Today’s article on how to stop a dog from digging is by best-selling author Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s online dog training courses can be found over on the Dogsnet website.
Do you need to know how to stop a dog from digging up their yard? Just why do dogs dig holes? And how can we keep dogs from digging under fences and in flower beds?
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.
To stop a dog from digging effectively, it’s important to understand why they are digging holes. Dogs dig holes for lots of different reasons. Once you know why your dog digs holes in the yard, you have a good chance of stopping him effectively, without conflict.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons your dog might be digging. And what you can do to prevent him from digging.
How do I stop my dog digging?
There are two possible ways to stop a dog from digging. One is to prevent access to the area he likes to dig. The other is to work out why he is digging, and then tackle the root cause.
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. They would rather enjoy spending time in it with their dog – but without fear for their rose bushes!
So let’s look at alternatives to fencing your dog out of his favorite digging zones.
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes?
To understand how to stop a dog from 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.
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes
- Temporary Changes: Stress-Related Digging
- Digging For Fun
- Digging to Hide Food
- Dogs That Have Learned to Dig
- Dogs Digging to Solve A Problem
- Energetic Dogs That Dig
- Dogs Digging Under Fences to Escape
Temporary changes to your dog’s situation
Pregnant bitches can dig when they wouldn’t ordinarily, due to instincts to create a place for their pups.
Likewise some dogs dig when they are anxious. This stress can be caused by a new environment or change in lifestyle. For example if you have gone on holiday and someone else is caring for them.
Provided things go back to the status quo soon, then this digging behaviour should reduce once normality 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 dogs from digging holes will depend upon the reasons why they are digging them in the first place.
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. Some dogs will lose interest in digging as they grow.
Sometimes a dog that digs for fun will continue doing it into adulthood however. This is something which certain breeds of dog, such as Terriers, are more inclined to do because of their ancestors’ roles.
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 ground. This will usually consist of a structure much like a children’s sandpit. 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.
Rather than trying to prevent dogs from digging, in this scenario we just give them their own dedicated digging zone! The dog is still happy, and so are your rose bushes!
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
The answer to the question ‘why do dogs dig holes?’ is sometimes “because someone accidentally taught them to”!
They have have been accidentally taught to dig by their owners, or rewarded by the things that they have found.
If you are a keen gardener then your dog might have observed you shovelling soil on several occasions. You may even 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. First prevent 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 it helps to solve a problem that they are having. The most common example is probably a lack of 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 undug ground is too hard to lie down on.
Providing them with 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.
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.
In addition, dogs with more prey drive may transfer this very specific energy to digging! Labradors, for example, were bred as gundogs. They have a certain level of inherent prey drive.
This may be transferred to digging if they have seen or smelled rabbits or other animals popping in to visit your back lawn. They are digging to try and get at the rabbits. Or other creatures that they can smell have been around the yard earlier.
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. You can try some games or do 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.
If you’d like to get started with some basic obedience training for your dog, using modern positive methods, you might like to take a look at my online training courses.
Dogs digging to escape
If your dog is digging under fence lines 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.
Dogs are more likely to repeat a behavior that results in “things improving” for them. If your dog is digging in order to leave your yard, or just to be able to see out past the fence line, then the solution is to make sure he gets no ‘reward’ from doing this.
How to keep dogs from digging under fence boundaries
The best thing you can do is to enforce the fencing under the ground so that it is impossible for him 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. A dig proof fence should be a visual barrier as well as a physical one.
If you can entirely block your dog’s 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. So make sure he doesn’t get out, or get to see more of the world by digging.
If he does, he will keep on trying to dig under the fence in the hope of another reward!
How to stop a dog from digging
Hopefully I’ve shown you that knowing 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 your dog 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.
About Pippa Mattinson
Pippa 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.