Dog digging in yard
Does your dog seem to regard your yard as his own personal earthmoving project?

If so, it’s important to realize that digging is a very natural instinctive behavior in dogs. Dogs dig in dirt or other substrates, like mulch or sand, to bury items they want to save for later, like a favorite chew or toy, or to search for items that they have hidden in the past. They also dig to search for prey like rodents or other tasty treats such as insects. Some dogs may also dig because they are attempting an escape or because they are anxious. Though some of this behavior is not only acceptable but perhaps even advantageous in the wild, most owners do tend to object to their dogs digging up their nice lawns or gardens or leaving holes that people can step into and injure themselves.

What Can You Do If Your Doggy Is a Digger?

Here are a few of my favorite tips that might help you curb this unwanted behavior:

1. Supervise. Do your best to monitor your dog every time he goes out in the yard until you get this behavior under control. As soon as you see your dog start to dig, distract him with a novel noise, such as clapping your hands or blowing a loud whistle. Some people like to use shaker cans, which are empty soda cans filled with coins or rocks. If you do use a shaker can, make sure the sound simply breaks your dog’s concentration but does not overly frighten him. Once you have his attention, you can then redirect him to more appropriate behaviors. The goal here is to disrupt your dog’s digging, interrupt his train of thought, and then redirect him to something completely different and fun, like chasing a ball or getting engaged in a game of go-find-it. Something I find very effective is to toss a handful of small treats onto the ground. Your dog will have to use his eyes and nose to search out those tasty treats. As he gets better at the game, you can toss treats into a wider area, and, therefore, he has to search longer for those goodies and, hopefully, he will forget about whatever it was he was trying to dig up! Although, be careful that your dog isn’t eating a lot of grass while searching for those treats, as it can sometimes contain parasites, pesticides or other nasty stuff.

2. Contain.
Sometimes it is very difficult to suppress what is really a very natural behavior for your canine friend. So in the long run, it may be easier to try and control where he is allowed to dig. You can do this by providing a certain area of the yard that is clearly marked for digging. Mark the area by using low plant borders or fences from your local home improvement store, or set out small flags that are used by lawn maintenance companies. You can also create a distinct digging area where you provide him with certain substrates that he likes to dig in, such as play sand. You can clearly mark the appropriate digging area and then hide fun items, like special toys, partially buried in the substrate. Go out in the yard with your dog and call him over and encourage him to dig up those items. Whenever he tries to dig in the other section of the yard, disrupt him and bring him over to the appropriate area. When he starts to dig out the goodies you have partially buried for him, offer him plenty of praise! Make it very clear to him that all of the rewards and praises are showered on him when he digs in the marked area of the yard.3. Leave it. Teaching your dog to leave something alone with a "leave it" command can also be helpful. When the "leave it" cue is given, your dog should stop going toward the object or location and turn away. You gradually teach your dog to do this by rewarding him for first ignoring, then turning away and then eventually walking away from an item or location you want him to avoid.

4. Distract.
Serving your dog’s meals or some special treats within two to three food puzzle toys may help keep his paws busy elsewhere. Food puzzle toys will encourage him to use his paws to knock the toys around to obtain his food. Your dog may not use his paws in a digging motion, but working for his food will provide a good mental and physical outlet for him if his digging is due to boredom or excess energy. If the puzzle toys are to replace your dog’s regular dinnertime, just be sure to gradually ease into the activity so that you can make sure your dog figures out how to get his meals out of the puzzle. If you are using special treats in your puzzle, make sure they are healthy treats and don’t overdo them. We don’t want a digging problem to turn into a weight problem!

Will It Work?

No matter which method you choose, you will still need to supervise your dog for a certain time period until he has consistently stopped digging or regularly goes into the designated area. Once it seems like he has gotten the hang of the new routine, you can gradually increase the distance between you and your dog. Keep in mind, some dogs may always need supervision in the yard in order to prevent unwanted digging. When left alone, these dirt-crazy dogs may proceed to dig in any area that appeals to them. It can be frustrating, but when this happens, you do not want to yell or use a noise that scares your dog. This may inhibit your dog from digging in front of you and cause him to turn to sneaking around and digging behind your back or when you are not in the yard to supervise. If digging is still a problem after trying these tips, then talk to your veterinarian. She may advise you to seek professional help from a certified trainer or animal or veterinary behaviorist.

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