Dogs that dig
A dog that digs is a common complaint among dog owners. While digging is not wholly bad, it is often undesirable and can lead to frustration building between dogs and their owners. To solve this problem, it is important to get to the root of the behaviour and understand why your dog is digging.
There are some very specific reasons why dogs dig – pregnant dogs may do this as a ‘nesting’ behaviour, as they attempt to find a safe place to deliver their puppies, and breeds such as terriers will often dig due to their prey drive when they catch the scent of a rodent.
Similarly, dogs that find themselves in a very hot environment may dig to access cooler earth below the surface. You may have noticed your dog laying down on cool surfaces such as kitchen tiles on hot summer days; these two behaviours have the same purpose.
Alternatively, a dog may dig as a result of imbalances in their emotional state. Digging can be a rewarding activity for a dog, and consequently is often something dogs turn to if they are frequently bored – this is when it can manifest as a long-term habit, so rectifying the behaviour sooner rather than later is the best option (more on that below).
A dog that suffers from separation anxiety may dig when left alone – this can be both an attempt to escape and a release of stress at the same time, and is part of a much more complex issue.
As there is such a diverse range of reasons for digging behaviour in dogs, we should examine the problem at the level of the individual to find a solution. Provision of things that may be lacking in the dog’s life may go some way to helping – for example, providing the dog with appropriate shelter from the weather, or ensuring that the dog has ample opportunity each day to exercise its mind through food toys or training.
In addition to fixing the issues that may be causing the digging behaviour, the dog will also need training to get it under control. It is much easier to teach a dog to dig in a specific place than it is to train them out of digging altogether, so if possible, set up a designated area in the garden in which the dog is allowed to dig.
If your dog begins digging in another part of the garden, it is important not to punish them (as this can have more serious consequences on other aspects of your dog’s life and training), but move them to the ‘digging area’ and praise them for engaging with that activity there.
Digging is not always a simple issue to work through and will take time and consistency to solve. The most important part of tackling digging (as with any behavioural problem) is to understand your dog’s motivations and provide for their needs.