fireworks, thunderstorms, construction work, may trigger a dog to dig out of panic. Similar to how a dog may cower and hide from loud noises inside the home, many dogs dig in an attempt to find a safe place to hide.
For many canines, digging is a common response to boredom and pent-up energy. When a bored or under-stimulated dog is left to their own devices, they’ll almost always find something destructive to do. And why not dig; it offers immediate satisfaction! While some dogs may receive sufficient daily physical exercise, many remain mentally unsatiated. A lack of stimulation may occur if your dog visits the same places every day, is restricted to the same backyard, or desires for more human interaction.
So how can you deter unwanted digging?
Making sure your dog is getting plenty of daily exercise is key. Humans are very routine oriented, and as such, many of us will walk the same circuit every day. This can become boring to a dog as their environment progressively loses excitement. Try getting creative and switch it up by finding new areas to explore with your pooch. It may also be a good idea to extend the length of your walks to ensure your dog is fully satisfied.
If your dog receives plenty of exercise, then there’s a good chance that boredom is the source of their problem digging. Try teaching your dog new tricks, or introduce new outdoor toys - like a tether tug - to play with. One-on-one play time, such as fetch and tug-of-war are excellent ways to increase both mental and physical stimulation. Dogs can also get lonely; try taking your pooch to an off-leash park where they can play and interact with other dogs.
While correcting an overabundance of energy or lack of stimulation is a crucial step, if unwanted digging has already started, it’s important to work on positively deterring that. It’s best not to leave your dog outside unsupervised until the unwanted behaviour is under control. Positively redirect their attention every time they display digging behaviours, by throwing a ball, offering affection or a treat, or whatever else works for your dog - just make sure it is done consistently. If they have favourite dig spots, fill them in with rocks temporarily, or sprinkle cayenne pepper around the hole as a deterrent.
And lastly, for those dogs who have that insatiable desire to dig, sometimes it’s best to find a happy compromise. Consider allocating a small space in the yard as a designated 'digging zone'. With a little patience, it is completely reasonable to teach a dog to only dig in his digging zone by using positive reinforcement.
Brandon Forder – also known as The Pet Expert - is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, a family-owned and -operated business located in Meaford. He has over twenty-five years of experience specializing in pet nutrition, behaviour, and healthy pet lifestyles. Canadian Pet Connection is an industry leader committed to providing their clients with the highest levels of personal, attentive service. Learn more at www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.