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Why is my dog digging holes all of a sudden?

To a dog, digging can be a natural behaviour. The look of exhilaration on a puppies face going at a hole in progress says it all. But holes are also a massive pain the rear end for most pet owners. These ankle busting booby traps in your back yard aren’t exactly the most eye catching feature of your lawn either. Why is my dog digging holes all a sudden? Well, there could be more to it than meets the eye.

Other Reasons Your Dog May Be Suddenly Digging Holes

1. Hearing or smelling things under the ground

dog digging for something underground

Did you know that dogs have over 300 million olfactory (smell) receptors in their noses, compared to humans who have just 6 million? And the part of their brain devoted to smell is approximately 40 times larger than ours.

It’s no wonder then that they can smell things buried beneath the surface that they are curious about unearthing.

But it’s not just smell, it’s also their acute sense of hearing. They can hear high pitched frequencies that we are unable to hear. If there are bugs or creatures underneath the ground moving around, it’s highly likely that your dog will hear them.

2. Boredom

dog digging holes due to boredom

“Idle hands are the devils workshop”, so the saying goes. The same can be said of idle paws. A dog with nothing much to do and excess energy to burn will usually find a way of putting that energy to use. Crazy zoomies around the yard is one way. Digging is another.

3. Anxiety

A number of different behavioural abnormalities can lead to excess digging. External stimuli that influences the pet to play, chase or escape can also lead to fear and anxiety.

Separation anxiety, when the dog is left alone while the owner is away, can be a classic stimulus for digging and other destructive behaviour.

Aside from digging, people with dogs like this can also come home to toys destroyed, reticulation pulled up, doors scratched to pieces and sofas disintegrated into a fluff snow storm.

Other classic anxieties that can lead to digging include thunderstorm or firework phobias. Usually this manifests as digging under a barrier to escape.

4. Other health issues

Aside from anxiety, there are a few strange health abnormalities that can lead to abnormal digging behaviour. Dogs with a portosystemic shunt (a type of liver disease) for instance can take to some weird behaviours. The main one is picca, a condition where the dog compulsively will destroy, eat and often ingest inedible objects.

Health conditions like this could possibly lead to digging and other sudden onset behaviour changes in your dog, and should be checked by your vet.

5. Trying to escape or get to something on the other side of the fence

dog digging hole under fence

If your dog is an escape artist then digging under the fence to escape the yard is an obvious cause of digging. In addition, if there is a dog next door or something your dog want’s to get to over the fence, then that can instigate digging as well.

6. Digging to escape the heat

Some dogs will dig a hole to unearth the cooler layers of soil underneath the surface. Especially during hot weather you may find your dog likes to lay in a cool hole.

7. Mother dogs nesting

Pregnant mother dogs can dig holes as part of their nesting routine. Other mothers like to tear up things to create a nest. If you’re pregnant dog likes to dig a hole, just make sure she doesn’t also squash or try to bury the puppies like one client we had!

Dog Breeds that Like to Dig

dog breeds that dig

Digging is a natural instinct in all dogs. However certain breeds have a much higher tendency to dig than others. For example, almost all terrier breeds love to dig.

Breeds that naturally tend to dig excessively include:

  • Jack Russel Terriers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Bedlington Terriers
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Malamutes
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • Basset Hound
  • Bloodhound
  • Chow Chow
  • West Highland White Terriers

How to Stop Dogs Digging Holes

This is really the wrong question to ask. Suppressing a dog’s natural behavioural instincts can lead to more harm than good. What you want is to redirect these instincts so that they can coexist whilst keeping everyone else happy.

Finding out the reason why your dog is digging holes all of a sudden is very important. As mentioned above, if it is related to fear, anxiety or health problems for instance it’s important to seek help from a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist.

If however, its just natural behaviour related to boredom or play then redirection is the best approach. But done in a positive way.

Positive vs Negative Feedback

Dogs love attention. So whether you give it to them in a positive or negative way, it’s still attention. I’ll never forget a dog we used to have when I was growing up, who would often bark at noises over the back fence. Over time, you could see him go down and bark at the back fence, then crane his neck to look back at the house, waiting for someone to yell at him. He would start to do this even when there was no noise, just for attention.

Negative feedback doesn’t produce the desired effect. If taken too far it can also damage a dog behaviourally or make them more anxious.

The best method for controlling unwanted digging is to redirect it to an area you are okay with them digging in. This can be a small section of the back yard, a sand pit, or a kid’s clam shell pool filled with sand.

dog digging in sandpit

A visual marker to indicate where it’s alright to dig is also essential. A low lying fence your dog can step over is great. Some people use flags. Something to indicate that within these bounds its okay for them to dig. Then encourage digging in this area by burying dog toys and treats for them to uncover.

When your dog digs in the area designated for them, heap upon them praise. When they dig outside of these bounds, simply take them straight to the digging area and encourage them to dig there instead.

This takes time, patience and repetition. You will have to watch your dog so that you can correct them at the time of the incident. Constant repetition with positive reinforcement for digging in the right place will win out in the end. You have to stick to it.

How to Stop Dogs Digging Under the Fence

dog trying to escape

Combine positive reinforcement above, with a physical deterrence elsewhere. Particularly in areas around the fences or prize patches of lawn. You can do this by burying a layer of chicken wire or mesh under these areas. Dogs can dig down an inch before they are obstructed by the physical barrier. Meanwhile dirt, plants and vegetation can happily work around the buried meshing.

How to Keep a Dog Out of the Garden

Keeping a pet out of a garden usually comes down to either a physical barrier or a scent barrier.

A physical barrier is obviously some kind of fence or moat around the garden that will keep your pet out. Some people use mulch or pine cones around the garden as an obstruction. Pet’s often hate the sensation of walking on these jagged objects and so will avoid them.

Dog repellent plants like marigolds and citronella based deterrents can act as a scent barrier for pets. Other scent based deterrents you can try include citrus scented plants, citrus based products, citrus peels or vinegar sprays.

dog deterrent plants

Dogs with high intent can often overcome these scent deterrents however.

So if you find yourself asking why is my dog digging holes all of a sudden, it’s important to keep a few points in mind. If its a medical or behavioural issue, then seek help from your veterinarian. If its your pet expressing their natural behaviour, then redirect it in a positive way that keeps everyone happy. Remember, this all takes time, patience and repetition. So if you don’t see results immediately, don’t give up. Some dogs will outgrow their digging behaviour. Most can learn to happily coexist.

Does your dog like to dig? Leave your stories and perhaps possible ways you’ve overcome this problem, in the comments below.

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