a golden dog digs near a fence

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a golden dog digs near a fence

Dear Crystal,

How or when will my dogs age 9 months (German Sheps brother and sister) stop digging holes in my yard?

Sincerely Digging Dilemma


Dear Digging,

Digging is a really common owner complaint and a natural, normal dog behavior. While it is possible that they could grow out of the behavior, it seems unlikely. Digging is what we call a self-reinforcing behavior because it feels good so that can make it harder to extinguish. In general, the longer the dog is allowed to do the behavior the harder it is to stop it because it has a longer reinforcement history. This is why management is so important for behaviors that you find problematic. The other part of the equation is providing suitable alternatives to the behavior.

If the dogs are only digging when left alone outside, you might want to try only let them out when they are supervised. If they start to dig, call them over to interrupt and play a game with them or do some training.

Depending on where they are digging, you may be able to physically block access. If you cover holes up, you can bury chicken wire and cover with gravel or mulch so it is unpleasant to dig. There are animal deterrents such as “No Dig” that you can bury in the hole. You can put up chicken wire or decorative fencing to keep them out of gardens. Some dogs don’t like water and might be deterred by a motion detecting water sprinkler.

Your dogs may be digging out of boredom. If the behavior happens mostly when they are alone and they spend a lot of time outside, it may be the culprit.. You may see other behaviors related to boredom such as chewing things up or barking excessively. Young active dogs need something to do or they will create something to do.

image of a pile with a rope hanging from it with a stuff dog toy at the endTry giving your dogs more exercise. Fetch, tug or flirt pole are all really fun games that can burn a lot of energy. Try playing with them for 15-20 minutes before you put them in the yard and try to play a couple times a day at least. A lot of people think that dogs get exercise by just leaving them outside especially if they have a buddy but that usually isn’t how it works out. The dogs may play a little but the rest of the day is usually filled with digging and barking.

Enrichment is another way to entertain your dogs and burn energy. An easy form of enrichment is leaving a variety of food dispensing toys like Kong Wobblers out. You can start by leaving the toys out and maybe move to hiding them to find during the day. This may be harder to do with two dogs if they guard food.

Play nose work games with your dog. Start out by placing treats around the house and tell them to find it. I recommend starting out with leaving the food out in very obvious places and as they get really good at it you can progress to hiding food or hiding food in boxes in the yard. Or you can scatter kibble for their meals all over the grass for them to hunt for.

Dogs digging holes around fence lines are usually trying to escape. Dogs escaping is a whole issue on its own but it’s often caused by boredom and excess energy.

Dogs that are trying to escape should not be left outside unsupervised. The more that they escape the harder it will be to stop them. Provide a lot more exercise and enrichment so that you can rule out boredom as the culprit.

Dogs that are experiencing high levels of anxiety often will dig and show other destructive behaviors. Anxiety digging will happen when you are not present. You may notice other signs of stress and anxiety as you are preparing to leave and when you come home. There may be destructive behavior around windows and doors.

Anxiety should be addressed by contacting a behavior consultant as there are often underlying issues and treatment can be complicated. Be sure not to punish your dog for digging as this will increase his stress and anxiety levels which may make the behavior worse.

A dog might dig for attention. Some dogs only seem to get attention when they are being naughty. We often forget to tell the dog they are being good when they are just quietly behaving. If your dog only digs in your presence, it could be an attention getting ploy.

Be sure that you are noticing the little times your dog is behaving with quiet praise or a gentle pat. Spend quality time with your pup walking, training or just petting them. If they are misbehaving out of a lack of social contact, providing that should help.

a brown and white dog sniffs a hole dug in the sandDogs dig holes for comfort. If you notice in the warm weather that the dog digs a hole and then lies in it, he is trying to cool himself down. These holes are usually in shady spots like under trees. Also, if the dog doesn’t have any comfortable bedding outside, he may dig a hole that fits his body and is more comfortable.

Create a shady spot for your dog. You may be able to hang a sun shade between two trees or buy a freestanding shade tent for your pup.

Some dogs like to bury their special treats or food, especially when they are multiple dogs in the house. You will notice that the dog goes to retrieve the treat when the other dog is not around. The holes are usually small.

If your dog is hiding treats from other dogs, the easiest solution is to only give the dog the treats inside. Provide a safe spot for them to chew away from the other dogs so they don’t feel stressed out and can enjoy their treat in peace.

Dogs dig because they are searching for prey underground. You may notice them digging along rodent tracks or mole holes and they are very fixated on the ground with tail wagging.

Consider hiring an exterminator to come out and evaluate the situation. It is really important that humane methods are used and that no poison is used for your dogs’ safety.

Your dogs may really just enjoy digging. You may notice a lot of large random holes all over the yard. The holes aren’t near fence lines, rodent trails or tree roots. Your dog may dig when you are home.

Give them an appropriate place to dig. You can create a square box with 2 by 4’s or use a kiddie pool and fill it with playground sand. Bury bones and other favorite treats and toys to encourage them to dig in it. Some dogs like the sand to be wet so you might try wetting it down. You might have to hang out by it and encourage the dog to dig or show them but they should pick up on it pretty quickly.

Some dogs are more predisposed to digging because of their breed. Dachshunds and terriers were created to find vermin in the ground. Hounds will dig if they smell something enticing in the ground. Northern breeds like huskies and malamutes will dig searching for cooler spots. Primitive breeds like the Chow will dig for security.

If you know you have a breed that is predisposed to digging, be proactive by providing a digging pit to meet their needs. Place the pit in a shady spot for the northern breeds. Hide enticing smells for the hounds. You can even buy different prey scents and place a few drops on a cloth to hide. For the primitive breeds make sure they have a secure house to help them feel safe.

Hopefully, this will help you narrow down the reasons why your pups are digging and how to stop it. It really is best to address it now while they are young if it really bothers you. Good luck!

Until next time,



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