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How Can I Get My Dog to Stop Digging?

By: Dr. Monique Chrétien and Dr. Amy Marder

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Dogs dig for several different reasons. Sometimes dogs dig to make a cool spot to lay in the hot summer. Or they may dig to try to escape from the yard so that they can go on a tour of the neighborhood or meet favorite friends. Occasionally dogs with separation anxiety dig out of their yard in an attempt to be reunited with their owner. Some dogs dig to pursue the odor of prey animals. Others dig for fun or buried food.
Digging may even be an expression of the obsessive-compulsive behavior (e.g. a component of shadow chasing). It is not always easy to determine why a dog is digging.

Some breeds are predisposed to digging. Terriers and dachshunds, for instance, have been bred to dig in order to get into animal dens underground. Dogs with high energy levels may also be prone to dig as a way of channeling their excess energy.

The positive impact digging may have in a dog's life is that it serves as an energy outlet. However, the negative impact digging can be a high level of aggravation for the dog's owner as the yard begins to resemble a minefield. In addition, digging ("excavating") brings with it the very real risk of the dog escaping from the yard and getting lost.

Home Care & Prevention

If your dog is digging excessively, first try to determine why. If he's digging to find a cool spot, try offering him his own paddling pool. Keep it in a shady area and he will probably be most grateful. A sand pit in a shady area is another solution.

If your dog is digging to escape from the yard, try to figure out why he wants to escape. If anxious when left alone, see your veterinarian or a behavior consultant for help in treating possible separation anxiety.

Your dog may be trying to leave the yard to find a mate. In that case, neutering may help. If he is leaving to raid your neighbor's garbage, buy your neighbor a dog proof garbage receptacle. If you have a benevolent neighbor who is feeding your dog whenever it arrives on the doorstep, ask your neighbor to stop feeding your dog.

Whatever the reason for your dog's digging, it is essential to ensure a reliable containment system. The addition of an underground electric fence or a fence that extends under the ground for a few feet may help. Leaving your dog in the house when he or she cannot be supervised is another solution.

If your dog is digging to have fun, show him how to have fun in other ways. Provide lots of exercise and play for him. Food toys are a great way to keep a dog busy when you can't be around. Try feeding him his daily meals from a Busta Cube or Kong Toy.

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.

Here are some other tips to keep your dog from digging:

  • Provide fun and tiring exercise for your dog every day. Always keep him busy and mentally stimulated!

  • Supervise your dog when he is out in the yard. Reprimand if he starts to dig. Get him interested in doing other things instead (playing with a ball).

  • Make sure your dog has shade and a place to cool off on hot days (paddling pool).

  • Have your pet neutered.

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