Dogs dig for many reasons, and sometimes it helps to pin down the
right reason before you take steps to alter his habits.
I’ve used “he” to refer to the dog throughout this article but most
of the points apply equally well to bitches. The only one that
doesn’t is hormones. If your dog is male and there is a bitch in
season near by, he may be trying to escape from your garden by
tunnelling. If your dog is female, especially if she has recently had
her first season, she may be showing “nesting” behaviour. If this
gets very frantic you need to have her checked out by a vet in case
she requires medical treatment to help her get over it. Either male
or female hormone-inspired digging can be reduced by neutering.
Otherwise, the reason your dog digs is most likely the simplest
explanation – he is a dog. It’s very normal and natural behaviour and
many of them go through at least a short time where they do it
regularly. If he’s a puppy, he may grow out of the digging as he gets
older (my own puppy is nearly twelve months at the time of writing;
he hardly digs at all, having been a very keen “gardener” at first).
You could try waiting him out, or you could read on.
If it’s a very recent habit in an adult dog, especially if it only
happens in one place, then probably something specific happened to
start him off and you may be able to distract him out of it again.
Check that there isn’t a toy or bone buried in the spot, or that
rabbits haven’t made a home there. If there’s nothing you can see
that might be encouraging him, try spraying it with a deterrent
spray. These are usually used to stop puppies chewing indoors but can
also put them off particular areas outside. It might also help to
block his access to the spot for a while till he gets out of the
habit. A pile of large stones or rocks, or a temporary wire netting
fence round his favourite digging pit may do the trick.
If he is adult and it’s a long standing habit (or if you try all the
ideas above and he simply moves to a new spot) it’s easier to limit
his activities than to prevent them altogether. Digging is, as we
said, a natural doggy behaviour.
Try giving him a small area in the garden where it’s OK to dig and
nose about. Dig out the plants and put in loose earth or sand, then
bury a couple of biscuits in it. Let him see you the first time so he
knows the food is there. Tell him he’s good when he digs it out.
Refill the area with biscuits, toys or bones every few days and
praise him when he finds them.
He should soon realise that digging in his corner gets your approval
and some treats. This will encourage him to dig there rather than
elsewhere. If he begins to lose interest in digging later, just put
progressively fewer treats in the area until he doesn’t bother going
there any more.
If it is impossible to give him a digging area, vigilance is the only
For a while, you will have to go out with him every time he goes, and
stay out until he comes back in. Watch him so he can never start to
dig unobserved. When you spot him starting, interrupt the behaviour,
call him away or distract him with a toy and praise him. Hopefully in
time you might break the habit.
A final word – but you knew this already, of course – NEVER try to
put him off digging by burying sharp objects where he’s likely to dig.