It’s a scenario many dog owners are all too familiar with: you wake up in the morning, head outside to feed your beloved pup, only to find that they have turned into a canine excavator overnight.
Why is my dog digging?
There are many reasons why a dog may dig holes. Your dog may be bored, anxious, or digging purely from habit. Some dogs even dig to find beetles and insects in the ground or because they are stimulated by fertilizer used in the garden.
Regardless of the reason, there are two common mistakes many dog owners make when dealing with digging.
- One common mistake people make when repairing holes is to fill them back in while the dog is watching. Dogs learn from our behaviour and when they see you moving soil around in the yard they may mimic that behaviour with more digging. This also means that gardening can be a potentially damaging activity; make sure that your dog is out of sight when planting new plants or weeding. Dogs don’t understand your behaviour, and are likely to think that you are playing in the garden (and may be inclined to come back and ‘help’ you with the gardening the next day.)
- Another common mistake is to reprimand the dog after the event by pointing to the hole or dragging the dog to the hole. Dogs cannot reason or rationalise, so while your dog understands that you’re cranky, it does not understand why. This can lead to added stress for the dog, and unfortunately one of the displacement activities brought about by stress is digging. The thing to remember when reprimanding your dog is that scolding is only useful if you catch them in the act,
How to prevent digging
A common remedy for digging dogs is to fill the hole with some of its faeces under the top layer of soil. If the dog goes to dig in that same spot again it may be discouraged from that area. You can also give the repaired hole a light spray of citronella or eucalyptus oil. Products such as ‘Get Off My Garden’ are great for providing a scent-based deterrent. Always remember to make sure your dog is out of sight whilst you are making the necessary repairs.
For the bored digger, more exercise (e.g. jogging, swimming, off-leash play at the park), stimulation (e.g. brain games, exploring new places), and environmental enrichment (e.g. treat dispensing toys or scatter feeding) may help. In order to keep your dog happy and mentally drained, there is no substitute for daily exercise.
Although natural fertilisers such as Dynamic Lifter and Blood & Bone are an environmentally friendly option, unfortunately dogs love the smell and – in some cases – the taste of these products. These fertilisers can encourage dogs to dig, so head down to your local garden centre and have a chat with the staff about some dog-friendly alternatives.
For the dogs that are digging out of stress, this is a rather in-depth psychological issue that will often require the help of a behavioural trainer or vet to investigate and treat the underlying reasons for the dog’s anxiety.
Unfortunately some dogs are just prone to dig regardless of what we do to prevent it. If – after trying the above remedies – your dog is still a persistent digger, consider finding a part of the yard or garden that is not precious to you. Take your dog to this area and scatter liver treats that have been broken up into tiny pieces on the ground. This may encourage your pup to hunt, sniff and dig in this area, giving them a job to do and keeping them busy for a period of time. Obviously, this is more rewarding than digging up its own faeces in other areas of the garden. As we all know, a tired dog is a happy dog.