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7 Reasons Why Your Dog is Digging Up Your Yard

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Is your dog a digger? Is your previously nice yard turning into a landscape of divots? There are many reasons a dog may dig in the yard, and how you prevent it will depend on why it’s happening.


  • Digging is a natural behavior for dogs; especially for breeds that were bred to exterminate rodents. It may simply be that your dog enjoys doing it.

  • Just like kids, when dogs get bored, they look for things to keep themselves occupied, and it isn’t always an activity we approve of. A bored dog may dig to pass the time, or dig to get out of the yard and explore. Additionally, a dog that isn’t getting enough exercise has built up energy they need a release for. Digging may be an outlet for all that energy.

  • If your yard has critters moving around beneath the surface such as voles or moles, it's very possible that your dog can hear them moving underground, and is digging to reach those critters.

  • Some dogs like to dig because they're overheated, and digging allows them to reach the cooler earth so they can lie down and get some relief from the heat.

  • Dogs who are frightened or anxious may dig because they’re panicking and are trying to get out of the yard to get to safety. This could be in response to thunderstorms, fireworks or the dog may have separation anxiety.

  • Digging under the fence could also be an effort to get to something. Dogs are predators and there may be an animal on the other side of the fence they’d like to chase or hunt. Intact dogs may be trying to get out to mate.

  • Some dogs like to bury food to save for later.

Small dog digging on beach in sand


Dogs dig for fun


However, many dogs like to dig because it's a natural dog behavior. If you have a dog who is digging recreationally, it's easier to create a digging spot with sand or loose dirt, to allow them to have a legal place to dig, than it is to prevent them from digging altogether.


Choose a spot in your yard that is away from any plants or other areas that you don't want your dog to dig in. It may be a good idea to prevent your dog access to garden beds where the soil is loose with some temporary fencing.


Bury things in the digging box just under the surface like dog biscuits and some of their favorite toys.


Show your dog the digging box, and then (I know this sounds ridiculous), pretend you're a dog and start digging in it. Your dog will most likely come over to see what you're doing, and then join in.


If you see your dog digging in an area that isn't his designated digging place, interrupt your dog and take your dog over to his digging spot. Again, you might have to bury a few things in there for your dog to find.


You're going to actually have to supervise your dog when they’re out in the yard for a little bit to show your dog what you want your dog to do. Be patient and consistent with your training, and eventually your dog will choose their digging spot over your garden.



Dogs may dig when bored


If your dog is outside in your backyard for significant amount of time, it may be that your dog is digging to relieve boredom. Can you imagine being left in a space with absolutely nothing to do?


Be sure that you're leaving things out for your dog to interact with. A great choice is always a treat dispensing toy that your dog has to manipulate in order to get the food, or a frozen food stuffed Kong. Instead of feeding your dog all of their food out of a bowl, have them work for it by manipulating the toys. This will keep your dog busy and prevent them from being bored for that period of time.


In addition to using a food puzzle toy, you can also set up a treat finding scavenger hunt for your dog. Train your dog to find treats that you have hidden throughout your yard, and before you let your dog out into the yard, hide treats for your dog to sniff out.


Dogs definitely have preferences as far as what kinds of toys they like to interact with, so some of your choices will depend on your dog. Additionally, you may have to purchase toys that your dog may not be interested in at first, until you play with your dog with the toy and show them how much fun it can be.


For dogs who like to tug, they make tug toys that are set up to be attached to a tree or to the overhang of a house that a dog can tug on. They also sell toys like this that are attached to a pole that you insert into the ground.


For dogs that like to herd or move toys around, getting a large size Jolly ball is a great choice.


Additionally, another natural behavior for dogs is chewing. Make sure that you are providing toys for them to chew on that will be safe when unsupervised.


Dog playing with food toy in yard

Dogs may dig to get to moles or voles


One of the ways to know if a dog is digging for critters is that the dog will most likely dig in the same spot, or dig in a line as they follow the tunnel. A dog digging to get to a rodent is more likely to be extremely excited and frantic as they dig.


Because dogs are predators and hunting is a natural behavior, it’s going to be almost impossible to get your dog to stop doing it without getting rid of the invaders under your lawn. You may have to figure out what it is that is living underground, and research how to evict them from your yard.


Be sure that whatever you’re using to eliminate moles or rodents isn’t going to be poisonous to your dog. If the animal you’re trying to evict dies and your dog eats it (because dogs are gross sometimes!) your dog will ingest whatever killed that animal, and potentially be poisoned themselves.


Dog digging to get to critters


Overheated dogs may dig to get to a cooler surface


Soil temperature is cooler than air temperature, and the farther beneath the surface the cooler it is.


A dog that is feeling hot may take advantage of this fact, and dig their way to cooling off. If you see your dog digging a large area and then laying in it, this is most likely what’s happening.


In order to prevent this type of digging, you should find ways to help keep your dog cool. If at all possible try not to leave your dog outside too long during the heat of summer.


Other options include ensuring that there's a shady area. If you don't have natural shade in your yard, they do sell things like doggy cabanas that can be set up to provide shade for your dog.


Try to set up whatever you're using to create shade in the coolest part of your yard. It may mean that you have to walk around and see if one area is cooler than another, or if one area gets a better breeze than another area. These areas may change from day to day.


In addition to providing your dog with plenty of drinking water, you may also want to provide your dog with a way to immerse themselves in water. Kiddie wading pools are an inexpensive way to do this. If you have a small dog make sure that the water isn't too deep. If you have a large dog make sure that the pool you purchase is big enough for your dog to lie down in it. I have found that wading pools don't hold up well from year to year. If you have a store that sells farming supplies in your area, you may want to look into a rubber stock tank. They are much more expensive than a cheap wading pool, but will hold up well for many, many years.


Water can get dirty very quickly and if left too long can grow bacteria that may make your dog sick. It is not safe to use bleach in a pool in which your dog is going to be laying, as it can be toxic to your dog if they drink it. Instead, be sure to change the water every couple of days, and scrub the inside of the pool.


Dog cooling off in tub of water


Frightened dogs may dig to escape


Another reason dogs dig at the fence line is because they are afraid of something and are desperate to find a way to safety. I used to work at an animal shelter and one of the busiest times for picking up strays was around the 4th of July when fireworks were going off.


Some common fears could be loud noises like fireworks, thunder or construction noises. Additionally dogs suffering from separation anxiety may panic when left alone and attempt to escape the yard.


If your dog gets nervous about loud noises, it’s best to keep them indoors if you know there’s a storm coming in, or if a holiday involving fireworks is on the calendar.


If your dog suffers from separation anxiety it may be tempting to leave your dog in the yard to prevent destruction to your house when you’re not there, but remember that destruction is a symptom of the severe fear a dog suffers when left alone. It’s better to find a way to not leave your dog alone and work on resolving the separation anxiety.



Dogs might dig to get TO something on the other side


There are reasons a dog may want out of your yard other than boredom. If you live in an area with a lot of wildlife, your dog’s predatory instincts might kick in and they may want to go hunting.


Additionally, an intact male may smell a female in heat from as far as 3 miles away. The impulse to mate may be stronger than the desire to stay home.


Dog digging under fence


Dogs may dig to bury toys or food


There are a few reasons why dogs bury toys and food in the yard.


Dogs are natural scavengers. Wild canids will often bury food in the ground to save it for later, when food is scarce. Burying food helps keep it cool, and protects it from scavengers so that it can be retrieved and eaten later. This behavior is known as "caching."


Although your dog may be well fed and doesn’t need to save food for later meal, that instinct to cache may still be a part of your dog’s genetic make-up.


Another reason is that if a dog is bored, they may start burying things as a way to entertain themselves. This is especially common if the dog doesn't get enough exercise or mental stimulation.


Some dogs may bury things as a way to cope with anxiety. This is especially common in dogs who have been abused or neglected in the past.



Additional prevention measures


If your dog is digging in your garden area, then the easiest thing to do is to fence it off so that your dog can’t get in there. Dogs are drawn to soil that is easy to dig in, and your garden has a surface is much easier to dig up than sod! If you make your dog their own digging box and they get into the habit of using it, the fencing around your garden could be temporary.


Alternatively, instead of the soft soil that dogs typically prefer to dig in, you can make the ground in your garden area unpleasant to dig by using landscaping rocks or woodchips.


If your dog is engaging in digging consistently in the same area, placing your dog’s poop in the hole and covering it up may deter some dogs from continuing to dig. Another common tactic is to sprinkle Cayenne Pepper over a hole in progress. As the dog digs the powder will waft up and be an unpleasant consequence.


For dogs that dig to get out of the yard you can prevent escape a couple of ways.


  • You can buy fence extension spikes that provide an underground barrier.

  • Pour concrete or partially bury concrete blocks at the base of the fence.

  • Place rocks at the base of the fence.

  • Lay wire fencing on the ground in front of the fence. You can even cover it with soil and grass seed.

  • Install a privacy fence or insert fence tape in your chain link so that your dog can’t see wildlife, people or other dogs.



Conclusion


There are many reasons a dog may dig in the yard. The first step is figuring out why, and then addressing the actual root of the problem.


Additionally, extra enrichment and exercise may partially or even totally alleviate the problem of a dog that digs. Dogs that are bored or have excess energy are more likely to dig than one that has all of their mental and physical needs met.


 

Do you need help training your dog? I offer virtual consultations for separation anxiety resolution, as well as for other behavioral issues or training needs.


I also offer in-person training within a 30 minute drive of Ixonia, WI.


I would love to work with you and your dog!


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