Oh, diggers. There’s nothing like a dog that amuses himself by digging holes that leave you twisting your ankle every time you venture into the backyard, and nothing more painful to make you wonder how to stop dogs from digging.
This can be a tough problem to solve, mainly because it’s hard to catch them in the act. What are you supposed to do, drop everything and watch every move each time you hear the dog flap? Stay home from work so you don't miss a dig? Impossible. Besides, there are bound to be blind spots where you can’t get a good vantage point to see what’s happening. That’s what Nala did in the year we struggled with her digging.
• We tried taking her to where she dug and scolding her each time we found it, to no avail.
• We considered sprinkling chili powder in the area where she kept digging, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
• Dogs don’t like citrus-scented sprays, but it would take an awful lot of citrus spray to keep the yard smelling like citrus. Besides, I didn’t want the whole yard to smell horrible to Nala.
• Other suggestions included burying partially-inflated balloons, chain-link fencing or feces in the spot where Nala liked to dig. While it’s a clever way to provide a negative result while she’s in the act, I didn’t like the idea of hurting or scaring her. Plus, Nala is a copycat and it seemed like the more we dug, the more she dug. And most obviously, I didn’t want to come home to a dog with feces-covered paws inside the house.
• Some people recommend giving your dog a designated digging area. That sounds great if you have enough space and have a dog trainer to help you do that. But I wasn’t interested in having any area dug up.
Two things finally worked: getting to the root of the digging and catching her in the act.
Nala often dug to bury and unbury bones. Once I realized that, I gave her a Kong dog toy instead. That cut down on the digging but didn’t stop it.
Catching Nala in the act of digging took effort, but it wasn't particularly difficult. The toughest part was ignoring the dirt we came home to (since it makes no difference when you scold them after the fact). We kept a close eye on her each time we heard her go outside and found a good vantage point for what we knew to be her favorite digging spot. (This helped us have to focus only on one part of the yard.) As soon as we saw her start digging, we yelled a loud “AH! NO!” and went outside to scold her. After just a couple weeks of this routine, the digging stopped! We haven’t had an incident since (with the exception of 1 or 2 old bones that resurfaced – and then were quickly thrown away).
Additionally, we’ve increased Nala’s exercise so that she has an outlet for her energy. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog and Nala is no exception. She’s much better behaved when she gets daily walks, rough-housing and games of catch or keep-away. Her digging was done partially to entertain herself and if we provide her the entertainment she needs, she doesn’t go creating her own.
If your dog is a digger, try to identify the root cause. Is your dog digging under the fence? Maybe your dog wants to explore and needs more walks outside the yard. Digging in dirt then laying in it? Maybe your dog needs a cool place to lay in the summer – offer him a cooling bed for dogs instead. Is your dog eating dirt? Maybe there’s some nutritional deficiency he’s trying to fix himself and you need to adjust his diet. The list goes on, but the point is to figure out why your dog is digging and then address that, not just the digging.
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Photo credit: Mel B.