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Is Your Dog A Problem Digger?

Updated on August 25, 2013
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


A Few Suggestions For Problem Diggers

"Hot diggity dog ziggity, boom what you do to me!" When Perry Como sang those words a little more than a few years ago (before your time, genXers), he was saying something akin to "Wild thing, you make my heart sing," (still before your time genXers).

For the purposes of this column, we'll change a letter and call it "dog diggity, boom what you do to me."

Because, if you have a diggity dog he probably drives you crazy. You invest considerable time, effort and money in keeping an attractive yard and he goes out there and digs it up!

There are all kinds of theories about why dogs dig, but there are a few common ideas that most behavioral specialists agree upon.

In previous gatherings on this site we've discussed "environmental enrichment," the things we do with or for our pets to help them deal with domestication.

I like to dig; you don't want me to dig.  Let's work this out.
I like to dig; you don't want me to dig. Let's work this out. | Source

They don’t have to hunt for prey, compete for mates, or defend territory…so what’s a dog to do? When bored, they often engage in self or environmentally destructive behavior. If we don't provide environmental enrichment for them, they’ll find their own, and we may not like it.

Digging is an example of self-play, and one way in which your dog provides his own environmental enrichment. If he's alone for periods of time without any interaction with other animals or humans, digging is a fun way to pass the time.

After all, you pass the time away by digging, too. When they see you engaged in gardening or yard maintenance activity, some behaviorists feel that dogs connect those dots, which leads to digging.

Toys that engage instinctive behaviors may be suitable alternatives for some diggety dogs.
Toys that engage instinctive behaviors may be suitable alternatives for some diggety dogs. | Source

There are some things you can try. First of all, try to spend more time with him. Take him for walks or play with him in the yard. In your absence, leave interesting toys for him to play with. I don't like to mention brand names, but will make an exception here. Kong toys.

If you're not familiar with them, they now come in a variety of shapes, but the classic style is a hollow, hard rubber toy shaped roughly like a caricature of a beehive. I recommend them all the time, and know veterinarians who recommend them, too.

They bounce erratically, which is usually very interesting to dogs, they're almost indestructible, and you can stuff some treats inside for them to work at. And there are other toys your dog may consider favorites. Be sure to rotate his toys so he frequently has something "new" to pique his interest.

Behaviorists also look at instinctive behaviors that digging may represent. Wild canids, for example, dig for insects and small animals, so your dog’s primal imperative could have him seeking prey. They also dig to provide protection for themselves from the heat, cold, wind or precipitation.

If that's a motivating factor for your diggity dog, providing a dog house, with the door off-centered, could help satisfy that need. A dog house with the door centered doesn't give him the opportunity to get out of the wind and precipitation like one with an off-center door does. Click on the above link to my hub, Doghouse Sweet Doghouse, for recommendations.

Another oft expressed theory is that he's seeking your attention, especially if he digs in your presence. Even if you yell at him, he's getting your attention, and you're unwittingly rewarding, thus reinforcing, that behavior.

He may also dig as a means of escape. Even though he's habituated to domestication, and seems happy being part of your pack, instinctively he's a nomad. Something in his pea-brain is telling him to split, even though he has the "life of Riley" at your house.

Wouldn't it be terrific if we could just ask him why he does it? Then, we could tell him to knock it off, whatever the reason is.

Ahhh, a place of my own!
Ahhh, a place of my own! | Source

If you have a little extra space in the yard, try establishing a "designated digging area" for your dog. You could even bury a few treasures there for him to find. Praise him for digging in that area, and deliver a guttural "NO DIG" or some other command if he digs elsewhere.

You'll have to work with him on that one, though. He's not going to understand the concept of a designated digging area just because you were nice enough to create one for him. And maybe you shouldn't let him see you gardening or planting shrubs.

If we knew for certain why they dig we could address those issues in a manner satisfactory to the dog, and we wouldn't have a digging problem. But, we don't know. And we do have a digging problem. So if you've got a diggity dog and it's a problem, there's no sure fire answer. You'll just have to keep trying things until something works.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Great story, Mary! Dogs often engage in "acquired" behaviors after seeing another do something. I had a customer whose dog (like many dogs) would eat poop. They finally broke him of the habit for a few years until he saw another dog eat poop. Bingo, right off the wagon. Thanks for stopping by.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      True story: my Min. Schnauzer , Baby , was never a digger until she watched my little 3 year old Great Granddaughter digging in my yard. I had given her a trowel and bucket to entertain herself while she was visiting. Baby stood by and watched her dig. Now Baby digs, too! She has created a hole in the dirt and goes there and just lays for hours on end. I call it her "dugout".

      I was thinking of making her a sandbox to dig in!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello, twilanelson, nice to meet you. Your profile page is enthusiastic and uplifting, and you write on a variety of interesting topics. I look forward to catching up with your hubs.

      The off-centered doors are especially important in cold or wet climates, but a lot of folks don't give it a second thought. I see a lot of those "igloo" style dog houses in stores, but they're really not appropriate for our climate here in New England.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • twilanelson profile image

      Twila Nelson 5 years ago from Carmichael, California

      Thank you for sharing some good ideas with us on how to deter our dogs from digging, and again reminding us to be patient and consistent when working with out dogs.

      I really never understood about the off centered doors, we used them in customized dog crates and I thank you for sharing with me a way to keep dogs much more comfortable and safe from the elements. Have a wonderful day.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi wetnosedogs, thanks for stopping by. Your dogs are fortunate to have a whole yard pretty much to themselves. I think every dog owner would like to be able to do that, but their own desire for the look of a well groomed yard supersedes that. I hope your dogs appreciate that.

      Good to see you, thanks for commenting. Regards, Bob

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      My dogs mostly dig to get cooled off. They do refresh their digs by digging more sometimes and just plop right down and seem quite content. It doesn't bother me since the back yard is mostly theirs. I do have a garden spot here and there and plants have gotten moved cause of digging.

      My youngest dog will dig or try to dig by the fence sometimes and I get busy reinforcing it and when she can't move anything, I assume it's good. She seems to give me the o.k. that I did a good job!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I can't believe I blew that one, Patty! I'll be more careful in the future. I hate wasted opportunities!

      Burying things is typical of canids. It's called caching behavior. They bury food for later consumption. Eeew.

      At our local zoo we had a red fox exhibit at one time, and the male would return to his cache after a few days and consume it. Eeew. Nothing like a piece of rotting flesh to satisfy a savage hunger!

      Your Kong story validates my appreciation of the toy. They're almost indestructible, although I have a breeder friend whose dogs could go through them like potato chips. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, good to see you. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 5 years ago from Midwest

      Thought for sure you'd add "Can you dig it?" in there somewhere, Bob!

      I do think it's so funny how they dig and then bury things. Reminds me of Casper burying his beloved kong right after he received it. Never knew what the heck happened to it until shortly after the new rescue was adopted. One day we found Neo lying beside of pile of freshly dug dirt and in his mouth was the kong...had to have been in the ground 5 years! We took this as a sign that the old gentle giant approved of the new pup and just wanted us to know....

      Thanks for another great article!