Digging: How To Decrease Your Dog’s Bad Habit

Behavior & training

Sure, it’s extremely convenient to open the back door and allow the dogs to come in and out freely. And most of the time, this isn’t a problem. However, on those occasions where you find your dog happily digging her way to China or destroying the flower pots, it’s certainly less than ideal.

So, why do our dogs do this? Well, the answer is simple…they’re dogs. Digging is a normal dog behavior.

Dogs are motivated to dig for a few reasons:

  • Entertainment: Humans are busy, and at times, lazy. We like the convenience of simply putting the dog outside to “exercise” as if he is running laps and doing push-ups. This lack of supervision and enrichment often leads to a bored dog discovering the joys of digging.

  • Comfort: Some dogs become stressed when they are alone and will dig as a way of seeking their owners. Unsupervised dogs could also be stressed by a neighbor’s dog or neighborhood noises and dig as a way of finding a way out of a stressful situation.

  • Hunting Small Animals: If your dog is digging paths in the yard or holes in specific areas, you may have a small animal such as a rabbit or mole in your yard. Some breeds such as terriers were bred to “go to ground” and dig out game.

How do I decrease my dog’s digging habits?

  • Walk/Jog your dog more frequently, rather than leaving him outside unsupervised. A lack of exercise is a leading cause of problem behaviors.

  • Offer your dog more enrichment opportunities while he is outside such as playing fetch, tug, or foraging for food in the grass.

  • Teach your dog a few commands or tricks. Practice these every day for two to three minutes.

  • Offer interactive, interesting toys in the yard to keep your dog busy when you're not around. Kong®-type toys filled with treats or Tricky Treat balls work especially well. Rotate the toys to keep things interesting.

  • Remove burrowed animals.

  • Train your dog to dig in the designated “digging zone”.

  • Provide them with the comfort they seek by keeping them indoors with you.

  • Supervise dogs and do not leave them outside unattended to get into mischief.

It is extremely frustrating to find your dog covered in mud and your flowers pulled up. Punishing your dog after the fact will not address the cause of the behavior, and it will worsen any digging that's motivated by fear or anxiety. As dog owners we have to supervise our dogs, offer adequate exercise and provide enriched environments to ensure they are learning what we want them to know. This is especially important for puppies and adolescent dogs.