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Why Do Dogs Dig Holes in the Yard?

If your yard is starting to resemble more and more Planet Mars courtesy of your dog's landscaping skills, you know you have a problem. Digging holes in the yard isn't something your dog had to take a class to learn how to do, it's purely an instinctive behavior.

Why do dogs dig holes in the yard? If your yard is starting to resemble more and more Planet Mars courtesy of your dog's landscaping skills, you know you have a problem. Digging holes in the yard isn't something your dog had to take a class to learn how to do, it's purely an instinctive behavior.

Before getting angry at your canine pal for digging craters in your yard, it's important understanding why dogs dig in the first place. Following are several explanations for your dog's digging in the yard behaviors.


A Matter of Breed

Breed matters when it comes to digging behaviors. Did you know that there are several breeds of dogs who were selectively bred to dig? Meet the terriers, these dogs are the diggers par excellence, natural born diggers who have made of digging their area of specialty.

Just look at their name. Deriving from the Latin word "terra" which means earth, several dogs listed under the terrier group were purposely bred to chase and kill vermin and other ground-dwelling critters.

Don't assume all terriers were specialized for this task though, only a few short-legged pooches are the true digging masters. So if you own an Australian terrier, border terrier, cairn terrier, Parson Russell terrier, rat terrier, Norfolk terrier, Norwich terrier, Yorkshire terrier or any other working terrier, consider that you're looking at dogs breeds with a natural aptitude for digging.

Small terriers aren't though the only dogs to win the title of "king of diggers,"ever wondered why dachshunds have such long backs? Their conformation made them perfect for entering a badger's burrow. 

Hard-Wired Behavior

While small terriers and dachshunds win the prize as avid diggers, don't just assume other dog breeds won't dig given the opportunity. Digging is a hard-wired behavior that is carried out as instinct in many dogs. 

Even though many dogs weren't selectively bred for digging or working underground, their tendency to dig is reminiscent of the old days when dogs weren't fed store brought food that's served in shiny bowls. In the wild, dogs resorted to digging behavior for many good reasons. 

Need some examples? When they had a surplus of food dogs would bury leftover bones, when they were hungry, they would dig out some tasty roots, and when mother dog was ready to whelp, she would dig her puppies a nice den.

Keeping Cool/Warm

Does your dog dig holes mostly during the dog days of summer? If so, there are chances that your dog digs holes so he can lie down on them and keep himself cool when it's hot. 

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In particular, you may notice that your dog digs these holes nearby large shady trees or close to a water source. Call him stupid! He sure knows what works best to cool down.

Digging holes provides dogs a form of thermoregulation and the digging can go both ways whether the dog is cold or hot. So if your dog digs in the winter, he may simply try to find a way to stay warm.

Bored and Lonely

Idle paws are a devil's workshop when it comes to bored and lonely pooches! If you leave your dog alone with nothing to do in the yard for most of the day, don't expect him to just twiddle his thumbs or play a game of Sudoku on the deck. 

Left with nothing to do other than perhaps bark at the occasional car passing by or chewing the garden hose, the yard offers an appealing solution to keep those paws busy. Your dog may decide to dig several small craters in the yard or a big passageway to China. And if you have planted something recently, chances are high your dog will have fun digging up those roots.

Did you know? "When dogs dig, they aerosolize scents that may been hidden," explains veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall.

Planning an Escape

Put your investigative hat on and carefully look at the areas your dog digs. Are they mostly by the border along the fence-line? If so, consider that your dog may likely not be digging out of boredom or just for the fun of it; rather, your dog is digging for a purpose and the purpose is getting to the other side. Why would your dog want to escape?

There may be several reasons. Some dogs breeds with a strong pack instinct like huskies and hounds, may not do too well being left alone for too long, so if there are other dogs nearby, they may be digging their way out of the fence for companionship purposes. 

If your dog instead is not altered, he may be digging to get to a mate. And of course, there also many dogs who plan to escape just because they are curious about what's going on outside. They may want to chase those neighbor cats, go visit a neighbor's trash can or simply wander around in search of an adventure to brighten up his dull life.

A Matter of Social Learning

 Does your dog dig holes in the yard after watching you garden? Dogs are often intrigued by our activities so if they watch us dig holes in the yard to plant seeds or bulbs, they may feel compelled to dig as well.

It's not like dogs develop a green thumb in the real sense of the word, it's just that the smell of newly dug earth is quite irresistible, so don't be surprised if your dog may even try to unearth your newly-planted greens.

Now That You Know...

As seen dogs may dig holes in the yard for a variety of reasons. Many dog owners may wonder at this point though what they can do to stop their dog's digging. Here are a few ideas based on the underlying reason your dog digs. 

  • Own a terrier or a dachshund? If you own any of these breeds, consider that you can turn your dog's hobby into an art, simply enroll him in an earthdog trial!
  • Prevent access to certain areas. While there isn't much a person can do to curtail hard-wired behaviors, managing a dog's environment to prevent him from ruining your landscape can help. Fence off off-limit areas. 

  • Find a compromise. Build your dog a digging pit in the yard and fill it up some soft soil and sand. Then bury his toys there and let your dog have fun. Granted your dog's eyes will brighten up as he gets to do what he loves without the worry of being reprimanded for it! A win-win!

  • Does your dog dig because he's hot? Consider providing your dog with a doghouse or a wading pool or try inviting him indoors so he can spend his day in a nice, cool area without worrying about overheating. 

  • In the winter provide your dog with a sheltered place and a warm bed.

  • Don't shave your dog's coat. Consider that a dog's fur is there for a reason, to protect his skin from sun damage and provide insulation that'll keep heat away from his body. Remember, dogs cool from the bottom up, so instead, ask your groomer or vet whether trimming the hair on the stomach area may be a better option than a giving the dog a drastic shave down.

  • Is your dog digging from boredom? If your dog digs out of boredom, you may want to re-think leaving him alone in the yard for too long. Try providing him with more mental stimulation and giving him interesting things to do. Brain games and interactive toys are often a great choice.

  •  If you are away for most of the day though, consider doggy daycare or hiring a pet sitter or a dog walker to keep your dog happy and out of trouble.

  • If your dog is digging to escape, consider installing vinyl-coated wire fencing to the base of the fence. 

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