Many dog owners who see their dog digging holes in their backyard wonder – Why is my dog digging holes all of a sudden? Normally, an experienced owner has a fair idea regarding this behaviour but, at times they too get confused. The question bothers new dog owners a lot.
Many dog owners think that their dog is trying to mess up their backyard. Some owners even think that their dog is doing it on purpose. You are probably surprised but these are some common misinterpretations.
So, this article intends to provide clarity on this aspect. The clarification is crucial because being a vet myself, I have seen dog owners give up their dog ownership for this behaviour. Hence, if you had similar intentions or were just wondering why dogs dig holes in the backyard, keep reading!
Why Is My Dog Digging Holes All of a Sudden?
Digging is a natural behaviour for dogs. For instance, they dig to hide their precious food. Similarly, digging holes is also a natural instinct but, there are a number of reasons which can make them do this. But, before we get into the details let us understand dogs digging behaviour.
The behaviour of digging tracks back to a dog’s wolf ancestors. You can also consider this as a part of Dogdom as barking or sniffing. This is one of the reasons why some breeds used to hunt in underground dens.
Further, the digging behaviour has gotten stronger with human nurturing. For example, terrier-breed dogs (also referred to as earth dogs) have a strong tendency of following their prey no matter what.
So, even if they have to dig through the earth and get to their pre, they will do it. In fact, many dog owners have encouraged this behaviour in such dogs, and that’s why you see many dogs digging around.
Why do dogs dig holes?
Similar to normal digging behaviour, humans have had a substantial role in facilitating dogs digging holes behaviour. One of the factors contributing to dogs’ digging hole instinct is the fact that the majority of them were bred with natural diggers. Also, these dogs were mainly accompanied by burrowing professionals and hence, the urge to dig never went away.
Reasons For Dogs Digging Holes
Dogs being accompanied by burrowing professionals is not the only reason for their behaviour of digging holes. You may see your dog dig holes randomly in your backyard. There are many possible reasons for such behaviour i.e. stress, boredom, anger etc. Let us understand some of these reasons in detail:
We, humans, have a stress-release activity set for ourselves when we are stressed. Our canine friends are also known for coping with their stress through some activity. Digging holes is one such activity. While there are other ways dogs relieve stress, digging holes is a joyful activity for them.
They dig holes to overcome separation anxiety, or after experiencing any stressful event. So, when you see your dog digging holes in your backyard, see if they are stressed out or not.
You may have seen your dog destroy stuff or chew on them when they are bored. But, at times, they will start digging up holes as they feel busy and distracted because of the activity. If they are bored quite often, it indicates that they are not getting enough exercise and playtime with you.
- Lack of exercise and mental stimulation
When your dog isn’t receiving enough exercise, they will get bored, feel anxious and eventually get frustrated. The highly energetic dogs will even get hyperactive and may act on their impulses. They dig holes because that is the best way they can use their conserved energy and also get exercise.
Exercising helps with mental stimulation and hence, your furry friend is unconsciously choosing to dig holes as it will help them get exercise and mental stimulation. But, this also suggests that you are not providing your furry friend with enough exercise or mental stimulation activity.
- Lack of attention
Many dog owners leave their dogs in the backyard to play. There is nothing wrong with this but, making it a habit may have a mental effect on your dog. They will feel ignored. So, to gain your attention, they may dig holes in the backyard.
Further, many owners make the mistake of responding to such behaviour. You are wondering why it’s bad? It’s bad because your dog will consider this as the only way to get your attention. So, you need to try and spend more time with the dog without them having to dig holes to get your attention.
If your dog is left alone in the house regularly, it will develop separation anxiety, get bored, and also feel lonely. All these feelings pile up and can make them go crazy. You shouldn’t get surprised after seeing holes around your garden and the other mess they make.
Some dogs have the genetic trait and are prone to digging behaviour. The behaviour is passed on through ancestors and some dog breeds are more impulsive or compulsive diggers in comparison to the others. There are many dogs who are actively involved in the burrowing processes and when they are rehomed or petted, they are likely to show such behaviour.
Your dog will dig holes in the garden for protecting their stuff. They try and keep their food items and toys in the holes they dig. This behaviour is normal, especially when there is a new dog in the house.
When you pet a new dog, they will get insecure and start safeguarding their spots and hiding their things. You will see them running around the backyard with a toy in their mouth. This is a classic giveaway that they are trying to hide it. You will see your furry friend bury the bones and other items.
However, this behaviour is also a reflection of their survival instinct. Before getting care from humans, when in the wild, they had to survive weeks or months with the food they gathered. They had to store it for survival purposes and hence, it’s tough for them to let go of this instinct.
- Trying to escape
Strange one but, true. Many dogs have that desire to escape and run off into the wild. They are escaping artists and when there is no way for them to escape i.e. jump off the wall or run through the gate, they try and dig a big hole. Sometimes, even with the fencing, they will make an attempt to dig near it and escape.
Dogs will dig holes if they smell the scent of some insects or another small animal that is running underground. The sense of movement and smell often makes them dig holes in the ground. In addition, it’s also possible that they are trying to find some water.
- Comfort (Denning Instinct)
Dogs are known for digging big holes in the ground just for comforting themselves, especially during hot summer. Dog breeds such as Chows Chows and huskies feel excessive warmth because of their heavy fur. Thus, they will dig some holes and spend their summer in those cool burrows.
In winter, the ground temperature is warm and the dogs will dig some holes for the warmth. This instance is also referred to as Denning instinct. Usually, the mother dogs are more likely to react to such instincts and make burrows for protecting their pups.
Possible risks for dogs digging
You are probably wondering why stop the dog from digging if it’s normal behaviour. Well, dogs digging may seem normal until they injure themselves or get an infection. Here are some of the possible risks for dogs who continuously dig:
- Broken nails – if the soil contains tiny stones and sharp objects, your dog may end up breaking their nails
- Paw injury – sometimes the tiny pebbles can get stuck in the paw and a dog will continue digging. If this pebble is not removed it can cause swelling in their paws.
- Broken bone – when your dog digs too many holes, they may forget them and while running around in the backyard, they may trip into one of them. This can break their bones.
- Infection – the mud can get stuck on dogs’ fur while digging. And even after immediate bathing, dogs show signs of suffering from an infection.
Stop Dog-Digging Holes
Dogs digging holes is not an issue until it becomes their habit. Dog owners also get frustrated seeing their backyard completely destroyed and end up yelling at them. This won’t make them stop and chances are they may suffer a mental breakdown or become less obedient. In any case, it’s not good.
So, to avoid any negative outcome, here are some of the ways you can stop your dog from digging holes in your garden:
#1 Keep your dog inside the house
This is the simplest way to stop your dog dig holes in the backyard. You can lock the doors and windows to ensure your furry friend doesn’t hop on in the backyard. However, locking your dog inside for longer periods can make them anxious, so, it’s best you take them out in the backyard for some time and play with them.
#2 Make sure your dog is stress-free
Stress can make your dog dig holes in the ground. It’s important you recognise the signs of stress and try to determine the underlying cause. Also, maintain a proper environment within the house. The slightest change can upset the dog and make them feel threatened or stressed.
#3 Provide proper training and exercise
Your dog often acts out and starts digging in your backyard because of a lack of physical exercise and training. Set up a routine, including playing activities, a walking schedule and some training for improving their obedience.
An hour of exercising or a training session will help your dog get both physical and mental stimulation. You can also use different games involving puzzle toys to make things more challenging and keep your dog busy.
#4 Obedience training and Food treats
Dogs love digging and that’s why you will see them disobey or completely neglect your commands. Hence, it becomes crucial you set up some cues that will instruct them to stop digging in the garden. Try using different methods you use while training your dog in general. Mix them up!
- Food treats – use this to distract them from their digging. If your dog is completely into digging they will not respond but, if you continue giving the treat for a couple of days, they might take the bait. You can also adjust their meal time in such a way that it overlaps with their digging time.
- Command – once you bait them into having their meal during their digging time, use a specific phrase or simply call them for having their meal. You can use “come”, “eat food” or something similar to build on their trust.
These will help you build a trust and baseline for using specific commands that will tell them to stop digging. To see if the food treat routine worked, you can try using the “stop” or “no digging” command after a few days. Observe their reaction, if they do stop and run towards you for the treat, give it to them.
#5 Provide them with a specific spot
If your dog is not disobeying you and following your cues to stop digging, you can provide them with a personal space or spot for digging. Build them a small crate or a house-like structure near the area they are continuously digging.
You can fill in some additional mud in this crate. This will make sure they dig near that region more. Using this technique you may also save your precious backyard from getting destroyed.
#6 Use sandbox
You can use a child-sized sandbox to fill in it with sand and redirect their attention to it. So, the next time you see them digging in the mud, you can use the command to stop them from digging. Afterwards, point in the direction of the sandbox and if they follow your command, give them some reward. This will encourage them to spend their time digging in the sandbox itself.
Using natural repellents is helpful in tackling the digging habit. The scent of oranges can set off your dogs can drive your dog away from the area. You can add this in your
These were some of the common methods you can use to stop your dog from digging. Still, if you feel like you need more options, don’t worry! Check out the additional methods given below:
- Use pebbles – you can use some small pebbles and spread them across the backyard. Once they begin to dig, the pebbles will hurt their paws while they are digging and it’s possible that they will stop digging.
- Add rocky and compact soil in the yard – soft sandy soil is easy for dogs to dig in. So, you can try adding some thick, rocky and compact soil as an additional layer.
- Pesticide – small insects are hard to ignore for a dog and using pesticides you can remove them to stop them from digging.
- Cover the dig holes – use a strong material barrier to cover the hole. The dog will have difficulty digging because of the obstruction and the material strength. For instance, a steel-type net barrier.
These were some of the additional methods you can leverage to stop or redirect your dog’s attention from digging. But, it’s important you use this method properly or else they may worsen their behaviour.
Things to avoid while handling dogs digging
As a dog owner, it’s important for you to avoid certain things while handling your dog’s digging habit. Any sort of mishandling may register a negative response in their mind. Here are the things you need to consider:
- Do not yell at your dog even if they are not responding properly to your cues or any other method you are using for controlling their digging habit. Because your scolding can manifest fear and this can make them stressed or worse act out in rage and dig even more.
- Avoid using toxic pesticides or repellent products. Using such products may have a poisonous effect.
- Try not to lock your dog inside the house for longer periods. Because they may start running around like crazy and end up damaging your stuff.
- Don’t make a habit of using harnesses, yes they work, but, often dogs will start digging despite the harness attached and doing so may hurt themselves.
- If you are using toys, pebbles, or hard items to block their movement in your yard, make sure they are not sharp or pointy. Otherwise, your furry friend may suffer paw injuries.
A female dog is digging holes to probably lie in the cool dirt in a hot temperature. This aspect is common for all dogs. They may also dig for getting shelter in rain, or cold or simply have some comfort. However, if your female dog is pregnant, it will start digging the hole as a response to its denning instinct. This means they will store their items there or just look for the food.
Dog digging in the mud suffers from Blasto i.e. Blastomycosis. This fungal infection resides in the soil and rotten materials. This infection targets the dog’s respiratory tract and then spreads across the dog’s body. The dog will probably suffer from pulmonary disease. Other clinical signs are fever, weight loss, loss of appetite and weight loss.
If you wish to ensure your dog doesn’t dig up the area again, use a mixture of compost that will contain some nasty smells that dogs don’t like. You add some lemon or orange to the mixture to compost mix and level it with the soil. When the dog will approach the soil and start digging it will stop after a brief moment. This happens because they sniff the dirt and the smell of lemon or orange will make them go away.
Breeds like Jack Russell Terriers, Dachshund, Beagle, Border Terrier, Chow Chow, Siberian Husky, and Border Collie are some of the prominent breeds that are prone to digging. So, if you are not willing to pet a dog who is likely to dig up your garden then you must avoid getting these dogs.
In general, dog digging is not considered a bad behaviour, but, because dogs destroy the yard and also get themselves dirty. This is a nightmare situation for dog owners, especially if they have set up their gardening. The dog owner has to immediately bathe the dog to avoid germs spreading in the house.
Why Is My Dog Digging Holes All Of a Sudden – Final Comment
In my final comment, I will suggest that if your dog is exhibiting the digging behaviour it’s normal, especially if you have the breed that is known for digging the most. In addition, it’s crucial to monitor your dog’s behaviour and see if they are digging holes all of a sudden, it’s possible they are stressed, anxious or suffering from other medical conditions.
Use different strategies for preventing dogs dig holes in the backyard, and see if they work. But, you cannot rely on these methods for a permanent fix. In fact, there is no permanent fix for this but, you can consult a vet and figure out a plan that will help in managing this behaviour.