Why Do Dogs Dig and What Can You Do?
“If I catch my dog digging in the garden one more time…” Fortunately the thought of taking drastic action gives way to frustration as you try to cope with a dog who digs.
The annoying habit of digging ranks high on the list of behavior problems of dogs. Unfortunately, there is no one answer to solve this particular problem.
In some instances, the instinct to dig is the heritage of the breed. Over the centuries dogs have been bred for a variety of tasks ranging from the close interaction of toy breeds with their owners to sporting dogs who require regular sessions of physical activity. Nordic dogs dig holes to cool themselves. The heritage of terriers (from the Latin, “terra,” for earth) has been to dig underground after rodents and small game. Dachshunds were developed to chase badgers into their holes.
Some dogs, regardless of heritage, may be more inclined to dig if they are left alone in the yard for long periods of time. Digging is often the result of boredom and this can be a learned behavior in some dogs.
Companionship is a primary reason for having a dog. Being a companion means forging a bond through regular play and exercise with your dog. Without this stimulation, dogs often turn to digging or other forms of destructive behavior to alleviate their boredom.
The problem of “the digging dog” may go beyond the instincts of the breed or boredom and relate to other problems. A dog that is pushed outdoors after it misbehaves in the house may continue its misbehaving by digging in the yard. Controlling your dog’s behavior inside addresses that problem as well as unacceptable digging outside.
A dog left alone may be reacting to the absence of family members. If this is the case, you need to work with your dog to help it tolerate gradually longer absences. Your veterinarian can help you plan this behavior modification training.
During summer months, if your dog digs a hole to cool itself, consider providing a cooler location for it such as an umbrella, or inside the house or basement. If your dog is housed outside, be certain it has access to some shade throughout the day and that fresh drinking water is always available. Some dogs find hot weather comfort in their own wading pools with fresh, cool water.
Some dogs tend to roam and will dig under a fence to get out of the yard. Ideally, a fence should fit tight to the ground or even be buried a few inches underneath to prevent a dog’s crawling or digging out from under it.
If your dog is trying to escape, try to determine why it is leaving home. Is it simply bored, or an intact male indulging in sexual wanderlust? Unless you plan a responsible breeding program which includes placing puppies in good homes, neutering is recommended. A neutered dog is generally calm and tends not to wander.
If you find it virtually impossible to discourage your dog from digging, provide it with a “digging area.” When your dog digs in this designated area, praise it and reward it with attention or a treat. If your dog digs outside this area and is caught in the act, a firm “no” is usually a deterrent. However, all family members must cooperate and must reprimand the dog only when it is caught digging outside the designated area.
In this aspect of training, as in all others, family members most work together as a team. Giving a variety of verbal commands confuses a dog. One overly indulgent family member can create problems by not cooperating in training a dog. Dogs pick up on this and may use that family member to their advantage.
A final thought
Your dog’s behavior is influenced by the lifestyle you maintain for it. Regular walks or play periods with your dog and praise for tricks you teach it will make its life fun and stimulating. Such a dog is less likely to develop annoying behavior problems resulting from boredom.
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