Dog Digging Disasters: Why Dogs Dig & How to Stop Excavations

canine digging in sand

Digging is a normal canine behavior.

Dogs excavate for a variety of reasons. Dog digging is a natural canine behavior that evolved as a means of survival.

I’m sharing this entry about DOG DIGGING, an excerpt from Dog Facts, The Series 4 (Chapter D)This chapter covers a lot of ground, and here’s the topic list:

Dam, Deafness, Dehydration, Demodecosis, Dermatitis, Diabetes Mellitus, Diarrhea, Digging, Disc Disease, Docking, Dominance, Dreaming, Drooling, Drowning, Dry Eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)

I’ve broken the massive book into discounted treat-size alpha-chapter sections. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every other week. Of course, you can still get the entire book either in Kindle or 630+ pages of print.

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Dog Facts The Series

WHY DOGS DIG

The dog’s footpads are very thick and callused, and are the toughest area of her body. Dogs use their claws and paws to shovel dirt when pursuing burrowing varmints, to bury food or toys for safe-keeping, and to create nests in the snow or dirt that protect them from the cold of winter, or the heat of the summer. Dogs also dig to escape, by tunneling beneath fences meant to confine them from harm.

Dog digging is practiced by all canines, but terrier breeds live for the joy of kicking up dirt. The word “terrier” means “of the earth;” terriers were developed specifically to dig in pursuit of below-ground prey.

PROBLEM DOG DIGGING

Dog digging becomes a problem when your dog is given no opportunity to indulge the urge; left to her own devices, she’ll often choose an inappropriate outlet. Dogs dig holes in the yard, un-plant your flowerbed or potted plants, empty the cat’s litter box, or even attempt to tunnel through carpeting, upholstery, and hardwood floors. When confined, dogs often scratch at doors or the floor in an effort to get out.

Digging becomes particularly problematic in dogs that are bored, and conversely, digging enthusiasm can be dampened by giving the dog something better to do. First, be sure you provide your dog with at least 20 minutes (40 is better!) of aerobic exercise every day. Burn off her energy by playing games of fetch or taking her on a brisk walk.

Northern breeds like the Husky instinctively dig holes to stay cool...or warm.

Northern breeds like the Husky instinctively dig holes to stay cool…or warm.

DOG DIGGING MOTIVATIONS & SOLUTIONS

If your dog is caching toys or food, then only allow her to have these items for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. Take them away when she begins to lose interest, and offer them again at a later time. Some dogs bury objects to prevent another dog from stealing them. Give your dog privacy away from the competition if this is the case.

Digging holes to stay cool can be cured by providing your dog with a shaded area out of the sun, such as access to the covered porch or patio. A dog run with a concrete floor and shaded roof will provide a secure, comfortable outdoor area for the dog that can’t be pockmarked by digging.

For hard-case diggers, build a sand box for his legal excavation. A shaded area about three feet wide, six feet long and two feet deep will satisfy most dogs. Let him see you bury one or two of his toys (very shallowly) and then encourage him to dig them up. Get down on your hands and knees and show him by pawing the sand with your hand.

Escape from a fence (aka "boredom") motivates many dogs to dig holes.

Escape from a fence (aka “boredom”) or hearing varmints underground motivates many dogs to dig holes.

LET ME OUT!

Dogs that dig to escape confinement may be discouraged when their holes are filled with bricks—eventually the dog should become convinced he’ll run into bricks wherever he digs. Dogs also dislike digging up feces, so you may discourage a hard-case digger by “planting” his own feces in the holes, and covering them up as a sort of booby-trap.

Indoor dog digging may require more specialized corrections. Provide some distraction, like legal chews or a favorite toy, to give the bored dog something better to do. Put a cover on the cat’s litter box, or move it out of reach. Cover the surface of large potted plants with gravel or larger rocks to make the contents unattractive to canine diggers.

Dog Facts Chapter DObedience training is the single most important step dog owners can take to prevent and correct problem behaviors like inappropriate digging.

Find out more details about digging and other “D” topics in  Dog Facts, The Series 4 (Chapter D).

Does your dog dig? Is your back yard a moonscape of excavations? How do curb the impulse to kick up dirt? Please share your tips and tricks so others can help save landscaping and still enjoy their canine diggity dogs.


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  1. All our dogs dug to make a cool comfy spot to rest. Cookie digs to get at critters. We allow that. If there is a hole where we didn’t want one,me bury it. I just draw line at ripping,out tree roots. Cookie actually seems to understand that and when I tell her that we don’t want to hurt the tree she’ll stop. Small rodent hunting is her passion and I’m not gonna take that away from her. Flower beds or not.

  2. What a fascinating article about the digging behaviour. I didn’t know the meaning of the word “Terrier” but seen as my Elsie (a Yorkshire Terrier) kicked poo in my face while we were out on our morning stroll the other week this cheekiness has now been explained ha ha!

    • Good point. The “anxiety” portion is typical of escape type behaviors. The separation behaviors (throwing a party…”mom’s gone!”) can be destructive, too.

  3. Great post! Fortunately :::knock on wood::: I’ve yet to have a big digger. Lola and Zeus dug a bit, but nothing major… except that ONE time Lola dug a decent hole to lounge in when she was a pup.

  4. I’n so happy that Miss Edie doesn’t dig! I did have a dog that would bury bones in the backyard. She would dig a hole, bury it, then dig it back up and bury it somewhere else. Use to drive me crazy Lol!

    • There’s a cartoon in the paper today. Garfield watching Odie who has disappeared into a hole. “He’s retrieving his bone.” And the next panel, Odie with the bone in his mouth, looking first one way and then another, and Garfield’s thought…”And now he’s looking for a place to bury it.”

  5. My terrier Henry loves digging in the bed! Because I’ve lost a set of sheets to this habit, I let him dig a few digs and then cut him off by distracting him with a toy.

  6. I believe digging is a natural, and sometimes necessary, behavior, so I provide my dogs with a dig-box like you suggest in this article. They love it!

  7. As a Dachshund, bred to dig out badgers, I have bigger front paws then back to dig even better. Needless to say, as a puppy every time mom turned her back on me outside she’d find a nice big hole in her flower garden. Solution? Covered everything in rocks. Too bad Taffy likes to eat rocks. Love Dolly

    • Oh yes! A rock covered area works great! Pine cones or prickly stuff also works for some dogs (and for cats wanting to “toilet” there). Eating rocks though…uh oh!

  8. Very good advice on how to deal with digging. I made my Husky a dig out where she can dig to her heart’s content! Worked like a charm
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  9. Great and educational, as always! Thankfully, out pups haven’t gotten into the habit of digging. It may be that we monitor their length of time outdoors, since they both have the tendency to overheat. Bean does “dig” into her blankets to create a den whenever she snuggles though.

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