Dogs dig in the earth for many reasons, and while it is often a natural and instinctual behavior many homeowners would prefer that their yard were not covered with doggy foxholes. Dog owners who have homes in the country with large yards may not consider it such a problem but those living in town would probably prefer their yards to be more presentable. Figuring out why your dog digs is the first step in stopping, or at least controlling, this undesirable behavior.
The summer heat may cause your dog to dig to find a cool spot to lie in. Dogs don’t take the heat as well as humans, especially heavy-coated breeds. Give him a place to cool off, perhaps a child’s pool, sand box, insulated dog house, or an access opening underneath the deck, and he may not be so inclined to dig. Even when the heat is not extreme he may just find a hole comfortable for nesting, and females will tend to dig for this reason more than males. Usually this behavior only results in one hole, although it may be a big one, and you may just decide to live with it if it is not in a location where it might cause someone to trip or twist an ankle.
Dogs may dig out of boredom or frustration. They just want something to do and digging is fun! Leaving your dog alone in the yard for long periods of time may encourage him to dig just to keep active and burn off excess energy. Spend time playing with your dog, tossing a ball for him to chase, taking extended walks, or leave plenty of toys in the yard to keep him entertained and exercised.
Anxiety may cause a dog to attempt to escape a situation that frightens him. Separation anxiety may cause him to dig under the fence in an effort to find you. Fear of thunderstorms or other phobias may cause an escape attempt. He may be afraid of another pet in the yard. Consult a veterinarian to discuss treatments for anxiety, including desensitization therapy or anti anxiety medications.
There may be interesting sights, sounds, or smells on the other side of the fence, and he may be digging under the fence to satisfy his curiosity. An unspayed or unneutered dog may be digging to escape in an attempt to find a mate. Having your pet “fixed” will reduce its desire to roam. Put up barriers to reduce his exposure to what’s on the other side. Make digging unpleasant by sprinkling the ground next to the fence with pepper or citrus sprays designed to repel animals.
Repellents may also discourage your dog from digging up your flower garden. Well-cultivated gardens are fun to dig because the soil is already so loose and inviting! Placing chicken wire or screen under the mulch will soon teach your dog that flower garden digging is not for him.
Many dog breeds, especially dachshunds and terriers, were bred for aiding in the hunt by digging small game from its burrow. Dogs may dig instinctually because they catch the scent of a small prey animal, buried bones, or food. Homeowners who fertilize their lawn or garden with bone meal or blood meal may not realize the scent of these products are enticing to dogs and may end up with random holes all over the yard or flower gardens in disarray.
You may have to accept that some dogs just love to dig and set aside an area of your yard where you will allow him to indulge. Fill in any existing holes where he likes to dig and cover them with a board, large rocks, plastic, or water to discourage him from digging in the same spot. Keep an eye on him and when he starts to dig reprimand with a loud “NO” and lead him to the spot where digging is allowed. Bury bones or treats in the soil to encourage him to dig there. Praise him for digging in the appropriate spot. This will probably take a couple weeks of training but can be accomplished if you are vigilant and consistent.