How Do I Stop My Dog Digging?

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In this article we are going to look at how to stop your dog digging up your garden.

Has your dog been digging in your back yard? Would he rather dismantle your lawn than run around on it?

If your puppy has been digging holes in the flower bed every time your back is turned, or getting stuck in every time you try and plant something in the flower bed, you are probably wondering how to stop him.

In this article we are going to look at some of the potential reasons your dog might be digging, and what you can do to prevent him from doing so.

How do I stop my dog digging?

There are two possible ways to stop your dog digging. One is to prevent access.

Erecting a fence to separate your dog from any area that he could potentially dig is something that you could consider.

If your puppy is still small, then you could use a puppy pen to prevent him from getting access to his desired area.

However, most people do not want to fence their backyard and would rather enjoy spending time in it with their dog – but without fear for their rose bushes!

In order to stop your dog digging, your first step should be to establish why he is doing it. There are a lot of possible reasons that your dog could be digging.

These include enjoyment, prey drive, accidental reinforcement from the owner, excess energy and even escape efforts!

Let’s look at each of the potential reasons in turn, and what you can do to help stop your puppy digging in each scenario.

Dogs enjoy digging

Some dogs dig just for the fun of it. This is more likely to be the case with Labrador puppies than adults, and some dogs will lose interest as they grow.

kong gyro dog  toySometimes a dog will dig purely because he is realised that it is something he really enjoys doing on into adulthood however.

This is something which certain breeds of dog like terriers are more inclined to do because of their ancestors roles.

Labradors were bred as gundogs though, and therefore need to have a certain level of prey drive. This prey drive gives them an interest in pursuing and finding wildlife.

This drive can be transferred to digging if they have seen rabbits popping into burrows in your large back lawn, for example. They are digging to try and get at the rabbits, or other creatures that they can smell have been around the yard earlier.

For those dogs who continue to enjoy digging, there are ways to channel this enthusiasm more productively.

One which a lot of people find success with is in making them a dedicated digging around. This will usually consist of a structure much like a children’s sandpit.

lab digging

You can encourage them into it if they are reluctant to go by offering treats and standing in it yourself. However, most dogs upon realising that there is an easy to dig surface will happily redirect their efforts to it.

Dogs digging to hide extra food

Dogs will also sometimes hide surplus food, so if they are given a large chew toy or bone to gnaw on for example, they will dig a hole to put it in when they have temporarily had enough.

If this is the only circumstance in which your dog is digging, there are a few ways in which you can stop him. One is by only giving bite size treats which he won’t be inclined to store. Another is by supervising him when he has a large bone or chew toy.

Either taking it away as soon as he is bored with chewing or eating it, or only letting him have it indoors where he hasn’t got the option of digging.

If your dog is young, you can try giving him access to these things outdoors again in a few months when the habit has worn off.

Dogs who have learned to dig

Some dogs dig because they have been accidentally taught to dig by their owners or the things that they have found.

If you are a keen gardener then your dog might have observed you shovelling soil on several occasions, and you may have laughed or encouraged him at some point when he tried to get involved.

He could also have found something tasty in the soil once, and effectively reinforced his own behaviour and been encouraged to keep trying.

If this is the case you can break this habit by firstly preventing access to the area of the garden that his efforts are focused on. Although this can be tricky, putting up temporary fencing or only exercising him on a long line for a while in the yard can break the habit effectively.

You may find if you do this that after a few weeks you are able to give him access to this area again without the behaviour restarting – although I would advise leaving him indoors when you do your weeding in future!

Is your dog digging to solve a problem?

Occasionally a dog will dig because they solve a problem that they are having. The most common ones are probably looking for somewhere soft or cool to lay down.

If the weather is hot and your dog digs a hole and lays down in it, they are probably trying to cool off. You can stop them from doing this by providing a shaded area or paddling pool for them to play in.

Likewise, if the weather doesn’t seem to be a factor but they are still resting in their newly turned out hole then it could simply be that the ground is too hard to lie down on. Providing an alternative place to rest will mean that they don’t need to dig to achieve it. Perhaps an outdoors waterproof bed or a pile of straw, depending upon the set up in your garden. feeding2

Energetic dogs dig more

A lively dog might decide to start digging to burn off some of his energy. If he doesn’t have space to run, or has missed out on routine daily exercise, then he will find other ways to stretch his legs.

If your dog is digging because he is bored or looking for prey, then keeping him busy when he is in the garden will help. There are a couple of ways to keep your dog busy in the yard, either with games or by doing some fun bits of training.

Make sure it is a positive experience for them, and that the excitement you offer is greater than that which they got from burrowing into the ground.

Try keeping their favourite toy just for yard time, or getting some new special treats that you give for high reward training outdoors.

Temporary changes to your dog’s environment cause digging

Pregnant bitches can dig when they wouldn’t ordinarily, due to instincts to create a place for their pups. Likewise some dogs when stressed, so in a new environment or having just undergone a change in lifestyle (for example if you have gone on holiday and someone else is caring for them) may dig as a symptom of this anxiety.

Provided things go back to the status quo soon, then this digging behaviour should reduce once normally returns.

If your pregnant bitch starts digging in a way which is out of character for her, then it’s worth waiting to see whether this behaviour stops once she has had her litter of puppies.

However, if your puppy or dog is a keen digger and the behaviour has increased gradually over time then you will need to take action to stop your dog digging.

What you should do to prevent your dog digging holes will depend upon these reasons why they are digging them in the first place.

Dogs digging to escape

If your dog is digging because he wants to get out of the back yard this can be tricky to deal with, especially if he has self-rewarded by managing to escape in the past.

The best thing you can do is to enforce the fencing under the ground so that it is impossible for his to achieve anything.

Make sure that it is not just wire, as being able to see the outside world make be reward enough for him to keep doing it.

If you can entirely block your dogs visual access to the world beyond your back yard, he will over time give up on his endeavours.

But it is vital that you make sure he doesn’t gain anything from doing it, or he will keep trying.

How will you stop your dog digging?

How to stop a dog digging will depend partially upon why they started doing it.

You may find that solving this problem is simple once you have established why your dog is doing it, or you might have to implement several of the options above to resolve the problem.

For example, restricting access to certain areas of the garden and putting a digging zone into another.

Whichever method you use to prevent them digging in your backyard, make sure that you don’t fall out with them. They are not doing it to annoy you, and although it might be frustrating or time consuming temporarily, it is totally within your power to stop them kindly but effectively.

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Lucy is a writer and blogger, who regularly provides posts for The Labrador Site. She has a BSc in Psychology and lives with her husband, daughter and numerous pets in Surrey.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I have a female Yorkie that is 11 months old and she is digging my back yard up.She becomes very aggressive when I try to stop her. Rain or shine she digs

  2. I am at my wits ends with my 9mth Boy Lab cross.. I have tried poo on the filled holes, pepper and he still digging a fresh hole. I think the cause is the green ants biting him, he gets up and sniffs the grass. The ants hurt and I believe its a prey thing.. We have a sandy dirt as we live on the coast.. I rent so I need work this out fast and stop the digging.. He can’t be inside, it is when I turn my back for a second because we spend so much time with him.. I thought it was that it was separation anxiety at first but the way he is looking and sniffing in the grass it is definitely prey (Ants). He is exercised by walking at the beach most days, when it rains it is hard walking in the rain and holding a umbrella as he takes me for a walk.. Please some other tips would help thanks..

  3. My daughter’s 3 yr old pit bull trys to dig out under my privacy fence daily. She has dug up all of my buried cables and has totally destroyed my back yard. I think she is hearing the Neighbor kids and other dogs. She is not aggressive and only wants to play. But the destruction has got to stop. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Please help I have big holes in my garden from my 11 month old golden lab I cannot stop him digging I walk him he pulls and drags me along and I have a bad habbit of him getting on my sides and taking things my washing off my line and in the hose radiators I cannot train him he has cage I use for time out and he reacks my house help please

  5. This is one of the dumbest articles I’ve ever read.. My five month old Labrador loves to dig.. He’s been destroying our backyard since the day we brought him home. We got Cody at 11 weeks from Amish farmers. He instinctively chases anything that moves and has dug up bones several years old from previous owners. To make matters worse neighbors brought home a pet store golden retriever that shares the same birthday.
    There’s no comparison in these two. Both are cute however the pet store pup seems to be awkwardly unworldly. Cody”s just a real boy dog weighing a lean 50 lbs at 24 weeks. Kiddie pool filled with sand would amuse him for about a day. Just gonna have to take him out back and kick him in the nuts next time he starts digging.. just kidding.. Happy Holidays from a guy who thinks a dog should be just that a dog and it’s us who need to take a lesson from the dog and stop being so uptight.

  6. We bought our 1 year old boy a kid’s shell pool and some sand to make him a dedicated digging area like the article suggested – as he digs out of boredom in the 5 or so hour period when neither of us is home from work. Shell pool was only $7 and sand was $7 for 20kg (we bought one bag but are going to buy another as 1 bag only gives a shallow area to dig).

    But wow, Rubix thinks it is the best thing we’ve ever got him! There was no hesitation at to use it. He was leaping around on the spot, digging a new little hole every way he landed. It was adorable. Now every time we let him outside he bounds immediately for his sandpit and wants to have a quick dig before he does his business and comes back in. When he’s outside playing, he throws his toys in and grabs them out, or lays right next to it and watches the birds fly overhead. Sometimes for fun he just jumps in and out and in and out, to watch the sand fly.

    He’s only had it a week but he seems to really, really love it. We bury treats for him before we go to work for added incentive to dig there and not elsewhere. He doesn’t seem to have dug a new hole since he’s had it so this weekend we’ll be laying down some grass seeds and hopefully we can get our lawn back!

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