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DIGGING CHALLENGES

A PETCO Companion Animal Care Sheet developed with and approved by a Qualified Veterinarian

Some dogs may never dig. Others may give good imitations of canine earth movers. Whether in the couch or among your prize roses, digging can be quite destructive. Training and accommodation are the best ways to deal with dogs who love to dig.

How Training Works

Dogs are pack animals, and as such are only comfortable when their role within the pack has been established. An established role allows the dog to predict the reactions and needs of the rest of his pack. Without a confirmed, consistent role, the dog never knows when punishment or rewards will occur, and will spend most of the time anxious and worried.

Basic obedience helps to establish the owner in role of pack leader, and lays down clear behavior guidelines that the pack can follow. The lack of a clear pack leader will cause anxiety, since, in the eyes of a dog, only a strong and definite pack leader can protect the pack and provide it with whatever is needed. If none of the humans take this role, the dog is force to attempt to assume it himself, since the pack must have a leader. The pack leader controls where the pack goes, when and what the pack eats and how the pack behaves toward one another. Having these clear guidelines allows the dog to relax, since he knows what behaviors earn what types of attention.

Most trainers follow the 3 second rule in training. Dogs will attribute positive or negative attention to whatever was happening within the 3 seconds immediately before the attention was given. Be careful to only give your dog attention when appropriate, when current behavior, not past, deserves it. If your dog is growling at strangers, don’t reward the behavior by attempting to calm him. This merely reinforces that there must be something scary happening. Instead, a gentle “no”, and a friendly greeting of the stranger on your part will be more reassuring to the dog than your calming attempts.

Know Your Breed

All dogs dig, but some breeds are more prone to digging than others. Some breeds have been bred to dig, including:

  • Terriers - Terrier means literally “Earth Dog.” These dogs were bred to “go to ground,” digging down into rodent tunnels to chase out and corner the inhabitants. The need to dig can be very strong in these breeds, so you may want to avoid them if you’re not a fan of canine-inspired landscaping.
  • Sledding dogs – Dogs that were bred to survive arctic-type environments needed a strong instinct to burrow down into the snow to survive the long, cold nights. Although your Husky or Malamute may have never seen temperatures below freezing, those instincts may still run strong. Dirt is just as rewarding to dig in as snow.
  • Highly intelligent dogs – No, having a very good and active brain is not an automatic guarantee of digging. But if a highly intelligent dog is kept in a backyard with little or no stimulation, he will invent games to keep entertained. One of the favorites, along with barking at every moving leaf and tree, is digging. Keeping this dog entertained with obedience lessons, activities, and plenty of quality time with you will help minimize unwanted digging.
Common Reasons for Digging

Isolation is the most common reason for digging. A dog left alone for long periods of time is lonely and bored, and often acts out his unhappiness by digging. The more time the dog spends with you, the less likely he will dig. When you're home, bring the dog indoors, even if you have to tie him to a table leg or doorknob until he learns to settle down. Hours spent in a crate at night next to your bed also counts as time spent with you, and helps your dog feel like part of the family.

If dogs are not spayed or neutered, they will do anything (like digging) to escape and breed. Alter your dog, or at least keep your female indoors (preferably in a crate) when in heat.

Children next door playing or people walking by frustrate your dog. He hears all the fun but can't join in. He gets more and more agitated, and must relieve his stress somehow. Digging serves as a physical outlet both to relieve his frustration and get out of the yard. Confine the dog in a smaller dog run or indoor crate while you are away. Leave him with his favorite chew toy, and let him learn to settle down and accept that you are gone. Start with short periods of time.

Do you have gophers or ground squirrels? Dogs (especially Dachshunds and terriers!) find rodents hard to resist. Once the pests are gone, so is your problem. Be careful with poisons and traps so that your dog is not harmed.

Have you recently planted new bushes in your yard? Don't let your dog see you dig. That may give her the idea that digging is okay. Spray your plantings and the surrounding soil with pet repellent, or hot pepper spray to discourage her from chewing and digging up the garden. Place chicken wire on the ground around the base of new plants. When she snags her toenails in the wire, she will usually quit digging.

Many canines will dig a hole under a bush or against a wall to lie in during hot weather. Instinct tells them to build a "den" to keep cool. If this isn't acceptable, get a doghouse and put it in the shade to satisfy this denning instinct. Or get a child’s play pool and fill it with a few inches of water so your dog can cool off during the day.

Exercise may be a good outlet for the digger to channel his energy in a fun activity. Walks, games of fetch, training classes, and other activities. May make it easier for him to relax when it's time to settle down.

Additional Solutions
  • Wire fencing solves a multitude of problems. Run a strip along the bottom of the fence and continue it out into the yard several inches. Then cover it with soil.
  • Bury water balloons in favorite digging spots. They will pop and startle the dog. (Always supervise your pet to ensure he does not ingest the broken balloon.)
  • Install a pet door so he can come and go as he pleases. This is often very reassuring to the dog, and relieves the boredom and frustration of being left outside.
  • Create a digging pit for your dog. Mark off an area with boards where it is okay for him to dig. Partially bury a few bones or other smelly treats, encouraging him to dig there. He'll get the idea quickly. This is especially effective for instinctive diggers such as terriers and arctic breeds.Install a pet friendly electric fence. A hot wire or hidden fence system can be installed around the perimeter of your yard or around the flower beds to keep your dog out.
Suggested Reading

Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence by Carol Lea Benjamin

Dogs for Dummies by Gina Spadafori

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete