WHY DO DOGS DIG? Solving the Dog Digging Dilemma

If you are a keen gardener or just want a tidy yard, there is nothing more annoying than a dog who loves to dig. Imagine the frustration of finding those newly sown bulbs scattered over the grass or beautiful flowers wilting on the path! And there’s your dog standing over them – complete with the smoking gun of muddy paws, looking so pleased with himself.

Why Do Dogs Dig?

One thing we tend to underestimate about our canine companions is their keen sense of smell. To dogs, the ability to pick up a scent is like a super-power, and opens up a full fascinating story about who passed by and when. If the dog picks up an interesting scent, such as vermin that crossed the yard, many dogs’ (terriers especially) natural instinct is to dig. After all, that’s what we bred terriers for – to dig rats out of holes!

Other dogs like to dig because it exposes the cool earth beneath the surface which offers them a way of cooling off on a hot day. It might be that once you caught him digging and told the dog off (which rewards the dog with high value attention), he decides digging is a great attention-grabbing strategy and it becomes a habit. Some dogs dig out of boredom or frustration, and some even dig to cope with anxiety – a confused way of trying to escape whatever worries them. Which is very well, but if you have a pockmarked garden or your yard is molehill central, the question is, what can you do about it?


Here are a few suggestions to help with your doggy digging dilemma.

1. The Sand Solution

The chances are your dog feels a strong natural drive to dig. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ and offer him an acceptable place to dig. Give him a large, deep sandbox filled with well-compacted sand (damp sand is even more appealing).

Encourage him to dig in the sandbox by burying one or two of his favorite toys there. Make it a game and when he uncovers a toy, tell him what a clever boy he is and give him a treat. The double whammy of finding a much-loved toy and getting reward for having fun is a potent combination that enforces this as a brilliant place to dig.

2. Distracted Digging

The chances are you work (to pay for the dog!) and it may be he’s left for hours at a time, but with access to the yard. If this is the case, it could be he’s digging as a distraction from boredom. If you suspect this is the case, try leaving him with a challenge to stimulate him mentally. Try one of the many puzzle toys where the dog has to solve a puzzle to get a food reward.

A Kong stuffed with pate or tinned dog food can keep a dog occupied – especially if you put it in the freezer overnight to make the food harder to remove. Of course the ultimate solution is to provide him with company – perhaps another dog or have a dog walker call by.

3. Scent-sational

Have a good look around for evidence of vermin, such as droppings, chewing, nests or rat holes. If your dog is driven crazy by a super strong scent trail then he’s going to dig – so call in the pest controller to get rid of the cause. (Please make sure the exterminator uses methods that are pet-safe.)

4. Keep a Cool Head

It may sound obvious, but make sure your dog has shade and a cool place to rest in the heat of the summer. Also, refrain from chastising the dog if you catch him digging: either he will see your attention as a reward or he will become sneaky and limit his digging to when you’re not around. If there are areas he absolutely mustn’t dig, then fence them off or cover the ground with chicken wire.

5. And finally…

Never punish your dog for digging, annoying as the habit is. Punishment is counterproductive and likely to add to any underlying anxiety your dog experiences. If your dog digs to try and escape and it is not neutered, consider getting the pet fixed. Likewise, if your dog suffers from stress or anxiety, get the pet checked by a veterinarian and discuss the options for improving the dog’s self-confidence with a respected dog trainer.