Digging is a natural and common behavior in dogs. The dog’s wild ancestor, the wolf, and many of his closest relatives still dig dens to raise their young or to escape heat or cold. Dogs and wild canines also dig to hide things they find valuable, like food, bones and other objects. Many dogs dig for the sheer fun of it!
Because dogs find it so enjoyable, digging can prove difficult to control or stop. The best approach to saving your shrubbery and landscaping is to give your dog an acceptable place to dig. Rather than attempting to stop the behavior altogether, you can channel it in a preferred direction by creating a digging pit for your dog.
Identify a place in your yard where you can let your dog dig. To make it easy for your dog to recognize her digging area, put a visual border around it using stones, bricks, wood or low fencing. Fill the area with loose dirt or sand. A combination of both can be very attractive to dogs.
Teaching Your Dog to Dig in the Pit
To encourage your dog to use her new digging pit, bury valued treasures—such as treats, bones and toys—just below the surface of the dirt. Then draw her attention to the buried items. Praise your dog enthusiastically when she uncovers a prize. (If she doesn’t catch on immediately, you can help her out by uncovering one or two of the things yourself.) When your dog’s a pro at uncovering buried items, you can try burying her things deeper. Once she understands that digging in her pit can yield fabulous surprises, she’ll learn to dig there rather than in other parts of your yard.
To keep your dog interested in her pit, occasionally replenish the hidden treasures buried beneath the dirt. You can also try bringing your dog to her new pit and digging there yourself. Make a game of digging with your dog. Be animated and excited—and have fun! Your dog probably won’t be able to resist joining in. When she does join you, be sure to let her know how happy it makes you. Praise her and sometimes reward her with a few tasty treats from your pocket for digging in the appropriate place.
If Your Dog Still Digs in Other Places
Even if your dog loves digging in her pit, she might not understand that it’s the only place you want her to dig. The key to helping her limit her digging to her special area is to supervise her carefully for a few weeks and redirect her if she starts to dig in the wrong place. When your dog goes outside, go with her or watch from a window. The instant you see her start to dig in a place other than her pit, clap your hands sharply a couple of times to get her attention. Then quickly lead her over to her digging pit and encourage her to dig there instead. If you’re consistent with redirecting your dog’s digging as soon as she makes a mistake, she’ll soon learn that it’s no fun to dig outside of her pit. Every time she does, you interrupt her!
If Your Dog Doesn’t Care About Digging Up Things in the Pit
Keep in mind that the treasures you bury in your dog’s pit need to be things she absolutely loves. If she doesn’t seem interested in the buried items, you might need to make them easier to get by burying them just below the surface or make them more exciting. If you’ve tried burying some dry biscuits, try some soft dog treats instead. If you’ve tried burying your dog’s toys, try a new chew bone. You could stuff a KONG® toy full of your dog’s food and bury it in her pit. After she unearths her meal, she’ll have a great time getting it out of the toy. (For more information about KONGs and how to use them, please see our article How to Stuff a KONG Toy.)
For more details about how to control a digging problem, please see our article, Digging. Don’t hesitate to contact a training professional, such as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) for help. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT near you.