Digging is natural for dogs

That’s all very well to say but if you are a keen gardener or even a mildly interested one, it’s extremely frustrating to find a scale model of the World War 1 trenches trailing across your garden when you want to mow the lawn or simply relax!

So why do dogs do it? It’s instinctual behaviour originally designed to hide food from other predators or to search for prey. Sometimes a dog will dig a hole if it is too hot because digging exposes cool earth and provides a small shaded, shelter. If your dog is digging under a fence or next to a gate he may simply be trying to get out of the garden. Some dogs dig to alleviate boredom or just for fun. Others may have a genetic predisposition to dig. In cases where it becomes a problem it is often the case that the dog is not receiving enough exercise and has found that digging not only is fun in that it tires him out, but that it gives him attention from his owners when they realise what is going on. It can fast establish itself as a habit which the owners then need to break. In other words digging can become self reinforcing over time.

The first thing to do in sorting out this problem is to try to establish why a dog is digging. If he is hot, provide him with a shelter to keep him cool. If he is digging because he has learned to enjoy it, is bored or is trying to escape, then offering him alternative ways to occupy him should help.

Ensure he has plenty of exercise to wear him out before he is put in the garden. Give him toys and activities to occupy him there so he doesn’t become bored. For example, a Kong filled with dog food is a challenging and time consuming toy.

Revisit the basic commands and double check that he understands the meaning of the word ‘No’. A reward and/or praise when he stops digging will encourage him to stop more quickly.

There is no substitute for patience and vigilance when changing a dog’s behaviour. If you can be with your dog at all times when he’s outside you can then witness any digging, correct the dog immediately, praise him for stopping and offer him something else to do.

You could consider attaching a long line to him to prevent him from reaching the places he likes to dig in, until his behaviour has been modified, but don’t leave him alone to get tangled up in it.

As far as digging when a dog is out walking is concerned, if he obeys the word ‘No’ or can be distracted, owners should be able to prevent damage when they are with him. In a rural area the dog could be taken to rough ground on occasion and rewarded with a good digging session as long as the owners are confident that he is under control. It is a relatively straightforward exercise to teach a dog to dig on command by using the word ‘Dig’ when he is in the act. In this way he can dig happily and still be under control. It is after all, very good exercise!