(PET CARE) Most dogs dig, but some act as if their life goal involves destroying your flower garden. To help protect your yard and keep your pet from escaping under the fence, read these tips from the Humane Society on how to stop your dog from digging. — Global Animal
Learn how to stop your escape artist from tunneling under the fence. Photo Credit: Squidoo

Humane Society of the United States

Has your dog turned your lawn into a moonscape, with craters everywhere? If so, your dog isn’t doing this out of spite or a desire to destroy your landscaping. More likely he’s seeking entertainment, attention, comfort, escape, prey, or protection.

To address this problem, you first need to learn why your dog digs—and then figure out how to stop it.

Seeking entertainment

Dogs may dig to entertain themselves when they learn that roots and soil “play back.” Your dog may be digging for entertainment if:

  • He’s left alone in the yard for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with his human family.
  • His environment is relatively barren—with no playmates or toys.
  • He’s a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
  • He’s a terrier or other breed that was bred to dig.
  • He’s a particularly active type who needs a job to be happy (such as a herding or sporting breed).
  • He’s recently seen you “playing” in the dirt (gardening or working in the yard).

Recommendations

Expand your dog’s world and increase his people time in the following ways:

  • Walk your dog at least twice daily. Insufficient exercise is a leading cause of problem behaviors.
  • Redirect your dog’s energy by teaching him to fetch a ball or flying disk and playing with him as often as possible. (A tired dog is a good dog.)
  • Teach your dog a few commands or tricks. Practice these every day for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Take a training class with your dog and practice daily what you’ve learned.
  • Keep interesting toys in the yard to keep your dog busy when you’re not around. Kong®-type toys filled with treats or busy-box dog toys work especially well. Rotate the toys to keep things interesting.

For dedicated diggers, provide an acceptable area for their excavation activity:

  • Choose an area of the yard where it’s okay for your dog to dig, and cover the area with loose soil or sand. Or use a child-size sandbox.
  • If you catch your dog digging in an unacceptable area, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise and say, “No dig.” Then immediately take him to the designated digging area. When he digs in the approved spot, reward him with praise.
  • Make the unacceptable digging spots unattractive (at least temporarily) by placing rocks or chicken wire into the dirt.
  • Make the acceptable area attractive by burying safe items (such as toys) for him to discover.

Seeking prey

Dogs often dig in an effort to catch burrowing animals or insects that live in your yard. This may be the case if:

  • The digging is in a specific area instead of at the boundaries of the yard.
  • The digging is at the roots of trees or shrubs.
  • The digging is in a “path” layout.

Recommendations

Solve the prey problem by:

  • Searching for signs of burrowing animals, then use safe, humane methods to make your yard unattractive to them.
  • Don’t resort to methods that could be toxic or dangerous to your pets or other animals.

Seeking comfort or protection

In hot weather, dogs may dig holes to lie in the cool dirt. They may also dig to provide themselves with shelter from cold, wind, or rain or to find water. Your dog may be digging for comfort or protection if:

  • The holes are near foundations of buildings, large shade trees, or a water source.
  • Your dog doesn’t have a shelter or his shelter is exposed to the hot sun or cold winds.
  • Your dog is lying in the holes he digs.

Recommendations

Provide your dog with the comfort or protection he seeks:

  • Follow our tips for providing your dog with a comfortable doghouse that affords protection from wind and sun.
  • Your dog may still prefer a hole in the ground, in which case you can try providing an “approved digging area” as described above. Make sure the allowed digging area is in a spot that’s protected from the elements.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that can’t be tipped over.

Seeking attention

Any behavior can become attention-getting behavior if the dog learns that he receives attention for engaging in it. Remember, even punishment is attention. Your dog may be looking for attention if:

  • He digs in your presence.
  • He has limited opportunities for interaction with you.

Recommendations

 Provide your dog with the attention he deserves.

  • Ignore the attention-seeking behavior and give your pooch lots of praise for “good dog” behavior.
  • Make sure your dog has sufficient time with you on a daily basis. Walks, games of fetch, and basic training are all good ways to interact with your dog.

Seeking escape

Dogs may try to escape to get to something, to get somewhere, or to get away from something. Your dog may be digging to escape if:

  • He digs along the fence line.
  • He digs under the fence.

Recommendations

Figure out why your dog is trying to escape, and remove those incentives. Make sure his environment is a safe, appealing place for a dog.

To keep your dog in your yard:

  • Bury chicken wire at the base of the fence. Be sure to roll the sharp edges away from your yard.
  • Place large rocks, partially buried, along the bottom of the fence line.
  • Bury the bottom of the fence 1 to 2 feet below the surface.
  • Lay chain link fencing on the ground (anchored to the bottom of the fence) to make it uncomfortable for your dog to walk near the fence.
  • Work on modifying his behavior to stop his escape efforts.

What doesn’t work

Regardless of the reason your dog is digging, don’t:

  • Punish your dog after the fact. This won’t address the cause of the behavior, and it will worsen any digging that’s motivated by fear or anxiety.
  • Stake out your dog near a hole he’s dug or fill the hole with water. These techniques address neither the cause of the behavior nor the act of digging.

Next steps

If you’ve tried the recommended strategies and you still can’t solve your dog’s digging problem, keep him indoors with you and supervise him during bathroom breaks in the yard. You may also want to consult a behavior professional for additional help.

More Humane Society of the United States: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/digging.html

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