Digging is one of the most normal dog behaviours out there and yet we are always surprised and frustrated when it happens. Digging feels good and dogs know how to do it naturally. It can be a source of cool in the summer, a source of mental stimulation when they're bored, and even a way to hide precious resources (bones and chews).
Some breeds are programmed to dig more than others - terriers, for example! They do this to flush or hunt small animals and vermin.
We don't all want our garden full of ankle-breaking traps, so there are a few things that we can do to help alleviate your frustration and manage this behaviour better.
- Use inexpensive fencing to block your prized Petunias; dollar stores or hardware stores carry many options. This prevents access, which is 90% of the solution. Your dog does NOT know that these are off-limits or "illegal items". They don't differentiate between good plants and weeds. 😉
- Leash your dog for every potty break to the yard for the first little while (3 weeks minimum) and create the routine you want them to have engrained in their brain. Walk them directly to the spot where you want them to do their business and then reinforce heavily with a treat party when they do.
- When you spend time outside with them, have them on a long line so that you can simply prevent them from getting close to your precious herb garden and redirect them to an alternate activity that is enticing for them.
- For dogs who are really keen on digging, consider creating a specific digging pit for them. Hide weather-resistant toys in it and encourage them to go there. Start with shallow toys that they can see and over time make it more challenging for them by burying the toys deeper. Make this area very clear to them, using fencing, for example, and walking them straight there for playtime and encouraging the fun activity. Continue to manage the other areas with fencing and/or keep them on a long line and supervised until they're a little older and more reliable.
- You can also use a sandbox or kiddie pool if you don't want your yard dug up in that one spot.
- Don't get too confident too fast by sending them out on their own before they're ready. Dogs are opportunists and it's normal for them to test scenarios. Spend a minimum of 3 weeks (longer for dogs who are keen diggers) using the management suggestions above. Keep the fencing up for MUCH longer as a clear deterrent.
- You might be tempted to use a recall when you send your dog out and spot them digging in the wrong place through the window. This will backfire later when your dog catches on that recall means "digging fun ends" and then your recall is broken. Avoid using your recall - instead, go out, leash them, and go back to the start for 3+ more weeks. Consider your fencing - if they're bypassing it, is it effective fencing? Probably not. Research stronger/taller options or raised beds.
- Teach your dog what you want them to do! Make a list of dog-safe backyard activities and rotate through them. We've got some great ideas in our Backyard Behaviours Quick Win - check them out!
Avoid using punishment, hollering at your dog, using any type of deterring tools like sonic devices or electric shock - these will cause additional stress in your dog, backfiring on all the work you've done to help them feel comfortable and safe at home.