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How to Stop a Dog from Digging: Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Yard Intact - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

How to Stop a Dog from Digging: Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Yard Intact

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Tamsin De La Harpe

how to stop a dog from digging

Have you ever wondered how to stop your dog from digging? Dogs are a true source of joy in our lives, but when they start digging up your garden or yard, that joy can quickly turn into frustration.

One of the first steps in addressing your dog’s digging behavior is to understand why they are doing it, whether it’s boredom, anxiety, or weather. By identifying the root cause of your dog’s digging, you can tailor your training approach to address the specific behavior. 

Let’s explore common reasons for digging and strategies for redirecting your dog’s energy towards more constructive activities. We have the help of destructive behavior research and books like The Behavioral Biology of Dogs to help you deal with dog digging.

Once we identify the triggers for our dog’s digging behavior, we can take steps to address them. For example, if our dog is digging out of boredom, we can provide more exercise and mental stimulation before it escalates to self-destructive behavior like chewing paws until they turn red.

If they are digging to catch prey, we can try to eliminate the source of the problem, such as by getting rid of a mole infestation. If our dog is digging for comfort, we can provide a more comfortable spot, such as a shaded area with a soft bed, and so on and so forth.

These Huskies were caught paw-handed mutilating the garden:

https://youtube.com/shorts/UBNV6fwYZFA?si=scuzoUHoShuAwy6M

Let’s look at how you can assess your dog’s digging behavior for effective solutions.

Assessing the triggers for digging behavior: Why Dogs Dig

Before we can stop a dog from digging, we need to understand why they are doing it in the first place. Our article on why dogs dig holes covers these reasons much more extensively, so you can check it out.

 Here are some common triggers for digging behavior:

  • Boredom: Dogs that are left alone for long periods of time or don’t get enough exercise may turn to digging as a way to pass the time and release energy.
  • Hunting instinct: Some dogs, especially those bred for hunting, may dig to try to catch small animals like moles or rodents.
  • Comfort in the heat: Dogs may dig to create a cool spot to lie down in the summer or a warm spot in the winter.
  • Anxiety: Dogs that are anxious or stressed may dig as a way to cope with their emotions.
  • It’s fun: Dogs have dramatic ways of having a good time. They really don’t need an excuse to roll in the grass, carry sticks, and dig up your yard besides the sheer fun of it
  • Breed tendencies: Certain breeds, such as terriers, were bred for digging and may have a stronger instinct to do so.

10 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Digging

After assessing the triggers for our dog’s digging behavior, we can take a targeted approach to stop the behavior and ensure that our dog is happy and healthy.

These 10 tips will help stop this destructive behavior:

1. Provide Adequate Exercise

One of the most common reasons why dogs dig is because they are bored and have excess energy. PubMed Research shows that excitable (those with excess energy) and dramatic dogs are more likey to engage in disobedient, destructive, chasing, barking, and digging behaviors. Others even eat poop and rocks so long as you give them a bit of attention.

Providing adequate exercise can help reduce the likelihood of your dog digging holes in your yard. We recommend taking your dog for a walk at least twice a day. Note that different breeds and ages of dogs have different exercise needs. If you have a yard, consider setting up a play area for your dog with toys and obstacles to climb on and play games like fetch occasionally.

2. Proper Training

Training your dog is the most effective way to stop them from digging. Here are some tips to help you train your dog:

  • Teach the “Leave It” Command: Train your dog to respond to the “leave it” command. This can help you prevent them from digging when you catch them in the act.
  • Teach your dog a “dig” command: This may seem counterintuitive, but teaching your dog a command for digging can actually help stop them from digging in unwanted areas. Start by selecting a designated digging area and encourage your dog to dig there while using the command “dig.” Praise and reward them when they dig in the designated area.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a key component of dog training. When your dog behaves appropriately by not digging or following the “leave it” command, reward them with treats, praise, or playtime. This will encourage them to continue the good behavior.
  • Supervise your dog: When your dog is outside, make sure they are supervised to prevent them from digging in unwanted areas. If you catch them digging, use the “dig” command to redirect them to the designated digging area.

3. Mental Stimulation

If your dog is digging out of boredom, mental stimulation can be a great way to redirect their energy. A few ideas to keep your dog engaged include puzzle toys, lick mats, training exercises, scavenger hunts, and play dates with other dogs. 

The book Behavioral Biology of Dogs shows that behavior is a brain product and says that the brain sends nerve impulses to relevant muscles for digging. It, therefore, makes sense to occupy the mind to stop this behavior.

Remember, mental stimulation should be used in conjunction with physical exercise. A tired dog is less likely to dig out of boredom. Try combining mental and physical activities to keep your dog happy and healthy.

4. Choose Activities to Redirect the Behavior (Earthdog Trials)

The key to redirecting your dog’s digging behavior is to find activities that channel their natural instincts in a positive way. Earthdog trials are a great way to do this. These events simulate the hunting and digging behaviors of small game prey, and they can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog.

To get started, you’ll need to find an Earthdog club or event near you. These clubs often hold training sessions and competitions, and they can be a great way to meet other dog owners who share your interests.

During an Earthdog trial, your dog will be asked to navigate a maze of tunnels and underground dens. They’ll have to use their sense of smell and their natural digging instincts to find a hidden “prey” (usually a rat or other small animal). This can be a great way to channel your dog’s energy and give them an outlet for their natural instincts.

In addition to Earthdog trials, there are other activities you can try to redirect your dog’s digging behavior. These include treasure hunts, scent work, DIY barn hunts, Herding trails, nose work classes and exercises.

5. Crate Training 

Crate training is an effective way to stop your dog from digging. It provides your dog with a safe and comfortable space where they can rest and relax. Here are a few tips for crate training your dog:

  • Choose the right crate: Make sure the crate is well-ventilated and big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. A good rule is to add four inches to each dimension.
  • Introduce your dog to the crate: Start by placing treats and toys inside the crate to encourage your dog to explore it. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends in the crate, and always reward them for going inside.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Never force your dog into the crate or use it as a punishment. Instead, use positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to go inside. Reward them with treats and praise when they enter the crate on their own.

 Be patient because crate training takes time and patience.

6. Manage Access to Problem Areas

To prevent your dog from digging in areas where they shouldn’t, it’s important to manage their access to those areas. Fencing off areas you don’t want your dog to dig is a great way to manage access. You can also bock existing holes and supervise your dog when out in the yard to minimize digging incidences.

7. Address Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common cause of digging behavior in dogs. When left alone, dogs with separation anxiety may become anxious and stressed, leading them to dig as a way to relieve their anxiety. 

Gradual desensitization is a way to deal with dog separation anxiety. We can gradually desensitize our dogs to being alone by leaving them alone for short periods of time and gradually increasing the duration over time. This can help our dog feel more comfortable and less anxious when left alone.

Additionally, you can create a safe and comfortable space for our dog to stay in when we are not around. This can be a crate or a designated area in our home where our dog feels safe and secure. You can also provide mental stimulation to keep your dog distracted and seek professional help if nothing else helps.

8. Address Loneliness

We all know that dogs are social animals, and they need companionship to thrive. If your dog is digging holes in your backyard, it could be a sign that they are feeling lonely or bored. 

A few tips to help with dog loneliness include:

  • Spending more time with your dog;
  • Getting another dog if it’s feasible;
  • Hiring a dog walker or pet sitter; and
  • Organizing play dates.

Consult with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist if your dog’s loneliness leads to anxiety, depression or destructive behavior.

9. Address Confinement Frustration

When dogs are confined to a small space for long periods, they can become frustrated and anxious. This can lead to destructive behaviors such as digging. Delaware Academy research shows that dogs with confinement anxiety typically also have noise phobia and separation anxiety. The reasons for the association are still unclear.

Start by making the confinement space, such as a crate or a room, a comfortable and pleasant environment with their favorite toys, bedding, and treats. Begin with short periods of confinement and gradually increase the duration over time.

Finally, Ensure they associate the confinement area with positive experiences by offering treats, praise, and toys. Practice frequent, short confinement sessions so they learn that you will return. And most importantly,  don’t use confinement as a form of punishment.

10. Search For Underlying Health Issues

When a dog is digging excessively, it’s important to rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing the behavior. A study on Pain and Problem Behavior in Cats and Dogs found that foreleg digging was a redirected activity due to discomfort after rest.

Some health problems that can lead to excessive digging include:

  • Skin irritation or allergies;
  • Parasites such as fleas, ticks, or worms;
  • Pain or discomfort, particularly in the paws, joints, or wrists; and
  • Nutritional deficiencies.

In addition to ruling out health issues, it’s also important to consider any medications or treatments that your dog may be receiving. If you suspect that your dog’s medication may be contributing to their digging, talk to your veterinarian about alternativ-e-archive treatment options.

Useful Tools to Discourage Digging: Environmental Control

By modifying the dog’s environment, we can make it less appealing for dogs to dig. Here are some useful tools to discourage digging:

Covered Sandboxes

One way to redirect your dog’s digging habits is to provide them with a designated digging area. A covered sandbox can be a great solution, as it gives your dog a place to dig without damaging your yard. 

Make sure to fill the sandbox with soft sand or dirt, and encourage your dog to use it by burying toys or treats in the sand.

Dog Deterrent Sprays

Another way to discourage digging is to use a commercial dog deterrent spray or a homemade one like bitter apple spray. These sprays are designed to repel dogs from certain areas of your yard. Simply spray the product in the areas where your dog likes to dig, and they will be less likely to dig there in the future.

Remove Moles from the Garden

Moles can be a major attraction for dogs who love to dig. If you have a mole problem in your yard, it’s important to address it in order to discourage digging. There are a variety of ways to remove moles from your garden, including traps, repellents, and natural remedies.

Dog-Proof Fencing

Finally, one of the most effective ways to stop a dog from digging is to install dog-proof fencing around your yard. This type of fencing is designed to be sturdy and difficult for dogs to dig under or climb over. By creating a secure boundary around your yard, you can prevent your dog from escaping and digging in other areas.

By using these tools for environmental control, we can help discourage our dogs from digging and protect our yards from damage.

When to Seek Professional Help About Your Dog’s Digging

If your dog’s digging behavior is severe and persistent, it may be time to seek professional help. Here are a few situations where it may be necessary to consult with a veterinarian or hire a professional dog trainer:

Consulting a Veterinarian

If your dog’s digging behavior is sudden and unexplained, it may be a sign of an underlying medical issue. In some cases, dogs may dig to alleviate discomfort caused by skin irritations, allergies, or other health problems. If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort in your dog, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Hiring a Professional Dog Trainer

If your dog’s digging behavior is causing damage to your property or posing a safety risk, it may be time to hire a professional dog trainer. A qualified trainer can work with you and your dog to identify the underlying causes of the behavior and develop a personalized training plan to address it.

When hiring a dog trainer, it is important to choose someone who has experience working with digging behavior specifically. Look for trainers who use positive reinforcement techniques and who have a track record of success with similar cases.

Remember, seeking professional help is not a sign of failure as a pet owner. It is a proactive step towards addressing your dog’s behavior and ensuring their safety and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some natural ways to prevent my dog from digging?

There are a few natural remedies you can try to deter your dog from digging. One option is to sprinkle cayenne pepper or citrus peels in the areas where your dog likes to dig. Another option is to plant a border of prickly plants like rose bushes or holly bushes around the areas where you don’t want your dog to dig.

How can I train my dog to stop digging holes in the yard?

Training your dog to stop digging holes in the yard requires patience and consistency. One effective method is to catch your dog in the act of digging and redirect their attention to a more appropriate activity, like playing with a toy. You can also try providing your dog with a designated digging area, like a sandbox, where they are allowed to dig to their heart’s content.

What are some effective sprays to stop a dog from digging?

There are several sprays on the market that claim to deter dogs from digging. These sprays typically contain a bitter or unpleasant taste that is meant to discourage your dog from digging in the treated area. Some popular options include bitter apple spray and citrus-scented commercial sprays.

Are there any dog breeds that are less prone to digging?

While all dogs have the potential to dig, some breeds are less prone to digging than others. Breeds like Greyhounds, Bulldogs, and Great Danes are generally less likely to dig than breeds like Terriers, Dachshunds, Huskies, and Beagles.

Do female dogs dig more than male dogs?

There is no evidence to suggest that female dogs dig more than male dogs. Digging behavior is more likely to be influenced by factors like breed, age, and individual personality than by gender.

Is compulsive digging a sign of a larger behavioral issue in dogs?

Compulsive digging can be a sign of a larger behavioral issue in dogs, such as anxiety or boredom. If your dog is digging excessively or compulsively, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Final Thoughts

Stopping a dog from digging requires patience and consistency. We must understand that digging is a natural behavior for dogs, and it may take some time to redirect their energy and attention toward other activities. Exercise, mental stimulation, underlying anxiety and medical issues and redirecting behaviors are effective remedies.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.