If you’ve ever lived with a dog who digs holes, every excursion outside could be fraught with peril.
Sprained ankles and the systematic destruction of your lawn are only the beginning. If he’s digging under the fence to go for a stroll by himself, he may be angering the neighbors and endangering himself if he encounters traffic or unfriendly animals.
Luckily, there are quite a few solutions you can try in order to curb this naughty habit and get your yard back to normal, so we’ve collected them here.
Read on to learn about the reasons dogs dig and find the right solutions for you and your earth-moving pup!
How to Stop a Dog From Digging: Key Takeaways
- Dogs like to dig for a number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons include boredom, anxiety, and the pursuit of freedom, but other doggos just dig because it is fun!
- The first step in stopping your dog’s digging problem is addressing the cause of the behavior. Once you have identified the root cause of the problem, you can implement management, medicinal, or training solutions to correct the issue.
- We identify 16 different strategies that may help prevent your pooch from digging. Some of the most effective solutions for problem digging include providing more mental stimulation or exercise, physically preventing your dog from digging, and addressing your dog’s emotional issues.
Why Do Dogs Dig, Anyway?
Most dogs dig because, for some reason, they love it!
It sure would be nice if we could hand a survey to our dogs so they could just fill in some checkboxes letting us know why they feel inclined to dig holes in our yards.
But since we can’t do that, we may need to do some sleuthing to figure out the motivation behind our dog’s actions. This way, we can move forward with the most effective solutions.
We’ll go over some common reasons why dogs dig and recommend some action plans and solutions so you can say goodbye to a yard that looks like the moon!
A few reasons dogs may dig holes include:
- High levels of unfocused energy or excitement
- A desire to catch small burrowing animals
- A genetic predisposition to enjoy digging
- Hormonally-driven drive to find mates
- Laying in cool dirt when overheated
How to Stop Your Dog from Digging Holes: 16 Strategies for Success
No matter what the dog’s motivation for digging is, it is a behavior that we can usually focus or extinguish, depending on our expectations for our pet dogs and how much energy we can dedicate to changing the behavior.
Your dog may need a combination of strategies to be employed in order for his digging behavior to be changed, so don’t give up if the first thing you try isn’t a complete success!
1. Manage Your Dog Differently
Controlling how much access your dog has to areas where he digs and supervising him while he is there are great ways to prevent your dog from practicing the digging behavior you want to stop.
To that end, you’ll want to:
- Figure out when and where the digging usually happens.
- Stop giving your dog unsupervised access to the areas where he tends to dig (using dog-proof fencing or an outdoor tie-out tether can help with this step).
- Prevent rehearsal – keep your dog from practicing the digging behavior as much as possible.
2. Eliminate Your Dog’s Incentive to Dig
Some dogs are motivated to dig by a particular incentive, and if we get rid of that, then the digging behavior will disappear.
Since your dog probably won’t just tell you why he wants to dig, you may have to do some investigating to figure out why he’s digging.
There’s no quick-and-easy way to explain how to do this — you’ll just have to watch your dog and try to interpret his motivations.
But once you’ve discovered why he’s digging, you can take steps to remove the incentive.
- If your dog is digging only when it’s hot out and then lays in the dirt, providing him somewhere to cool off can help. Providing a small dog pool, some shade, or misters to cool an area of the yard can help eliminate your dog’s need to cool down by digging.
- If your dog is hunting small animals who live in the yard (a common excavation motivation), acquiring the help of a professional exterminator can remove his motivation to dig them out of the ground. You may also want to consider learning about general strategies for reducing and managing a dog’s prey drive.
- If your dog is digging because he’s bored, you may want to provide him with more stimulation. This can take the form of a stuffed KONG, a spring toy, or simply more frequent games of fetch in the backyard.
3. Redirect Your Dog Before He Digs
Getting your dog’s attention and giving him something else to do when he’s acting like he wants to dig is an excellent way to encourage him to do something new with his energy.
Your dog wants to DO something! Keep trying new activities until you find one your dog loves to do at least as much as digging. This means you’ll want to:
- Supervise your dog when he goes outside.
- If he starts to head toward a place he’s dug before, get his attention. If you interrupt him once he’s already started to dig, he can quickly understand that digging gets him more of your attention, and that’s no good.
- Once you’ve got his attention, give him something constructive and fun to do. This may mean giving him a toy or chew, or engaging in a dog-friendly game — playtime with your pooch, from fetch to frisbee, often works wonders!
- Flirt poles can be a fantastic outdoor distraction, especially for dogs with a high prey drive!
4. Introduce a Relaxation Protocol
If your dog digs when he gets overexcited, asking him to relax instead is a great way to change how he feels, which can also change how he acts.
Training your dog to relax on cue is a great solution, it just takes patience and practice. To do so, you’ll need to:
- Start by teaching your dog how to do a relaxation protocol.
- Make sure your dog understands basic body position cues like “Sit” and “Down.” A basic understanding of “Stay” can help too, but the dog’s understanding of stay will grow a great deal as you teach and practice the protocol.
- Do a training session to practice the protocol each day, focusing on succeeding at one day at a time, moving on to the next day’s worth of exercises when the dog is doing well, until all 15 days worth of exercises has been completed.
- Practice the last few days’ exercises in a number of different locations, gradually adding more distance and distractions as the dog is successfully able to continue to build consistency.
- When your dog is digging, or is acting like he may begin to dig soon, call him over to you and cue him to relax instead.
5. Provide More Exercise
Many dogs need more exercise, and some dogs have figured out that digging is a great way to use up some extra energy!
Digging may also allow your doggo to escape the confines of the yard, giving him the chance to trot around the neighborhood and burn off even more steam.
But you can put an end to this by helping your dog expend some energy before he hangs out in the yard. Some of the best ways to accomplish this include:
- Give your dog an extra walk or run each day.
- Purchase a dog backpack or some saddlebags. Load these up, and then let him wear them to increase the amount of energy he expends (just make sure to start conditioning the dog to wear it while it’s empty, then slowly add weight — up to 15% of the dog’s total weight).
- Play more active games with your dog, like fetch or tug.
6. Provide a Place Fido Can Dig
Some dogs love to dig so much that no amount of management, redirection, or exercise seems to put a dent in this desire.
But giving your dog a dig box is a great way to focus his digging energy in an appropriate place, and it can also provide the two of you a great place to play digging games together.
To set your doggo up with a dig box, you’ll want to:
- Buy a premade sandbox or build a wooden frame to delineate the dig box and put clean sand or fill dirt inside it.
- Encourage your dog to dig in the box, and reward him for choosing to dig in the box by giving treats and playing games there.
7. Provide More Chews or Toys
If your dog has spent much time at all in your backyard, he’s probably explored all the nooks and crannies. This means he may become bored if he doesn’t have much to do while hanging out there.
But giving him some toys to play with while he’s alone can do wonders to keep him engaged and happy.
Interactive dog toys that contain treats or some kibble are a great way to encourage him to actively forage for snacks, so they’re great for keeping dogs focused and entertained.
Some toys, like the Tumbo Tugger, can even be attached to secure structures or trees so the dog can play with it by himself more easily.
Just be sure to rotate the toys regularly to keep things fresh and interesting.
8. Address Treat-Hiding Behavior
Some dogs seem to feel that keeping some of their treats and toys safe for later by burying them is a great idea. The dog will dig a hole, place the treats or toys in the bottom, and replace the dirt.
The most common items that get stashed are long-lasting chews, such as bones, antlers, yak cheese chews, bully sticks, and dental chews. Dogs who bury treats may also be overfed, or they may just be bored.
If your dog is digging in association with treat-hiding behavior, you may want to try the following:
- Provide long-lasting chews inside the house or in a crate.
- Give your dog a chew for a specific amount of time, then trade him for a treat and put the chew away for later.
- Give your pooch smaller treats, or wait longer after meals to give him treats.
- Provide your doggo with an accessible, specific place where his toys are kept, and keep putting his toys there so he worries less about losing his toys.
9. Address Underlying Emotional Issues
Some dogs dig to reduce their feelings of stress or anxiety, especially if they experience isolation distress or separation anxiety when left alone.
Digging is not the only symptom we may see when dogs are experiencing these feelings. Other symptoms include:
- having unexpected bathroom accidents (even after being house trained previously)
Panting, pacing, drooling, trembling, depression, and repetitive or compulsive behaviors are other, sometimes less-noticeable symptoms.
There are quite a few solutions available for these behaviors since these issues are a common concern for many owners these days.
Each dog will require a unique combination of solutions to solve their emotional issues, which may include:
- Crate train your dog so he has a safe, secure place to wait for your return.
- Give your dog calming supplements or treats before you leave.
- Practice the “Calming Yo-Yo Exercise” with your dog to increase his tolerance of being away from you. To do this, you’ll essentially want to:
- Secure your dog in a crate, attach him to a tether, or sequester him behind an indoor dog gate so he can’t follow you. It’s a good idea to mix it up from time to time and use all of these restraints.
- When your dog is calm, take a step away from him, click your training clicker, and return to him with a treat. Next, take two steps away, then three, clicking when you stop taking steps away and returning to him if he is still calm.
- If your dog begins to show excitement or anxiety, wait quietly until he’s calm, then return to him and start the exercise over by taking one step away before returning.
- If you get to the edge of a room, don’t move out of sight yet. Practice until he has done well with this exercise in all the rooms of your house.
- Next, move out of your dog’s sight for one second, then click and return if he stays calm. Add seconds with you out of sight like you initially added steps away from him (one at a time), and notice when he reaches his tolerance for stress and starts to get upset.
- Using a baby monitor or pet camera, so you can hear your dog in case he gets upset during these increasingly longer periods of time when he can’t see or hear you can be useful. Keep using a stopwatch so you know exactly what his time limits are for continued calm. The goal is that he will be able to stay calm without you being present for long periods of time.
- Take your pupper to a dog day care, or to a friend or relative’s house when you have to go somewhere he cannot accompany you.
- Ask your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist if anxiety medication is an option for your dog as you teach him how to feel less stressed when you have to leave him alone.
10. Use Physical Digging Deterrents
Some dogs are quite determined to dig, and using a physical barrier or deterrent to keep them from causing damage is a good solution.
Since the target of a dog’s digging can vary widely, there are a few options that can help wherever your dog has been digging the most.
Some of the things you may want to try include:
- Fill in the holes. Many dogs love to dig in loose, soft soil, and the edges of their own holes are often spots they choose to continue digging. Filling the hole with large rocks first and the dirt they dug out second can make that spot less fun for your dog to dig up again later.
- Fencelines are common spots where digging dogs focus their energies, especially if they are trying to escape the yard. In these cases, you may want to:
- Bury the bottom foot or two of your fence, or dig a thin trench directly under the fence and attach hardware cloth to the fence that extends vertically into the ground, then replace the dirt.
- Dig a shallow trench in the dirt near and under the fence a few inches and place paving stones, bricks, or pour concrete into the ground so they’re slightly lower than the surrounding ground. Make sure to place them close together and cover them with a thin layer of dirt, packing the dirt tightly around the bricks.
- Plastic fencing can be placed flat on the ground and staked in place in the areas that the dog has been digging – metal fencing is not recommended since the dog is more likely to incur an injury if they try to dig through the fencing.
- Replace soft dirt with gravel or larger rocks. This can help in areas the dog has been digging, or anywhere the dirt is soft and sandy.
- Fence off the area where your dog has been digging. Preventing the dog from rehearsing the problem behavior can help extinguish it, especially if they have new things to do in the areas they are allowed in.
11. Give Your Dog a Shelter
Dog houses can actually help prevent some dogs from digging.
For example, if your dog is digging because he’s trying to escape temperature extremes or create a safe space to retreat when he gets scared, a shelter may solve his digging problem.
In fact, many areas in our country require dog owners to provide shelter to their dogs if they are left outside longer than 30 minutes.
When giving your dog a shelter, try to keep the following things in mind:
- A doghouse’s size should be based on your dog’s size. He should be able to enter the door easily and stand up and turn around inside.
- Placing the doghouse in the shade can keep it cooler in the summer.
- Putting straw or blankets for additional insulation in the doghouse during the winter can help your dog retain body heat.
12. Make Sure Your Dog Isn’t Pregnant
If your female dog has been digging persistently and seems a little plumper than normal, it’s possible that she may be pregnant and is attempting to create a safe space to birth her puppies.
If you think your dog may be pregnant (or you’re just trying to check off all the potential reasons for her digging behavior), do the following:
- Make an appointment with your veterinarian to get your dog a checkup. She may need to have supplements or other dietary changes to support the pregnancy.
- Give her a whelping box or kiddie pool with some blankets inside. It should be easy for her to walk in and out of but tall enough to contain her puppies. Once she realizes the spot you gave her will meet her needs, she will probably stop digging.
13. Spay or Neuter Your Dog
Dogs may dig as a way to escape the yard, and escape attempts may occur for a variety of reasons. But searching for a sweetie pie is a powerful incentive which could be at the root of your dog’s digging attempts.
Getting your dog fixed will remove the hormonal drive to leave your property to search for other dogs to reproduce with.
Make sure to manage their behavior carefully for a couple of months afterwards, since their hormone levels will be dropping gradually during this time and that makes it a prime time to encourage new habits.
14. Apply Digging Deterrents
Some dogs will stop digging in an area where something unpleasant has been added to the soil. But while deterrents are often effective, you’ll want to avoid using anything that may harm your pooch.
Dogs have varying responses to these types of discouraging soil additives, and they usually need to be applied frequently when you begin to use them.
To add a digging deterrent to your yard:
- Apply the deterrent (citrus slices, peels or oils; diluted vinegar; commercially made products; dog poop) in and around the area where the dog has been digging.
- Reapply the deterrent anytime it rains, or if you notice the dog digging in that area again.
15. Get Involved in a Digging Dog Sport
Some dogs are genetically inclined to dig because of their breed or breed mix. In order to channel that drive, people have created organized dog sports so exemplary diggers can channel these innate abilities.
A couple of the most common doggo digging sports include:
- Earthdog is a sport where smaller dogs are encouraged to dig and search for a target animal in premade tunnels. They are judged on their speed, tracking ability, and drive. The target animals (usually rats) are kept contained and safe during the trials.
- Barn Hunt is a great sport for dogs of any size who are interested in finding small animals. A maze of hay bales is created where the dogs race against the clock to find three rats in protected tubes the fastest.
16. Install Motion Sensor Sprinklers
If your dog doesn’t like to be sprayed with water, putting some sprinklers in the areas that he has been digging is a great way to easily and consistently discourage him from spending time there.
People have successfully been using these types of sprinklers to keep deer from eating their lawns and gardens for some time.
Just keep the following things in mind:
- If your dog likes water, this is not a good solution — they’ll just be playing in the spray and digging in mud instead!
- If your dog is digging because he’s too hot and he likes to be sprayed with water, a sprinkler like this may be the perfect solution, as it’ll eliminate his incentive to dig! Just set the sprinkler up in the middle of your yard and show him how to use it.
Some Breeds Like to Dig More than Others
Some of our favorite types of dogs were born to dig!
Terriers, hounds (including dachshunds, basset hounds, beagles, and others), and high-energy breeds (including huskies, cattle dogs, border collies, and others) are particularly likely to find joy in over-aerating your yard.
These dogs aren’t naturally naughty, but if there’s fun to be found under the turf, they are more likely to go searching for it.
Dogs with a high drive to dig tend to respond best to a multi-faceted solution. So, you may need to implement more than one of the strategies discussed above.
Also note that, for a determined digger, understanding that your dog is a unique pooch and appreciating that his love of digging is an aspect of his personality is important.
You may never completely remove digging from your dog’s behavioral repertoire, but finding compromises that work for both of you will help you live happier, less-stressed lives together.
Digging the Differences Between Dogs and Puppies
Having discussed some of the reasons dogs dig, we must also be mindful of the fact that dogs and puppies experience different types of reinforcement when digging.
For example, because adult dogs usually dig when we aren’t around, it is something trainers call a self-reinforcing behavior. If nothing in the dog’s world changes, he will probably keep doing this behavior as long as it keeps making him happy.
Puppies are a bit different though. In contrast to adult dogs, puppies are notorious for digging when people are around, mostly because it gets them a bunch of attention!
This means their digging is a socially-reinforced behavior, and if they stop getting the attention they expect when they start to dig, the behavior will often gradually disappear.
Keep these differences in mind when you start trying to put an end to your doggo’s digging issue.
How Much Digging Is OK? When Is It a Problem?
The amount of digging a dog is allowed to do is usually defined by the people who care for him.
If that person loves to have a beautiful lawn and keeps expensive plants or gardens extensively, the amount of digging their dog is allowed to do may be none.
If the owner lives in the country and the dog is able to dig anywhere he wants to, there may be no limit to how much digging is permitted.
But while you may not really care if your dog digs hole after hole in the backyard, there are some cases in which the behavior can become problematic.
For example, some dogs become so habituated to digging that it can cause a problem. A few signs that indicate your dog’s digging habit has exceeded healthy levels and must be addressed include:
- Broken or ripped out toenails, bloody or raw paw pads or toes, injuries on the dog’s nose, or scratches on the back or belly from squeezing under fencing.
- Your dog is digging up items and has been chewing or eating them (ex. eating rocks or dirt).
- Your dog seems to spend all their time digging and is having trouble focusing on or doing anything else.
- Your neighbors have gotten in touch letting you know your dog has been getting out and causing trouble, and you find holes dug under your fence.
In any of these cases, you’ll need to take action and curtail the behavior.
Digging Dog FAQs
Here are a few of the most common questions we’ve come across that dog owners tend to wonder when their dog has recently become their own personal excavator.
Why is my dog digging so much?
There are many reasons why dogs dig. Sometimes their genetics encourage them to do it, sometimes their energy levels are bigger than their yard can handle, and sometimes a medical issue is the root cause.
Check out the strategies and solutions section earlier in the article to help you find clues to figure out why your dog has started to dig, and how to get to work on changing their new favorite habit.
Do dogs outgrow digging holes?
It depends on the dog, and their motivations for digging. Puppies who’re digging for attention may stop if their people start to ignore them when they dig.
However, most older dogs repeat behaviors they find reinforcing, so if he likes laying in the cool dirt he dug up, or thought it was awesome when he finally caught one of those pesky moles, he’ll probably keep digging because he liked the result.
Removing the motivations for the digging behavior or providing a solution that your dog likes more than digging will usually cause the dog to stop digging.
Can you use cayenne pepper or ammonia to stop a dog from digging?
Applying a digging deterrent where your dog has been focusing their digging energy may help discourage them from digging, or it might not. These two types of soil additives are not recommended, as they can cause skin, eye, and gastric irritations to dogs.
Citrus, citronella, and vinegar are common scents that many dogs find unpleasant, and there are plenty of commercially available repellent options to make sure what you put in and on the dirt to discourage digging won’t hurt your dog.
Why has my dog suddenly started digging?
Your dog may suddenly start digging if a medical issue is the cause (pica, pregnancy, nutritional deficiency, poisoning), or it might be because he only recently discovered that he really enjoys digging.
Perhaps the weather just warmed up and your dog got too hot, so he may be digging to cool down, or maybe a family of rodents just moved in underground in your yard – there are many things that could motivate a dog to dig!
If a female dog down the street just went into season, your intact male dog may be trying to dig out of his yard in order to pay her a visit.
Did anything change in your dog’s life recently? Figuring that out may help you deduce your dog’s motivation for all the recent digging, which can help you find the best solution to change their behavior.
Is my dog digging holes because he’s sick?
There are a few medical reasons why a dog may dig holes, and eliminating those possibilities by making an appointment with your veterinarian first will help to rule them out as motivators for your dog’s behavior change.
There are lots of reasons why dogs dig, and if one of the other success strategy scenarios earlier in the article sounds a lot like the situation at your house, it may be worth giving the solution a try to see if it helps change your mega-digger’s behavior into something you can live with.
Do you have a dog that digs holes? Where does he love to dig the most? What solutions worked best for you and your furry friend when you realized his digging was a problem?
Share your experiences (and any questions you may have) in the comments below!