Digging is such a source of joy for so many dogs even though it can destroy your garden, bring mud and dirt into your house and force you to drop everything to give them a bath. Even worse, your digging dog is tunnelling under your fence to escape! So why do dogs dig? Well it could be for one of the following reasons:
Instinct – it is an inherited behaviour from their ancestors and all dogs dig to some extent and it is as natural to them as barking or wagging their tails. Even if your dog is not a problem digger you may see them "dig" in their bedding before lying down.
Seeking Prey – certain breeds of dogs like terriers and dachshunds were bred to hunt rodents or other small animals they can hear or smell underground.
Comfort - dogs with heavy coats will sometimes dig themselves a spot in the dirt to lie down in and cool off.
Boredom and Anxiety - digging is a great way to relieve boredom or to distract themselves from anxiety and can be a sign that your dog is not getting enough physical activity or mental stimulation. Try and tire your dog out by taking them for long walks or a couple of walks a day.
Hiding Treasure - Some dogs like to bury treasures, such as a treat or a favourite toy, for safekeeping. You could try and prevent this behaviour by making sure they don’t get more treats than they need at any one time.
Escape - tunnelling under the fence is usually easier than finding a way over it. They do this out of boredom, separation anxiety or they may just want to play with the neighbourhood dogs.
As digging is an instinctive behaviour it can be extremely difficult to stop a dog from being a dog. Pet owners need to be able to identify the trigger that might be causing the dog to dig. Is the dog bored and needing stimulation or are they anxious? If you can identify the trigger you will be more effective at curtailing the behaviour.
If you catch your dog digging redirect your dog to another activity like fetching a ball and then reward the new behaviour with a treat and praise, over time your dog will see that the new action as more rewarding than digging. You could also try making their favourite digging spot less attractive by for example placing rocks in that spot or covering it with mesh wire until they learn that it is not acceptable behaviour.
Despite all your best efforts to redirect your dog’s attention away from digging, the digging instinct might not go away and it may be time to embrace it. If it brings your dog joy, gently redirect them and reward any digging in a preferred place rather than where they are. If you have the space you could provide a sandbox outside to meet their digging needs.
If you have a “digger” try not to leave them alone and unsupervised outside for long periods of time.