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Dealing with Dogs that Dig

By: Dr. Monique Chrétien

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Some dogs just love to get down and dirty by digging and digging. Meanwhile their masters can do nothing but watch as the yard starts to resemble a minefield. What you should do about digging depends on why your dog is scooping up soil by the pawfull in the first place.

Why Dogs Dig

There are a number of reasons that dogs dig. One is a well-founded urge for comfort, particularly on hot days. Dogs do not sweat very effectively and so they don't cool off as efficiently as humans. Digging into moist soil and then lying in it can provide summer relief. Even if the weather is not particularly hot, a well-appointed hole may be comfortable for nesting. Looked at from that point of view, digging is an indicator of how ingenious dogs can be.

Some dogs dig because they are pursuing an odor of buried food or a prey animal. Breeds, such as terriers and dachshunds, have been bred for the propensity to dig to facilitate their burrowing into the underground dens of small animals.

Sometimes, dogs dig just for the fun of it while others dig out of boredom or frustration. Then again, some dig because they have figured out that they can escape to roam the neighborhood if they can just get under the fence.

On a more tragic note, some dogs that dig may be frightened into a frantic attempt to escape from frightening situations. Occasionally, dogs with separation anxiety dig out of their yards possibly in an attempt to be reunited with their owners. Thunderstorm phobic dogs just want to get away from the storm.
If digging does seem to be the result of a broader behavioral condition, such as separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobia, you should seek help through a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist.

Digging is hardly ever a sign of a medical condition though it sometimes occurs as an obsessive-compulsive behavior and, as such, indicates anxiety superimposed on an underlying genetic tendency. Again, veterinary assistance should be sought if such a condition is even suspected.

Tips to Discourage Digging

  • If your dog is digging to find a cool spot, try providing him with a small children's pool or sand pit in a shady area. Alternatively, try providing a shelter, such as a spot under a deck or insulated doghouse, for use on hot days. (Remember, all outdoor dogs should have access to shade and water at all times.)

  • If your dog is digging to escape from the yard, try to figure out why he is so keen to leave your property.

  • If your dog is leaving to find a mate, neutering will probably help.

  • If your dog is leaving to raid a neighbor's garbage, buy your neighbor a dog-proof garbage receptacle. If you have a benevolent neighbor who is feeding your dog, ask the neighbor to stop.

  • Give serious consideration to improving your containment system. The addition of an underground electronic fence or a fence that extends beneath ground level may be the only way to contain a skillful escape artist.

  • If your dog is digging just to have fun, show him other ways to play. Provide him with lots of exercise. If you don't have the time, consider hiring a dog walker or neighborhood child to walk your dog and play ball with him in the backyard. Always keep your dog busy and mentally stimulated.

  • Supervise your dog when he is out in the yard. Reprimand (NO!) if he starts to dig. Get him interested in doing other things instead (playing ball). If there is one particular area your dog likes to excavate, try temporarily covering the area with plastic or wood. Or change the texture of the soil - for example, with water, large stones or newly planted grass - as this may discourage the unwanted behavior.

  • Consider providing a special area of the yard for your dog to dig and teach him that it is acceptable to dig there but not in the rest of your yard. Well-placed (buried) treats may help direct him to a suitable area.

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