There are several ways to stop your dog digging under the fence, and the one that’s best for your pup and your home will depend on a few factors. The reason why they started digging in the first place, their size, strength and breed, and also developmental stage all play a part. The best methods to prevent fence digging usually involve some training, additional exercise, or outlets for the behavior like a dig box. But you can also use physical or scent barriers to try and discourage them.
How To Train Your Dog To Stop Digging Under The Fence
The simplest way for most families to train their dog to stop digging under the fence is through repetitive recall and distraction. This takes a lot of time, and will need every member of the family to be on board with the process.
You’ll need to mark out a good two week period on the calendar where your dog will never be left alone in the backyard. Someone will need to be present with them outside near the fence at all times, and ready with a big treat pouch and lots of praise.
The recall method
Your dog will need to have a pretty good recall command for this method to work. And you’ll probably need a lot of patience too.
Load up your treat bag, grab your whistle if you use one to get your dog to come, and wander casually into the backyard with them. Every single time they approach the fence, recall your dog and give them a really tasty treat. Watch their body language and movement, and any attention that is directed towards their digging goals divert and reward.
To help keep the distraction up, I recommend plenty of fuss and some games too when they are focussed your way.
The long line method
If you aren’t confident your dog finds the recall cue more fun than digging, then you’ll want to invest in a hardness and training line. This is a long cord or biothane leash that clips onto the back of the harness and is left dragging on the ground. The dog shouldn’t be bothered by it or controlled by it, unless they go to the dig spot you want to avoid.
Gently put your foot on the leash when they approach the fenceline, to stop them in their tracks. As soon as they turn away from the fence, make kissy noises and bend down offering them a treat. Then distract them for a bit with some pets or a game of fetch!
Other Outlets For Digging Behavior
Dogs often get a bit obsessed with digging. It’s a natural behavior, and an outlet for their energy and enthusiasm.
If your dog isn’t digging for a specific escape based reason, you can often channel these doggy instincts in a more positive and less dangerous way.
Dig boxes are brilliant fun, and can totally stop your dog from digging under the fence. Because they are busy digging elsewhere. Depending on your pup’s motivations, either put it in another area of the yard, or on their favorite fence exploration spot.
You can buy dig boxes online or from your local pet store, or make one with railway sleepers. I made mine, it didn’t take too long but you do need fairly good construction skills. Or not to mind if your backyard is dominated by a rather unusually shaped rectangular box!
Some dogs dig because they are bored or under exercised. Certain breeds need to expend a lot more energy than others, like sporting dogs or sighthounds. These pups when left to their own devices often turn to digging to burn off their excessive energy.
Longer walks around the dog park can help, but so can more frequent short walks. Playing fetch, scent work and even agility are all great ways to tire them out. And dampen their enthusiasm to dig.
Removing Access To The Fence
It might seem an odd idea, but I have found success in removing access to the digging fence through the use of another fence…
A friend’s Cockapoo was digging up all the flower beds around the boundary of their backyard. Simply putting another low level temporary fence around the edge of the lawn stopped him accessing the fenceline he loved to dig up, and stopped the behavior completely.
We also offered him a dig box, but he didn’t use it much. And in a few months time when the temporary fence was removed he never tried to dig under it again!
Limit yard time
Limiting yard time also reduces access to the fence. This is one that you’ll only be able to do if you have a good exercise routine and pee schedule for your dog. But if you remove access to that area for a while to break the habit, most dogs won’t pick it up again when they are given gradually longer periods outdoors later.
Do Repellent Sprays Stop Dogs Digging Under Fences?
Repellent sprays are brilliant for stopping dogs chewing the furniture, but outdoor use is a little more hit and miss. Some sprays simply won’t retain the level of smell you’d need to repel a dog when faced with the everyday weather conditions. Others simply don’t smell bad enough to put your dog off the extra fun task of digging under the fence.
It’s worth a go, if you have a suitable spray that you know your dog hates. But in my experience this method usually ends in disappointment.
How To Physically Stop Your Dog Digging Under The Fence
The option that works every time, but we all want to avoid. It involves physically beefing up the fence and area around it. It is costly, unless you happen to run a contracting firm, and it takes time. But when all else fails there are two ways to really stop even the most persistent fence digging dog from going under the barrier.
The first and usually cheapest option is the extend the fence downwards. I do this with my chicken runs to stop foxes and badgers digging into them, and it works well. Dig a trench around two feet of depth around the fence. Then attach chicken wire, or a stronger material for a bigger dog. Lay it down into the trench and backfill with rubble or a stone/dirt mix.
For the strongest most determined dog, laying a concrete base under the fence line and a couple of feet into the backyard is your ultimate trump card.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website