Why is my dog digging?

Why is my dog digging
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re wondering ‘why is my dog digging so much?’ you’re not the only one. Dogs have all sorts of quirks, which is part of what makes them so endearing, but digging is one of their more destructive behaviours. They seem to love doing it and get great pleasure from the mental and physical stimulation it gives them.

However, it can be frustrating when the garden ends up full of holes or your dog comes through the back door with dirty paws. This article explores why your dog might dig and how you can manage this behaviour and make it easier to live with.

Why is my dog digging so much?

Digging is something that many dogs do, but some do it more than others. Many things can drive a dog to dig, so let’s look at the top reasons why your dog might be digging.

1) Instincts

Digging is a behavior that dogs have inherited from their wolf ancestors. Wolves and other wild dogs will dig to bury food. They will usually eat their fill of a carcass and then bury any remnants for later, to preserve the food and to stop other animals from eating it. They will also dig because they like to sleep in dens or recesses in the ground, for shelter and warmth. Even if your dog doesn’t go as far as to make an underground den, the drive to dig is still strong.

2) Breed

Some dogs have been bred over hundreds of years for underground work, mainly for hunting vermin and other pests. Terriers are a breed group that are especially good at digging and getting into small spaces. 

These behaviors are ingrained and so it can be hard to train out of them. If you have a lot of moles, mice or other wildlife in your garden, you might find your dog is digging because of his high prey drive.

3) Boredom

If a dog is bored or under-exercised, it may take out its frustrations on your garden. In his mind, digging can be a great way of keeping himself amused and helps to fill the time. It also provides physical activity and is a way of getting rid of his excess energy. Other dogs may dig as a means of escape, which again may be linked to boredom. If they can’t get over a fence, they may try and dig under it instead.

4) Anxiety

Some dogs might dig if they are feeling anxious, especially if fireworks or thunderstorms are occurring. Digging can act as a focus to help ease their worries. Some dogs with separation anxiety may demonstrate other destructive behaviors as well as digging, such as chewing and scratching indoors, howling, or inappropriate toilet habits.

5) Enjoyment

Some dogs will dig just because they enjoy doing it. Like a child at the beach, digging is a fun activity. They may also be craving your attention – and since you tell them off for digging in the garden, digging is a great way to make you stop what you’re doing and talk to them.

How can I stop my dog digging?

It will be difficult to stop your dog from digging altogether, as it is just part of being a dog! However, there are some things you can do to help reduce the frequency of his digging. Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise and mental stimulation by playing games or using the best dog toys. A tired and happy dog is less likely to be destructive at home.

Other dogs may enjoy training classes such as agility or scent training – they can be a great way of burning off energy and keeping their minds busy. If your dog is anxious or stressed, try and ease this with the help of a pet behaviorist. Using calming pheromones indoors can help reduce some dogs' stress levels and is worth considering in conjunction with behavioral training and increasing positive play and exercise.

How can I stop my garden from being ruined by dog digging?

Don’t leave your dog unsupervised in the garden. If you can’t do that, then you could consider fencing off portions of your garden that your dog is not allowed to access (such as your prized vegetable patch). You could give your dog exciting toys to play with whilst he’s out in the garden, such as a puzzle feeder or treat balls, to keep him busy. Also, give him plenty of praise when he is playing nicely.

If despite your best efforts, your dog still insists on digging, then you could create an area in your garden in which he is allowed to dig freely. Burying the best dog treats and toys in a sandpit or unused flower border could encourage him to focus his digging on that one area of the garden.

Why is my dog digging – conclusion

Digging is part and parcel of being a dog, but if you have been wondering ‘why is my dog digging holes all of a sudden’, it’s time to think about whether they could be bored or stressed.

You can help the situation by providing your dog with other forms of physical and mental stimulation, and by stopping his access to certain areas of the garden. Don’t forget that digging is normal behavior for a dog – it’s instinctual – so you shouldn’t punish them.

Dr Rebecca MacMillan

Dr Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. She works in the South West and loves complex medical cases.