By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Bart Emken, CPTD-KA
The urge to dig is a canine family trait. Wolves, foxes, and coyotes are all known to carve dens and hidey-holes across their territory. However, dogs don’t really act like wolves. So where does this compulsion to litter your yard with miniature foxholes originate?
While your dog could be searching for $85,000 worth of illicit substances buried in your yard, chances are they’re just unleashing their inner squirrel. In this article we’ll explain your dog’s puzzling excavation obsession, and then show you how to stop it in its tracks.
The Many Reasons Your Dog Loves To Dig Holes
As mentioned, there are tons of motivations that could explain your dog’s digging habit. While most dogs don’t have any illusions of building themselves a cozy nest underground, digging may have been an integral aspect of their breed success. In fact, terriers get their name from their ability to burrow inside tunnels.
One of the most common causes of digging is caching behavior. Many animals exhibit this behavior, including:
That’s right! If you have a pantry full of food, then you’re engaging in caching behavior! Dogs, similarly to us, would stockpile their food by burying it. The dirt would cover the scent and prevent wary scavengers from stealing their stowaway meal.
However, the “bone-burying dog” stereotype is not as common as you might imagine. When we encounter problems with digging, most often it’s unrelated to caching or resource guarding. Instead, it’s far more likely that your dog’s digging is caused by:
When your dog’s digging becomes troublesome or excessive, evaluate their environment and routine to determine whether one of these factors is to blame. Once you’ve identified the cause, then you can implement the cure.
How To Reduce And Prevent Your Dog’s Digging
The key step to solving your digging issue is to discern the specific cause. Without that key information you can’t take the right steps to reduce digging. We’re going to walk you through the process, and show you how to deal with each situation without resorting to aversive methods.
Digging Culprit #1: Discomfort
This is possibly the easiest digging cause to identify, but one of the harder ones to solve. If your dog tends to dig holes in the summer and then lays inside to rest, then they’re almost certainly digging to cool off. Some breeds are more prone to this, including:
When these breeds dig during the summer (or practically any season in Texas), they’re searching for cooler earth to absorb their body heat. To prevent this, either keep your dog inside during the worst heat of the year, or ensure that they have ample ways to cool themselves in your backyard.
Digging Culprit #2: Hunger
While dogs are primarily meat-eaters, they aren’t obligate carnivores like cats. Dogs can handle a wider variety of foods, including some plant matter. Due to this semi-omnivorous nature, wild dogs would often forage and dig when malnourished, looking for:
If your dog hasn’t been eating enough, then they may start digging into your yard to supplement their diet. In this case, we highly recommend feeding your dog a quality food and ensuring that they’re eating the appropriate amount for their size and breed.
Digging Culprit #3: Boredom
If your dog doesn’t have access to enriching toys or puzzles and is left alone in the backyard, then they may be digging due to boredom. When dogs dig they are immediately rewarded with interesting scents. While this may be immensely entertaining to the dog, it means that your yard may look like no-man’s land after a couple of days.
As we mentioned before, the best way to prevent boredom-digging is to have more interesting and engaging toys/puzzles available to your dog. Another tactic is to concentrate the digging habit in one area. You can either buy a kiddie-sandbox or build one yourself. To encourage your dog to dig there, hide a couple toys or resilient treats for them to find in the box.
Digging Culprit #4: Anxiety
If you think that anxiety is behind your dog’s digging, watch for these tell-tale signs of stress.
If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then you may want to consider boarding or enrichment exercise training. Just moving them inside will likely make the problem worse and can lead to destructive chewing.
We’ve also observed that many dogs dig due to their diet. Poor foods can cause excessive stimulation and agitate the canine gastrointestinal system. These brands often contain ingredients like:
All of the above ingredients are harmful and toxic to your dog. This irritation can lead to anxiety and overstimulation, which often takes the form of destructive chewing, reactivity, and/or digging. Once again, we recommend going to Dog Food Advisor and finding a good brand.
Before we finish, we’d like to caution you against many of the “home remedies” that claim to alleviate digging problems, like putting hot pepper or feces in the holes. These methods may work in the short term, but they’re aversive and will cause bigger problems down the road.
If you’re having trouble curtailing your dog’s digging, please contact us today. At DogBoy’s, we’ll never resort to the easy way out of aversive techniques. We’ll show you how to solve your dog’s issues through trust, training, and positive reinforcement. Good luck, and happy training!