How to Stop a Dog From Digging in the Yard

Dog standing in the snowSome dogs love to dig, but their owners are not exactly impressed by this behavior.

For example, my parents have a springer spaniel named Sophie who enjoys leaving little "potholes" throughout the yard as she searches for mice and who knows what else. This often means Sophie's feet and toenails are covered in dirt and she has to have her paws washed before heading back in the house.

So, is there anything dog owners can do to stop this behavior? Or is it a lost cause? I asked some dog experts for their thoughts.

Why do dogs dig in the yard?

There are all kinds of reasons, but here are just a few:

1. Dogs dig because digging is natural.

"Digging is a natural tendency for certain breeds," said Judi Haft, owner of Central Bark Doggy Day Care in Oswego, Ill.

For example, she said many terriers were bred to dig in order to kill rodents.

"It's a trait that was purposely bred into the dogs," she said. "Thanks to hundreds of years of breeding for this specific trait, it's not one that's easily stopped."

Another natural reason for digging is to find a cooler spot to lie on, according to Dr. Jennifer Hacker, a veterinarian with Market Street Veterinary Clinic in San Diego.

2. The dog is bored.

"If your dog isn't getting enough exercise or attention, they may dig for something to do," according to Haft.

3. The dog just loves to dig!

Some dogs dig for the "pure enjoyment" of digging, according Hacker.

On the other hand, she also said a dog could dig out of fear or anxiety.

It's important to know the reason why your dog is digging so you can come up with the best training plan to stop the behavior, she said. For example, if the behavior is rooted in anxiety, you would want to be careful about correcting the dog because this could make the problem worse.

So what are some way to stop unwanted digging?

Haft said it is a realistic goal to stop a dog from digging, but only if the owner takes the time to train the dog.

"If you don't want to take the time to work with them, then no, it's not realistic," she said.

Here are some ideas:

1. Create a single spot where the dog is allowed to dig.

Creating a designated area for the dog to dig (such as a sandbox) might be the best option, according to Hacker. She recommends this for dogs that are digging for fun and enjoy hiding their toys.

Haft also recommended the "sandbox" idea, and said when dog owners catch their dogs digging somewhere else, they should direct them to the appropriate spot.

It will take a dog some time to understand where it's OK to dig, she said. So it's up to the owner to keep rewarding the dog for the right behavior.

2. Stay in the yard with your dog.

The owner needs to supervise the dog in the yard, according to Haft.

"That way when they do start digging, you can redirect them to the appropriate spot or get their interest and have them do something other than dig," she said.

In my parents' case, it's easier to supervise Sophie when she is on a long lead or check cord. This type of leash allows the owner to redirect unwanted behavior and reward the dog for good behavior.

3. Increase the dog's training and exercise.

For a dog that digs out of boredom, Haft recommended training classes to give the dog some extra mental and physical stimulation. For dogs that like other dogs, she suggested dog daycare as a "possibility to work off some of their energy and frustration."

Hiring a dog walker is another possible option, she said.

4. Find a way for the dog to use his "natural talents."

Haft listed all kinds of ways you can help your dog use his "natural talents" in a more appropriate way. For example, earthdog trials for terriers or luring courses for sight hounds.

Earthdog trials are designed for terriers to use their ability to scent, find and catch their prey, she said. Luring courses also allow dogs to chase their prey.

"These are things you can do with your dog just for fun or you can compete if your dog really shows an interest," she said.

Overall, both women believe it's important for the owner to determine the unique dog's reason for digging and come up with an appropriate training plan from there.

How about the rest of you?

Do you have any tips to stop a dog from digging?