Digging is a natural, instinctive behavior for most dogs, and some dogs love nothing more than a chance to dig their way through a yard full of dirt. Digging is not, however, nearly so much fun for humans, who find themselves having to replant plants, clean up destroyed yards, and replace couches with holes dug into them. If your dog has started digging, here's why he's doing it and what you can do to stop your dog from digging:
Why Dogs Dig
The most common reasons dogs dig in backyards is in an attempt to get out! Exciting sights and smells on the other side of the fence can inspire a dog to use her powerful legs to enable her to get out and investigate. Dogs also may dig as a result of anxiety or fear, and in this case digging is simply a physical activity to burn off mental anxiety. Finally, dogs dig because their noses and ears lead them to. Dogs can smell and hear things we can't, and there are typically countless interesting things living in the ground. Your dog is merely trying to explore, and if she's rewarded for this exploration by occasionally finding something interesting in the ground, you can bet she's going to keep digging.
Digging to Escape Heat
Some dogs tend to dig in order to escape heat. Sitting in a cool, moist hole can be a welcome respite for an animal who does not sweat or burn off heat efficiently. If your dog stays outside during the summer and tends to dig most during the hot months, she's trying to tell you she needs to come inside. Provide her with a shady area, fresh water, and don't leave her in the heat all day.
Anxiety Based Digging
Digging is a classic separation anxiety behavior. These digging dogs tend to dig even inside, in objects like sofas. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and digging as a result, you need to undertake a desensitization program that will relieve her of her anxiety. I've written in depth about how to stop separation anxiety in dogs here.
Digging to Escape
Digging to escape is perhaps the most difficult digging behavior to stop. Once a dog has learned she can escape, she's likely to continue doing it as frequently as possible. Escaping has a built-in reward: getting to run free, which means no amount of punishment or frustration is going to undermine the reward your dog feels when she escapes. If your dog has begun digging out of your fence, you need to prioritize safety above everything else. Do not leave her in your yard unattended, and block up her holes with bricks or cement. You will likely need the help of a dog training professional in order to stop her from continuing to dig out. Find a list of qualified dog trainers in your area here.
Digging For Fun and Exploration
If your dog seems to be digging for no apparent reason or is occasionally bringing you dead animals, she's likely digging for the sheer thrill it brings her. The best way to stop this behavior is to give her a more appropriate outlet for it. Consider getting your dog a sandbox and filling it either with heavy sand or dirt. You can bury toys, treats, and bones in the dirt. Eventually, your dog will learn that this sandbox is the best digging spot in the yard if you reward her frequently with treats and praise and also provide her the "natural consequence" reward of leaving interesting things in the sandbox for her to find.
Allelomimetic is a big word for a simple behavior. It simply means imitating others. Dogs imitate each other as well as other animals, including humans. If your dog sees you digging a hole for a plant, she may get curious, try it herself, and find out how much fun it is. She may also have learned about digging from other dogs or even from watching squirrels and chipmunks dig. If your dog has learned to dig, she's also learned that it's a gratifying activity, which means you need to find her a more gratifying outlet. Follow the directions above for installing a dog-friendly digging sandbox and you may soon find that your imitator dog has stopped her bad digging habits.
Digging is not caused by the same factors in all dogs, and in order to stop your dog from digging, it's important to step back and see things from your dog's perspective. Ask yourself why you might be digging if you were your dog living in your yard and you're likely to begin to uncover an explanation that can help you find a solution.