Why Do Dogs Dog Holes? Canine Behaviour Guide
I grew up in a household of passionate gardeners. A competitive spirit bloomed between my parents as they fought over who has the best flower patch. What they didn’t expect was that the dogs we adopted were also keen to help with the gardening!
Digging holes seems to be a natural part of doggy psychology. But is that a good enough reason to let your dog run amuck of your perfectly manicured lawn? Of course not!
So let’s get to the bottom of it. Why do dog dig holes and how can we stop them?
Your pup’s war on plants ends today.
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes? Is It Just Instinct?
The movies would have you believe that digging holes is as instinctual as barking or reading weemails through sniffing. And to a degree, they are right. The roots of digging holes can be traced back to your dog’s wolf ancestry. It is in their blood.
In certain cases, we - as in the human race - have even promoted this digging tendency and bred dogs to be even better diggers.
“Think about terriers. These dogs are also known as “earth dogs” because of their incredible commitment to following prey into tunnels in the earth, even if that means digging their way in. Humans purposefully developed these breeds to exhibit this behaviour.” - Stephanie Gibeault , American Kennel Club (1)
The Five Main Reasons Your Dog Digs
1. Looking for food/prey
This is the primal instinct that a dog is tapping into when they dig. Again, blame their great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. Wolves would dig for small rodents such as moles and rabbits to eat. Your dog may not consciously want to eat a rabbit, but I’m sure they wouldn’t pass up the opportunity if they found one.
As mentioned before, terriers were bred to catch rabbits and other burrowing animals too, so they just have a natural tendency to dig whenever they can. (2)
2. To bury prized possessions
This is another trait you can blame the ancestors for. Wolves are known to hide food by burying it to protect things that could be stolen. Our family dogs now do this to hide anything they may find valuable. Toys, food and bones are the prime candidates here. Don’t be surprised if, after an Easter Egg treasure hunt with the family, you happen upon your dog’s secret stash.
3. Denning (while pregnant)
Most pregnant animals nest. We do too. It’s a natural urge to make surroundings as protective and comfortable as possible. As part of a female dog’s denning instinct, they may take to digging more often. (3)
Dogs are clever. If you have a fence and they can see through to the other side, they know that digging is the easiest means of escape. If you have an escape artist on your hands, and a persistent one, it may be worth involving a pet behaviourist to support you, as well as investing in anti-dig products for your garden’s perimeter.
5. Because it’s fun!
behaviour is the best reason to do anything? Digging is pure joy for dogs. It eases boredom in a unique way that requires no input from anyone else. 9 times out of 10, this will be the main reason that your dog is digging, with a sprinkle of natural instincts thrown in. So this is the best course of action to solving the problem.
How to Stop A Dog From Digging
If your dog is making your garden into a wholly holier place than you would like, I introduce you to the three “D” method.
Deterrence is all about making it harder for your dog to dig in their favourite spots. Ever notice that your pooch typically digs in the same spots? Use that knowledge to your advantage. You can use garden decors such as furniture, boulders and other obstacles.
If you have a dog who likes to dig at the fence, there are perimeter products that can stop them by getting in the way effectively.
Related: The Best Dog Digging Repellents.
Another said of deterrence is training. Pet behaviourists and trainers may be able to help you train your dog with firm commands. Though this is usually only necessary if the DIY options on this three “D” list are ineffective.
Distraction is a beautiful thing. Remember, the prime reason your dog is digging, other than instinct, is boredom. So providing enriching mental stimulation is vital to avoiding this problem behaviour arising in the future.
So how do you entertain your dog? Very simply honestly!
There are so many great dog toys on the market. From chew toys for dogs who love to destroy, to puzzle toys for a thoroughly bored mind, knowing your dog’s personality will help you to find the right type of toy for them.
PRO TIP: Don’t go for the toy distraction technique if your dog is digging to bury things. More toys would just provide them with more prized possessions to bury. You don’t want that!
You can also combine toys and enrichment activities with high energy exercise. If you have a dog with tons of energy and ample drive to dig, maybe a run or agility class would be helpful for them to help keep them from bouncing off the walls. Terriers, the natural diggers, are great candidates for agility classes.
The last technique I will touch on is redirecting the energy. You could say that distraction is a form of redirecting. In this case, I mean the digging action specifically. If your dog wants to dig, and distraction and deterrence aren’t working, maybe it’s time to provide them with a safe place to dig!
There are sandboxes you can set up for this exact purpose. A designated place that your dog can dig away to their heart’s content without ruining your garden. (4)
Granted, a sandpit is not necessarily the aesthetic choice you may want to make for your garden, but we all make sacrifices for our fur children. A little sandbox at the base of your lawn is only a minor blip on your otherwise perfect yard. I’m sure multiple fresh holes in your lawn would be far more distressing to look at.
Your Garden Need Not Look Like Swiss Cheese
Overall, dogs dig because they are natural diggers. It’s in their DNA. It appeals to their protective tendencies. It’s also bags of fun!
With a bit of persistence and mental stimulation, you’ll be able to deter, distract or redirect your dog away from digging at your garden.
Terriers are the main criminals here. Scent hounds like Bloodhounds, Bassets and Beagles are also bred to be diggers. Super fluffy dogs like Chow Chows and Huskies also have a tendency to dig in the summer to find a spot to keep cool. (5)
- Gibeault, S. October 25, 2019. “Why Do Dogs Dig?”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-is-my-dog-digging/
- “How to get your dog to stop digging”. Humane Society. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/stop-dogs-digging
- Homan, J. August 3, 2018. “Why Dogs Nest When Pregnant”. Wag. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://wagwalking.com/behavior/why-dogs-nest-when-pregnant
- Bauhaus, J. January 30, 2021. “How to Get Your Dog to Stop Digging (& Why They Do It)”. Hill’s Pet. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/behavior-appearance/how-to-stop-dog-from-digging
- “The Dirt On Dogs Who Dig”. DogTime editorial. Retrieved February 25, 2023. https://dogtime.com/dog-health/dog-behavior/718-dogs-who-dig-aspca#/slide/1