Why do dogs dig?

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There are some things our dogs just seem destined to do. Like chasing their tails, playing fetch, and romping in the mud. We always think of cartoon dogs digging holes and burying bones, but when our real Rovers do it, it can be frustrating and make the garden look a total mess! But why do dogs love to dig so much?

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Whether your pup has always had a habit of getting their paws dirty, or you have an older dog who’s suddenly developed a desire to excavate the earth, there are a few potential reasons why dogs dig. So, let’s “dig in” to all the reasons why our doggos love to get down and dirty!

Why do dogs dig?

There are many reasons why dogs dig, ranging from enjoyment to hunting. Understanding why your dog is digging is the first step in trying to manage this frustrating behaviour. It means you can then try to provide them with a more positive alternative (and hopefully stop them from giving your garden more holes than a Swiss cheese!)

Whatever reason is behind your doggy’s digging habit, it certainly isn’t because they’re trying to be naughty or ruin your best flower bed. Digging is a normal and instinctive behaviour for dogs and there are loads of reasons why they might be doing it.

So why do dogs dig, and which of these reasons would explain why your pooch is going paw-first into the dirt?

It’s enjoyable and instinctive

One of the reasons why dogs dig is just because it’s a fun and natural thing for them to do. Even if your dog has never dug up the garden, you’ve probably noticed them “dig” at the carpet or their bed.

It’s an instinctive activity for our furry friends, helping them to burn off extra energy, and they soon learn it’s enjoyable too.

They’re bored

As well as digging being a fun pastime, many dogs will dig just because they’re bored. Your pooch might start digging or displaying other destructive behaviours if they aren’t getting enough exercise or enrichment, or if they’re being left on their own for too long with nothing to occupy them.

Digging is one way your dog is trying to give themselves something to do, even if you’d rather they did something else!

It’s a way to bury treasure

Dogs digging holes to hide bones might seem cartoonish or stereotypical, but it is a natural doggy behaviour. Our furry friends have an instinct to hide things they don’t want others to have, whether that’s their favourite toy or a bit of yummy food.

Many dogs will try to bury toys and snacks as a way of storing them safely where no one else can get their paws on them.

They’re trying to find a cool spot

Most of us know when it’s a hot summer night, lying on the floor is a great way to cool down. Hot air rises, after all. Digging a hole is one way a dog might try to cool off, as getting even a few feet below the ground can cause a big drop in the temperature. Plus, all that dirt hidden underground and away from the sun will feel like the cold side of a pillow!

Arctic dog breeds like Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes all have a strong instinct to dig to cool off, and you’ll often find them trying to dig and make themselves a cool spot to chill out in the heat of summer.

They’re making a den

As well as digging to create a cooler place to lie down, some dogs might be digging to try and make a safe den to sit in. This denning instinct is especially strong in pregnant female dogs, who want to make a safe place to give birth to their puppies.

Some dogs have a denning instinct anyway, and they enjoy the security and comfort a den provides. If that’s the case, you could try getting your dog a covered bed that they can burrow under to help them feel safe and snuggly.

Dog crates are also the perfect den alternative. You can put your dog’s bed in there, a few blankets, and even their favourite toys to make the perfect hideaway for your hound. You can even put a blanket over the side to make it a little darker and more shaded inside. Many dogs will sleep inside their crates where they feel safe and secure, allowing them to completely relax.

They’re on the hunt

Most dogs still have a hunting instinct and sometimes they’re digging around trying to find any animals or bugs they can smell or hear burrowing underground.

Dogs like Border Terriers and West Highland Terriers were all bred to go underground in the pursuit of prey, so it’s in their nature to start digging to try and catch something! And although they might not look it, darling Dachshunds were also bred to be brave badger hunters who would head underground to catch their prey, making the most of their huge paddle-like paws to dig their way towards their foe.

It’s a displacement behaviour

When a dog is nervous or stressed, they will often dig to try and vent some of their adrenaline and nervous energy.

Because digging is also an instinctive denning behaviour, many dogs dig or at least dig their bedding to try and make a safe place to settle down. It also gives them something to occupy themselves, and they can focus on digging instead of concentrating on whatever is making them nervous.

Similarly, frustrated and overexcited dogs might start digging to try and vent their pent-up energy.

The great escape

If you’ve noticed your dog is specifically digging around your fence line and wondered “why is my dog digging under the fence?” the answer is probably the most worrying and obvious one you can think of. It’s to try and escape!

Now that doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t love you, or that your pooch wants to run away from home. It just means there’s something beyond the fence that’s tempting them out.

This is especially true with unneutered male dogs, who have a strong instinct to roam. Your pooch might be digging to try and get under the fence so he can visit the lovely girl dog a few streets away, who he can smell has come into heat and looking to mate. Some female dogs also try to make escape attempts, especially if they’re in heat and searching for a mate.

Alternatively, dogs with separation anxiety will often dig under fences to try and escape.

Finally, some dogs with strong hunting instincts might be tunnelling under the fence to try and find animals on the other side. Maybe there’s already a hole under there where foxes are crawling underneath, or your neighbour has chickens in their garden which your dog can hear and smell.

Regardless of why your dog is digging under the fence, it’s obviously very dangerous for your pet if they do manage to escape. You will need to work on trying to stop the behaviour with the help of a canine behaviourist, and in the meantime you can discourage your dog’s digging by placing plastic chicken wire on the ground by the fence.

How to stop a dog from digging your garden

Once you figure out the reason why your dog is digging up your garden, you can try to discourage the behaviour or provide a safe alternative for them.

You can also physically stop your dog from digging by only letting them in the garden under supervision or on a lead, by fencing off any flower beds, or putting stones or plastic chicken wire on the ground to deter their digging.

However, this won’t tackle the root of the problem so it’s still a good idea to do some training to distract them from digging and teach them a more positive behaviour to replace it with.

Should I let my dog dig?

Digging is a normal behaviour for dogs so if you have the space to allow your dog somewhere to dig, and the time to teach them to only dig there, it will provide them with extra exercise and enrichment.

However, a lot of us don’t have gardens at all, or don’t have gardens big enough to provide the dog with their own sandpit, so letting them dig just isn’t an option.

Luckily, your dog won’t miss digging as long as your dog is getting enough physical exercise and mental exercise in their daily lives. Plus, you can give them other outlets to relieve some of their digging instincts such as snuffle boxes to hunt for food, crates to den in, or a big blanket to dig around in to get comfy.

Whatever you do, don’t scold or punish your dog for digging in the garden. They won’t really understand why you’re telling them off, especially if the hole is already dug, and it won’t tackle the cause of the behaviour.