To teach your dog not to dig can be easy for some owners and dogs but very difficult for others. It all has to do with why your dog is digging. Dogs dig for many reasons including boredom, separation anxiety, to cool down, to escape, or it is a genetic trait (instinct). In order to find the best way to keep your dog from digging, you must first determine for which reason your dog is digging.
My Dog Maya
My dog Maya is three-and-a-half and has just recently picked up a new habit of digging. She is probably digging for several reasons including boredom, instinct, and because it is just plain fun. She seems to dig along the fence line but she is not trying to dig deep enough to escape so I can only assume that she is digging because she has caught a scent of an animal on the other side. One of my neighbors on the other side of the fence has a dog while the other two neighbors don’t. But they have wild rabbits. Rabbits don’t come into my yard because of the dogs but I see them in the neighbors’ yards all the time.
Digging out of Boredom
If your dog is digging out of boredom, the simplest solution is to keep your dog from being bored. Make sure he has a few interesting toys to play with. Rotate the toys every few weeks so that he doesn’t get bored with his toys. Make sure he gets plenty of exercise. Take him for walks or play fetch. Play fetch with him until he is tired, then hopefully he will be too tired to dig.
Digging Due to Separation Anxiety
If your dog is digging from separation anxiety, try to help him learn that the yard is a fun place to be, even if you are not there. Leave his favorite toys out there for him to play with. You will also need to practice leaving your dog in the yard for short periods. Leave him outside for short periods before he begins to dig then go outside and play with or pet him. Do it again and again, gradually extending the time that he is outside by himself. This graduation should take several weeks or even months depending on your dog’s level of anxiety and your dedication.
Digging to Cool Off
If your dog is digging to cool down, make sure he has access to plenty of cool water. You can also give him a shallow pool to lie in and/or a shaded dog house.
Digging to Escape
If your dog is digging to escape, try to determine why he wants to escape. Does he like to roam, is he bored, does he smell something he wants? If he is digging because something interesting has caught his scent, you may want to consider getting him neutered (or spayed if she is a girl). This may help keep curb your dog’s instinct a bit. Also keep more interesting things in the yard so that he is less inclined to leave. Make the yard a fun place to be. As with boredom above, rotate his toys and play with him frequently. And most importantly, never use the backyard as a form of punishment. The yard should be a place of enjoyment, not a place to go when he is bad.
Digging Out of Instinct – Using Pet Deterrent Spray or Other Deterrents
A dog digging to escape may be doing it out of instinct as well. If you don’t catch your dog in the act of digging, don’t punish him after-the-fact. It does no good and he may learn that being in the back yard is a bad place to be and you may encourage other bad behaviors by mistake. If you notice the holes afterward, fill them back up. You should bury holes with something that will annoy or deter your dog from digging there again. Experiment with burying his feces in the hole, rocks, or chicken wire. You can also spray the area with a pet deterrent spray. You will may need to spray regularly depending on the product.
Digging Out of Instinct – Startle Technique
If you catch your dog in the act, use a startle technique to get them to stop. Make a shaker can, high powered squirt bottle, or shriek alarm. The key to this, however, is to not let your dog see you shake the can, squirt the bottle, or sound the alarm. If he sees you, he may simply just learn not to dig when you are around. The other key to the startle technique is to be consistent. Always make sure that you can keep an eye on him when he is outside and keep the can, water, or alarm handy.
Digging Out of Instinct – Designate a Digging Spot
For dogs who are more inclined to dig, such as certain terrier breeds who had been specifically bred to dig up vermin, designate a digging spot. Put aside a certain part of your yard just for your dog. Encourage him to dig in that spot and discourage him from digging in others with chicken wire or a pet deterrent spray. You can bury fun things in his designated digging spot. Bury treats, bones, toys and any other fun doggy things you can think of.
Time, Patience, Positive Reinforcement, and Consistency
As you can see, a dog who digs out of boredom or to cool down may have a simple fix. But dogs who dig out of instinct may be more difficult to train. To keep your dog from digging may take a lot of TPPC. TPPC is Time, Patience, Positive Reinforcement, and Consistency. Remember that nothing good ever comes easy and there is nothing better than a good dog.