We love our dogs — their antics keep us endlessly entertained. But there is one quirk we could do without: digging. Some pups just can’t seem to help but dig and dig and dig as if they’re looking for long-lost buried treasure. And we’re pretty sure they aren’t going to find any no matter how many holes they make in our backyard! That’s why we asked vets for their best advice on how to stop a dog from digging. Read on for their tips, plus learn what causes this behavior in the first place.
Why do dogs dig in the first place?
The biggest reason your dog digs holes in your yard is because it’s in their blood. “At its core, digging can be an instinctual behavior,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM and veterinary contributor at We Love Doodles. “In the wild, dogs dug to hide food, find shelter or hunt for prey.” While Spot may not resemble his wild ancestors anymore, the innate desire to dig is still well and alive in him. Keep reading for the top four causes of this behavior:
1. They want to cool off
If it’s summer or you live in a hot climate, your dog may dig holes to create a cool space to relax, says Dr. Alejandro Caos, a veterinarian with The Vets. Dirt underneath the surface is moist and untouched by the sun, so it’s much cooler to the touch than the surface. By digging a fresh hole in the dirt, your pup has created their own natural cooling system.
2. They want to keep valuables safe
We have safes in which to store our valuables — dogs have holes. When they have something they find valuable, like a toy or treat, they want to make sure no other dogs or animals can take it from them before they have a chance to enjoy it. “In the wild, this behavior guaranteed a food store when their food supply got scarce in the wild,” says Dr. Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, who's on the veterinary consult team for Try Fetched. “Domesticated dogs especially do this when they’re overfed and given treats or chews when they’re not hungry.”
3. They're looking for some entertainment
Another reason your dog may dig holes is simply because they're trying to have a little fun. “Dogs may engage in digging as a way to alleviate boredom or release pent-up energy,” says Dr. Caos. “Digging provides a physical and mental outlet, allowing them to explore and engage in natural behaviors.” Remember, too, that your dog has an acute sense of hearing and smell. They may have heard or smelled an animal or item underground that they want to investigate.
4. They're want to escape
“Dogs may dig to escape from their confinement, such as a yard or crate,” notes Dr. Caos. This is especially true for dogs with anxiety — digging not only offers a potential escape from the situation that makes them nervous, but it also helps release nervous energy.
Why do some dogs dig more than others?
While all dogs may dig, some breeds are genetically more disposed to the behavior than others. “Terrier breeds, such as Jack Russell terriers and fox terriers were originally bred for hunting and burrowing prey,” says Dr. Caos. “Their instincts and energy levels make them natural diggers.”
Hound dogs, like beagles, dachshunds and basset hounds, have excellent senses of smell and a natural prey drive, so they’re likely to be fond of backyard excavation as well. Intelligent breeds that need a lot of stimulation and have energy to burn, like border collies, are also big fans of digging, notes Dr. Caos. (Click through to learn more about hound dogs.)
If you have a breed not listed here and they are a habitual digger, they're not an oddball. “It’s important to note that while these breeds may have a higher tendency to dig, individual dogs within any breed can vary in their behavior and preferences,” says Dr. Caos. Like humans, dogs have diverse personalities and proclivities.
How to stop a dog from digging
Your dog has their reasons for digging, but you also have your reasons for wanting them to stop. And vets say it is possible to curb the behavior, but first, you have to investigate. “To deter your dog from digging, it’s essential to understand the root cause,” says Dr. Kong. Check out the potential ways to get your dog to stop digging based on her reasons for engaging in the behavior.
How to stop a dog from digging if they're hot
Your pup may be digging out of necessity, and giving them an easier way to cool down could be a gift to them and your garden. “For dogs that dig to stay cool, providing shaded areas or a kiddie pool can be beneficial,” says Dr. Kong. Reward them when they opt for the nondestructive cooling options so they understand what kind of behavior you prefer.
How to stop a dog from digging if they're hoarding
Providing a dig-safe spot may be a better solution than stopping the digging altogether, especially if they're trying to protect valued items. “If your dog is digging to bury items, offering designated digging spots, like a sandbox, can redirect the behavior,” says Dr. Kong. Give them treats and praise when they dig in this spot so they understand where it’s okay, and where it’s not. “Consistent training, positive reinforcement, and providing alternatives are crucial to managing and reducing unwanted digging.”
How to stop a dog from digging if they're bored
Pups have limited ways to keep themselves entertained. Digging is fun for them, but you can show them there are other ways to have fun — ways that tire them out enough so they aren't interested in digging anymore. “If your dog is bored, increasing her physical and mental stimulation through play and training can help,” notes Dr. Kong. If they keep digging, take them for an extra walk or play fetch in the yard for a while. Practice tricks or learn new ones, and give them puzzle toys to keep their mind stimulated. Often, the most well-behaved dog is a tired one.
How to stop a dog from digging if they're trying to escape
If you suspect your dog is trying to make a break for it, take steps to keep them from getting out. “Ensure your dog’s environment is secure,” says Dr. Caos. “Reinforce fences, use dig-proof barriers or supervise your dog during outdoor time.” If your pup is anxious, see what it is about their environment that you can change for her comfort — is there a sound that bothers them? Is it too hot? Is it big enough? If their escape behavior persists, consult a professional trainer or veterinarian, advises Dr. Caos.
Cute videos of dogs digging
It’s cute and funny…when it’s not happening in your yard. Check out these hilarious videos of pups digging holes like it’s their job — because to them, it kind of is!
1. Artful digging
For this golden retriever, digging isn’t just a hobby — it’s an art form. She gets 10 points for style and enthusiasm.
2. Couch excavation
This dog may be a little confused, but he’s got the spirit. All he wants to do is hide his precious bone from the rest of the family — why does it have to be so difficult?
3. Beach burrower
Okay, this dog might know something about a pirate’s treasure after all. Somebody should grab a shovel and help her out.
4. Shameful digging
She may not know exactly why she’s digging, but she knows she’s not supposed to.
5. Gardener’s assistant
Who needs a shovel when you’ve got a dog with a green thumb? Or is it a green paw?
Click through for more insight into dog behaviors: