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Digging Dogs: How To Manage Their Landscaping Projects

Updated: Jan 1



“Life’s a garden, dig it!” ~Your digging dog, probably

Does your dog enjoy a little backyard gardening or even landscaping and renovation projects? I hate to break it to you, but digging is an absolutely normal and natural dog behavior. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news yet again, but it’s not necessarily something we can completely train out of them. However, do not fear because we can incorporate a bit of training, management, and making sure that they have appropriate areas to participate in this super fun behavior!

So why do they do it then? There can be a variety of reasons:


  1. Critters. You got critters in your backyard. The safest and best option to further prevent digging for this reason is to safely and humanely capture and relocate the critters.

  2. Genetics. While most dogs have a tendency to dig at one point or another, some breeds have more of a genetic tendency towards this behavior because they were bred to locate and dig out critters. Terrier types and dachshunds often enjoy gardening and landscape projects.

  3. Boredom. Digging is fun and it’s a great way (in a dog’s mind) to keep themselves busy and release some pent up energy that may have nowhere else to go.

  4. Stress-release. Your dog may be stressed for any number of reasons and digging is a way to alleviate stress and is used as a coping mechanism. Change (even small) can be really hard for some dogs.

  5. Attention seeking. Your dog may have learned that this is an excellent way to get your immediate attention every time they do it. No questions asked. 

  6. Weather related. They are hot, trying to escape the elements, or just want to burrow. Sometimes dogs dig to create a cooler space or shelter. Make sure they are not left outside for too long and have adequate places to seek shelter in when they are outside.

  7. They are trying to escape the backyard. This is part genetics (Huskies are notorious for digging, escaping back yards, and wandering), they might be bored out there, or they may be trying to reach a dog on the other side of the fence.

  8. Burying treasure. They are burying resources that are important to them and they may not want others (humans, other animals) to find such as bones and toys.

What can we do about it?


MANAGEMENT:

  1. Safely and humanely remove critters from the area.

  2. Limit unsupervised time in area.

  3. Provide adequate shelter and shade. 

  4. Using fencing or rocks/cinder blocks to block off areas they may be digging in.

  5. Ensure dog is being provided with appropriate and adequate physical exercise.

  6. Ensure dog is being provided with appropriate and adequate mental enrichment and stimulation and also activities in which they can participate in digging. Suggestions below:

Acitivty Suggestions:

  1. Scatter feeding.

  2. Hide and seek food and toy items (and being able to destroy said items-like boxes).

  3. Snuffle mat. 

  4. Provide a “digging area” in the backyard. Bury treasures for them and positively reward them when they did them up to help them learn that digging is okay only in that specific area.

  5. Provide plenty of indoor opportunities for “burrowing” with the use of blankets and burrowing beds (some dogs love to be completely underneath or inside something).

TRAINING:

  1. Use an interrupter cue (“ah ah”, “uh huh”) when you catch them doing it and positively reward when they stop digging. 

  2. Redirect to a different activity. 

  3. Supervise outside and capture and reward any time they are not digging.

  4. Work on less explosive or emotional reactions when you catch them digging (this can lead to it potentially becoming an attention-seeking behavior).


While it can be a particulary bothersome and annoying habit to us humans, asking our dogs to cease and desist isn’t really fair or realistic. However, we can partner with them to come up with a happy medium and compromise that is fair to both sides.

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