There are so many wonderful benefits to bringing a dog into your life. They love us unconditionally, add companionship to our daily lives, and can be so much fun to play, adventure, and train with. But, sometimes we forget that we ask a lot of our dogs when it comes to fitting them in our human-centric lives. They are still sentient animals with their own instincts and needs, after all! There are many frustrating situations that can occur where our dogs want to do one thing, while us humans would prefer they did something else. Issues with digging can be one common miscommunication.
Digging is generally a very normal and natural behavior for dogs to display. The amount or frequency of digging that you see can depend on the individual dog: their breed(s), their personality, energy levels, and current living situation can all have an influence on when and where they will display digging behavior. Some dogs dig often and in large quantities, some barely at all. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re likely seeing some pretty frequent digging and looking for solutions. Because this behavior is not generally abnormal, it’s pretty tough to try and eradicate it entirely. However, that doesn’t mean you have to let your dog continue to landscape your yard against your will!
When Dogs Dig For Enjoyment
We generally know dogs are digging for enjoyment when we see them digging holes around the yard that don’t necessarily look like attempts to escape. These holes are generally just scattered around the yard instead of being at or under fence lines or barricades to escape from confinement. We may see some dogs who really enjoy digging even start displaying the behavior on indoor surfaces as well! When your dog digs because they enjoy the behavior, it’s actually quite easy to provide them an appropriate outlet for this behavior and teach them to only display this behavior in certain areas or circumstances. A couple of common solutions include:
Dig pits can be made in all kinds of ways. The silly video I made here demonstrates a very cheap, minimal labor means of providing a dig pit for your dog. Just get a plastic kiddie pool and a few bags of play sand, then let your dog go to town! You can see sand does get kicked out of the kiddie pool, so I would recommend covering the ground underneath with tarp if you'd like to catch this sand and replenish it back into the kiddie pool as needed.
If you're looking for a deeper, heavier-duty solution, you can even look into building or purchasing an above-ground dig pit, similar to an above-ground garden, but just with dog-safe dirt or sand inside. You could also ensure the sides of the pit are higher this way to prevent as much spillage over the sides. Any time your dog goes to dig in the yard, if you have a dig pit, you can interrupt the behavior as it's happening, then bring your dog over to the pit and encourage them to dig there. Most dogs figure out after just a handful of redirections that the yard is off limits for digging, but the pit is where digging is allowed, and will start to choose to use the pit when they want to dig. It may even help during initial introductions to hide a few of your dog’s favorite toys for them to “find” in the digging area to build its value! Once your dog realizes their new dig pit is a really fun place to investigate, this will also help encourage them to gravitate to digging in this space as opposed to other areas in the yard.
For those of you looking for an indoor or higher-tech option, we've found the iDig toy to be a great way to give your dog an outlet for digging and to reduce seeing it in other inappropriate ways throughout your routine. This option is great for those of you with limited outdoor space or who are looking for a more portable option that you can take with you on the go. If you have a dog who really enjoys the act of digging, you could even bring this toy with you out and about when it makes sense to use as a reinforcer for training!
The iDig toy is made of durable material made to withstand the wear and tear of dog paws and nails, and has multiple flaps so you can even encourage your dog to use the toy by hiding other toys or treats inside the various different compartments. Check out this video to see how it works and how to introduce the game to your dog:
When Dogs Dig To Escape
We can also see an issue with inappropriate digging when our dogs are attempting to escape a means of confinement. This commonly looks like dogs who are digging underneath fences in the yard and trying to slip out underneath the opening. If your dog does successfully escape from your yard through digging out, it quickly becomes difficult to reduce the behavior without making some significant changes, as escaping the yard through digging can be heavily reinforcing for our dogs.
Some dogs attempt to escape from their yards when they are left by themselves in the area and become distressed about being alone. Often, we will see these dogs dig to escape their yards just as an attempt to try and get back inside the house! For these dogs, it is highly recommended to monitor and stay with your dog when they are outside in the yard. When you are unable to stay outside with your dog, they should come inside with you. Some dog owners are a bit frustrated with this advice, but it’s important that we remember that leaving our dogs alone when they are stressed by separation can significantly worsen the behavior as time goes on, and make it all the more difficult to address in the long run. If your dog struggles with separation and being left alone, reach out to us! We can help through systematic, data-driven virtual training that will teach your dog how to better cope with absences over time.
Other dogs will attempt to dig out of their yards because of issues with boredom or lack of stimulation. This often looks like dogs who dig out of their yards and then take themselves roaming the neighborhood, or even running away for hours or days at a time. This behavior is quite dangerous and needs to be curbed quickly, especially if you live in a heavily trafficked area or near areas with lots of dangerous wildlife. Sometimes we dog owners forget that for many of our dogs, especially those of us with dogs who have higher energy and exercise needs, a fenced in yard does not provide sufficient levels of exercise or enrichment for our dogs in itself. We need to make sure that our dogs are getting ample levels of dynamic exercise, enrichment, and social interaction instead of being left to entertain themselves in the backyard. Dogs still need dynamic ways outside of a backyard to move their bodies and work their minds, so don’t forget to get your dog out for some additional exercise outside of the fence alongside their yard time! We will often see a decrease in attempts to escape a yard when a dog’s needs are being met on a regular basis, so if you’re seeing an increase in this behavior, it may be an indicator to you that your dog’s regular exercise and mental enrichment routine is not meeting enough of their needs.
A yard in itself isn’t going to keep our dogs exercised and entertained, but there are definitely ways in which we can make our yards more dynamic spaces to meet more of our dog’s needs. A few ideas can include:
Splash Pads And Water Play: Lots of dogs really enjoy playing in water, and especially in our hotter summer months, this can be a great way to get your dog outside while preventing them from getting too overheated. Kiddie pools filled with water, splash pads to run around in, or play time with the hose (in moderation) can be a great way to get your dog out and enjoying their yard!
Flirt Pole Play: Flirt poles are a fantastic way to get your dog some exercise, work on some training, and give your dog an outlet to chase toys, especially if you have a smaller space or yard to work with. Flirt poles look like oversized cat toys, they have a dog toy attached to a stick or pole with a study line. The person holding the flirt pole can animate the toy and the dog can chase and “catch” their prey! This can be a great game to get your dog running, chasing, and even to work on some training skills like “drop it” and “leave it.” Want to learn more? Check out this video to see some flirt pole play in action:
Provide Sniffing Enrichment: Many of our dogs who are prone to roaming are also quite driven by their sense of smell. For these dogs, providing ample opportunities for them to satisfy their need to sniff, track, and forage inside the safety of their backyard is a great way to reduce the likelihood of them digging out of the yard to take themselves on their own sniffing adventure. One simple way of giving your dog an opportunity to use their nose is through scatter feeding in your yard! Try taking your dog’s daily kibble (or training treats if they need something higher value) and scattering it throughout the grass in your backyard. This activity takes just mere moments of preparation for the human, but can give the dog a long-lasting opportunity to use their nose to sniff out each and every piece of food. Most dogs are quite satisfied after spending 15, 20, 30 minutes snuffling out in the backyard for all the pieces of their food using only their sense of smell.
Rotating Toys And Active Play: For dogs who really enjoy playing with their toys, keeping the toys you have out on a rotation is a great way to keep things exciting. Try putting out a handful of toys at a time, then taking those toys up every couple of days and replacing them with another handful of toys that were put away. This way, there’s always something new to play with! And, it’s important that we don’t forget our dogs are social creatures and don’t always find playing independently by themselves to be so fulfilling. Set aside time to go out in the yard with your dog and engage them in some play as well. Even just 10 minutes will go a long way!
Fencing Adjustments For Escape Artists
When your dog is dead set on finding a way out of the yard, it’s typically an indicator that an adjustment in our human behavior is needed, whether that be making sure to monitor all time in the yard and bringing the dog inside with you when you go inside, providing the dog appropriate outlets to dig, or making sure to increase the dog’s mental and physical enrichment to curb boredom-related escape behavior. However, changing the environment to manage the dog can also be a piece of the puzzle to keeping them safe. It may be in order to look into upgrading your current fencing setup to reduce your dog’s ability to dig underneath. There are various types of fencing options that may help, including options that can be installed into the ground and the fencing curves inwards so that your dog isn’t able to continue to dig underneath them. It may also help to explore some different landscaping options if there are spots in your yard with softer ground that may be an easier texture for your dog to dig into. Try speaking with your local hardware store, fencing company, or local contractor about options to barricade your dog from being able to dig underneath standard fencing. As with any management setup, management always has the potential to fail, so installing more secure fencing still does not replace active supervision when your dog is out in the yard.
Digging can be a frustrating behavior for us humans to deal with, but when we look at the behavior through the lens of the dog, there are multiple reasons that make sense as to why they want to engage in this behavior. Taking some time to explore the root cause of your dog’s digging behavior will give you a clear path of a way to address it that keeps everyone happy. Let’s give those dogs some appropriate outlets and take some proactive measures to keep them safe and happy!