Dogs and digging

Dogs and digging

An often annoying but nonetheless true fact is that many dogs like to dig, and digging behaviour is perfectly natural in the dog, albeit it is often messy and inconvenient! As well as potentially making a real mess of your garden, some dogs are apt to simulate digging behaviour in the house, burrowing into bedding or piles of clothes or even scrabbling at the carpet and furniture.

If your dog’s digging is becoming a pain, it can help to understand the various reasons behind why dogs love to dig, and learn what you can do to prevent or manage the behaviour. Read on to find out more!

Is digging natural behaviour?

Perhaps unfortunately, digging is indeed a natural behaviour in dogs, and harks back to the days of wild dog and wolf packs prior to domestication, who would bury animal carcasses and other food to hide and protect it for later consumption. Also, some dogs such as terriers were bred to hunt burrowing animals, and so digging can be a simulation of hunting behaviour patterns. Even though in the main part, the UK’s domestic dogs are many centuries removed from the days when digging and burying was important to survival, just as with chasing behaviour, barking and guarding, some dogs simply have a strong genetic predisposition to dig, even after all this time! In contrast, some dogs don’t show any inclination to dig at all, and the owners of such dogs should consider themselves to be among the lucky ones.

Problem digging and what to do about it

Digging can become a problem for the pet owner for a wide variety of reasons. Tracking mud, dirt and potential bacteria and other nasties into the house, needing to constantly be cleaned off, and the destruction of the garden or household furniture can all cause a real problem for the owner of a digging dog. In order to stand a chance of successfully being able to address the problem of doggy digging, it’s important to work out why they are digging in the first place, and go from there in terms of trying to minimise or prevent it.

Digging for prey

Some dog breeds and types, terriers especially, were historically kept and trained to dig in order to flush vermin such as rats and rabbits out of underground burrows while hunting. If your dog is a terrier type dog, you may be limited in terms of your options and how to keep your dog from turning your garden into a giant mole hill. Supervising outdoor play and keeping your dog’s attention on other things when outside might be the only way to reduce or eliminate digging behaviour in dogs which dig to hunt.

Digging to hide food or toys

Lots of dogs love to bury a favourite bone or toy to retrieve later; to your dog, they are protecting it from other dogs who might steal it, and also extending the time it takes to spoil by keeping it from the heat of the sun. Removing your dog’s toys from the place at which they are buried will generally exacerbate the problem; assign a toy box or favourite corner of the house or garden to your dog and try to teach them that this is their safe territory to hide their toys. Alternatively if you are so inclined, you might wish to give over an area of your garden to your dog for digging, as dogs generally stick to the same familiar spot for hiding their things- and so protect the rest of your garden.

Digging to escape

If your dog is a canine escape artist and can’t get over your walls or other barriers, they may resort to trying to dig their way out under your fences or walls. Keeping your dog entertained and providing frequent walks and enough playtime and stimulation can help to prevent this. If your dog actually manages to dig out and escape, you might want to consider installing chicken wire or some large rocks under the level of your wall or fence down to a couple of feet deep to prevent this.

Building a den

If the sun is hot, your dog feels insecure or doesn’t have a space to call their own, you may find that they attempt to dig themselves a den. This can both protect them from the heat of the sun, and give them a secure place to hide within. To prevent this, make sure that your dog always has access to shade and cool water when the weather is hot, and that they feel comfortable and secure in their environment. Make sure your dog has his own crate, bed or corner with bedding that he likes and which he can rearrange to suit himself, and in time you should be able to minimise or prevent this behaviour.

Boredom digging

If your dog is left alone for long periods of time, doesn’t receive enough stimulation or has nothing to play with, digging is a great game for him which can be performed almost anywhere. Counteract this by making sure that your dog has plenty to keep him occupied when you’re not around, that you spend enough time with him and that he is walked and played with enough to keep him happy. It is also important to note that digging can be attention seeking behaviour in dogs- if he has learnt that digging will get a reaction out of you, this can reinforce his digging behaviour. Don’t reward problem digging with attention- tell your dog ‘no’ and do so until he stops- at which point he should be praised for compliance.

Hopefully you now have enough food for thought to be going on with! If you continue to have problems with digging or any other inappropriate behaviour in your dog, it may be time to call in the experts. A consultation with a canine behaviourist or professional dog trainer might be able to help you to identify the root cause of problem digging, and teach you how to deal with it.



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