Are you super proud of your beautiful green lawn and pretty plant borders? Have you introduced a new puppy or rescue dog to your family? Have you discovered that your dog has an obsession with digging and now your once well-manicured lawn has turned into a potholed mess?
It can be incredibly frustrating but at the end of the day, your dog is only doing what comes naturally to them.
So, take a step back, breath and then put a plan in place to help you get your lawn back to being your pride and joy. Whilst there are certain steps that you can take to help train your dog not to dig, it can be very tricky and most of the time it is about coming up with a sensible management strategy and supervising carefully whilst you try to implement this.
It is important to remember that if you block your dog from digging, maybe you choose to hard landscape your entire garden, without understanding why they are doing it and then offering them an alternative outlet, you could be inadvertently setting your dog up to exhibit other problem behaviours instead.
Some breeds are more hard-wired to dig than others
It is worth being aware that some breeds of dogs may have more of a propensity to dig than others. Breeds that are taught to dig for their rodent prey, like terriers or dachshunds, are often the worst culprit and a number of well thought out strategies may be required to help resolve the problem. Breeds like Malamutes and Huskies often have a desire to dig to cool down.
Terriers can be prolific diggers because of their hunting instincts
Why do dogs dig in the first place and what can I do about it?
There are a whole host of reasons why your dog may dig. Some are very obvious and some may need a bit more work to figure out what they are.
1. Responding to their prey drive
Some dogs have an incredibly high prey drive. You may have noticed that they go bonkers whenever they see a squirrel or they may even want to chase butterflies or flies.
Some breeds are more tuned into this natural drive. My dog Annie is a Brittany Spaniel, she has been bred for her hunting skills and her urge to hunt is very strong. On walks she is always on the lookout, always sniffing and, if she spots a squirrel, she becomes selectively deaf when her arousal levels go up.
Luckily her prey drive is not so high that she would dig to get to her prey in the garden. Some dogs will though. Perhaps there are regular squirrel visitors to the garden and they then retreat to the trees behind the fence. This may be just too much for your dog and in their desire to get to the little blighters they will try to dig underneath the fence to get to them.
Sometimes a dog will also dig if they can hear or smell something underneath their feet. Perhaps there is a resident mole in the garden or an ant nest. This can mean that they will then dig seemingly random holes all over the garden or dig a path in a long trough as they follow the sound or scent.
What to do about it
The most effective way to resolve this issue is to prevent the creatures that your dog is trying to catch from coming in or near your garden. Of course, this sometimes can be easier said than done. Perhaps you have a bird feeder in the garden or some other item that is attracting the squirrels and birds. If this can be removed the animals are less likely to want to visit your garden and prove a tease for your dog.
If they are digging because you have an ant nest nearby then it may be worth looking at options for ridding this from the garden space. Make sure if you are choosing to use a product that it is one that is safe to use around your dog.
It is also worth supervising your dog and when they become focussed on this you can try to redirect their attention to something more appropriate. Perhaps bring out a super tasty chew or stuffed treat toy. Be aware though that, if your dog is in a very heightened state of arousal they may not be able to be distracted with a toy.
You can also work on a leave it command, when they do bring their attention back to you they are rewarded with a yummy treat. For dogs with a seriously high prey drive though this can be a big task and often with dogs that dig because of their prey drive, the best solution is close supervision.
Squirrels and other rodents and pests can drive your dog to distraction and make them want to dig to get to them
2. Because they are bored
This is a common reason for digging and one of the easiest to resolve. If your dog is feeling a bit fed up then why would they not keep them self-amused with something that they enjoy doing? They see it as a game and may just be exploring their surrounding. Perhaps there is not much in the garden other than just a plain patch of lawn, he may be a young dog that has high amounts of energy and is constantly looking for new adventures.
What to do about it
Making sure they have more appropriate outlets for their energy and staving off any boredom is the key for this one.
- Make sure that they are getting enough long and enriching walks (with plenty off leash time and/or enough opportunities to sniff and explore)
- Consider giving them another suitable outlet for their energy that can also be a good bonding exercise for you and your dog like agility, cani-cross (running with your dog) or another dog sport.
- Let your dog have appropriate socialisation with other dogs. This should be supervised, calm and only if your dog enjoys the company of other dogs and vice versa. If you choose to let your dog burn off steam at a Dog Park make sure that you select one that is well managed and that the interactions are appropriate and well supervised. See our article on the pros and cons of dog parks for more guidance.
- Make sure they are not being left at home alone for long periods, they should not be left in the garden alone for long periods unsupervised either.
- Make sure there are plenty other items of interest for them in the garden. Have some good toys that they can play with and make sure you rotate these to save them from getting bored.
- Be in the garden supervising them and redirect them when they start to show interest in digging.
- You can play games with them in the garden. If there is room you could play fetch or you could do a ten-minute trick training or obedience session.
- If they really love digging you could provide them with a sand or soil box that they are allowed to dig in. Be aware this may not necessarily stop them from digging elsewhere but for some dogs, this outlet can be enough. You will need to work on encouraging them to dig in this space. If you see them digging elsewhere encourage them into the sandbox and then reward them for digging there instead. You could bury some treats or toys in this area. It needs to be a suitable depth, just a smatter of soil or sand is not enough and the bigger the dog the bigger the box will need to be. We would recommend keeping the box covered at night as it can be an attractive outdoor litter box for cats!
- If your dog has a particular place he returns to all the time to dig you could try covering this with pebbles or boulders or chicken wire. Do be aware though that this on its own may not be enough as they may then just move onto another unsuitable spot.
Consider providing a designated digging area for your dog, like a sand pit
3. To keep a prized possession safe
It is an instinctual behaviour in some dogs to try to find a safe spot for an item that they want to hold onto. They will often dig a hole to bury this so that they can keep it safe and come back to later.
What to do about it
This can be a time when want to have a designated digging spot so that they can put the item in there. Other than this it is a case of supervising and redirecting. Sometimes offering their own den like a crate or an outdoor shelter can be enough for your dog to be happy to keep their possessions in there instead.
Some dogs can become very possessive over items they see as their own. To avoid your dog becoming like this it is worth swapping out the item when you can for a tasty treat so that they realise that even when the item is being taken away it is always replaced with something just as good or better. If your dog is already starting to guard items then read our article on how to deal with resource guarding.
Sometimes dog have an innate desire to bury items that are highly prized
4. Trying to keep cool or stay warm
In very hot weather, dogs are often driven to dig a hole as an instinctual method to keep cool. The same can be said in the cold weather although this is less common. If the holes are being dug for this purpose they will often be dug near a shady spot or near the foundations of the house or other outbuildings. If there is no shade or respite anywhere in the garden this is likely to be more common. They will usually be bigger holes and you will find your dog lying in them.
What to do about it
Really your dog should not be left outside in the extreme temperatures for long enough to mean that they feel they need to make an appropriate shelter from it but if they do this even before the temperatures are extreme then you need to offer them a more appropriate way to cool off or warm up.
If they are feeling the cold then you could consider introducing an insulated dog house and work on encouraging your dog into this instead by providing suitable treats, toys and comfy bedding. If it is very cold outside please do not leave your dog outside for prolonged periods, they should be kept indoors or in a suitably heated kennel environment.
For dogs that are feeling the heat, you could provide an appropriate shaded area in the garden, a paddling pool for cooling down and you could perhaps use a cool coat, a cooling mat or damp towels. Again, it is important not to leave your dog outside for prolonged periods in the extreme heat. Dogs can overheat much much quicker than humans do. Bringing them indoors in this situation is not only the best solution for the digging but it is also just kinder on your dog, no matter how much they like being out in the fresh air.
If you do have a designated digging spot make sure that this is in a shady and sheltered spot and encourage your dog to dig their cooling hole here.
Make sure that they always have access to fresh and clean water too.
In very hot temperatures keep your dog indoors or make sure that they are not left unsupervised and have access to a cool shady areas. These dogs also have damp towels keeping them cool too
5. To escape
Some dogs will be digging because they want to escape the garden area. This can be for a variety of reasons. If you have an unneutered dog and there is a bitch in heat in the area they can become so driven to get to her that they will try to escape the confines of the garden.
Some dogs may be stressed or fearful in the garden environment and this is driving them to try to escape. Perhaps something unpleasant has happened to them when they have been in there, perhaps there are loud noises that are frightening them or maybe they are a new rescue and their flight instinct is still very high.
What to do about it
If your dog is driven by a desire to mate the simplest solution is to get your dog neutered or not leave them out in the garden unsupervised.
You can put chicken wire or a concrete filler along the border that they try to dig out of to make their attempts less successful but this will not stop them from trying so it is better to have a more direct strategy to address why they are doing it in the first place.
For dogs that are stressed or frightened it is most sensible to try to work on relaxing your dog and dealing with their fears directly rather than just trying to block their escape route. Whilst you are working on reducing their anxiety levels we would recommend not leaving them in the garden unsupervised.
Please read our article on helping your dog deal with their fears for more training and management tips.
Some dogs dig to escape the garden. It is important that you work out why they are wanting to get out of the garden before you try to tackle it.
6. They want to join in with your gardening activities
Sometimes your dog may be watching you dig if you are doing a spot of gardening and they simply just want to join in as part of their social facilitation. Once they have started doing it though they may realise it is quite a rewarding activity and want to keep doing it.
What to do about it
This is when redirection from the beginning or having an appropriate digging spot can come in handy. You may also want to do your own digging when your dog is not in the garden.
Some dogs just want to join in the gardening fun!
7. Attention seeking
Some dogs will dig just because they have learnt that it gets your attention. Even if you have just been shouting at them or moving them to another spot if this means they are having interaction with you then it can be enough for it to develop into a habit.
What to do about it
You will need to consider whether you are actually giving your dog enough attention in general. If you are not making time to bond with them in appropriate activities perhaps they are just trying to interact with you in any way they can. Make sure you make time to have some good walks, constructive training sessions and fun game time.
Try to redirect your dogs attention to something more appropriate and then reward him when he is doing this instead. Again this is when having a designated place to dig could be good but it should still not be a replacement for you making sure you give your dog some quality time.
What NOT to do when trying to cure your dogs digging habit
Don’t punish your dog after discovering a hole
It is really important that you don’t punish your dog. If you do this after discovering a hole which they are no longer digging they won’t understand why they are being punished anyway. If your dog is digging because they are anxious or fearful then punishing them will only serve to heighten their anxieties. It is better to come up with management strategies, redirection techniques and rewarding them for offering alternative behaviours.
Don’t use dangerous deterrents to try to stop your dog from digging
Some people swear by using products that will deter your dog from digging. They may sprinkle cayenne pepper or vinegar in the digging areas or something similar. We don’t normally recommend this as they will usually just seek out an alternative spot but if you are trying this make sure that whatever you are using as a deterrent is something that is safe for your dog. If the deterrent is really extreme it could injure your dog or give them a negative association with the garden space.
Don’t leave your dog unsupervised for long periods of time on their own in the garden
It may seem obvious but the easiest way to minimise any out of control digging is to ensure you don’t leave your dog in the garden for long periods unsupervised. Apart from anything else, leaving them outside for long periods can result in boredom, nuisance barking, potential escape instances or the risk of overheating if the weather gets too hot.
Tying them up
This will not resolve the problem as you are not offering them a suitable alternative outlet and you are not addressing why they are digging in the first place. They can often still dig anyway. We never recommend tying a dog up unsupervised anyway as it can be too easy for them to get tangled, frustrated, stressed or injured.
We are not a fan of the poop deterrent technique
We have heard some people recommending filling the hole with the dog’s own faeces as a deterrent. Whilst this may work for some dogs, it is not particularly pleasant having to try to do this (that is an awful lot of poop that needs to be collected), your dog may just move to another spot, if the dog does decide to go back to that spot it is going to be a messy clean up job and some dog’s actually like their own poop so you could potentially be making it an even more rewarding task for them!
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.