The Dirt on Digging

As the snow melts and we head into Spring, our dogs are spending more time outside. This is also the time of year when we get many questions about a common issue: digging!

Digging is a natural behaviour for dogs, and there are a few reasons why they do it.

-To cool down. Fresh dirt provides relief from the hot sun in the summertime

-To bury something. Many dogs enjoy hiding their treasures around the yard.

-To find something. With critters burrowing underground, dogs may pick up the scent or sounds and dig to find them.

-To escape. If your dog is digging around the fence line, they may be trying to get out

-Just for fun. If your dog is excited, bored, or just plain enjoys digging, they do not see any reason not to do it!


Having dealt with this issue myself, I had finally had enough of stepping in holes and rolling my ankle and I decided to do something about it. If you search online for solutions to digging, there are all sorts of suggestions ranging from silly-but-ineffective to downright cruel. I wanted to share what worked for me.

First, I needed to teach an incompatible behaviour. I chose recall (“come!”) because if they are turning to come to me, they cannot be digging. Next, I needed to provide an appropriate outlet for this behaviour. We provide toys as an outlet for chewing, find appropriate places to allow them to run, why not a designated digging spot?

I bought a kiddie pool and 4 bags of play sand from a hardware store. The total cost was around $50. I put the pool in an area that has plenty of shade so the sand doesn’t get too hot, and poked a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I filled the pool with sand and added a bit of water to minimize dust when they dig. ​


Stark digging for toys in the sandbox

I took their outdoor toys and covered them with a small amount of sand so they would have to dig a little. After a few repetitions, I buried the toys more and more, so they had to dig quite a bit to get them out. Once they got a toy out, they would happily prance around the yard and play with it, no longer focused on digging.

The key to making this strategy work is supervision. You can’t simply put a sandbox out and go inside, hoping they don’t dig in the yard.   If I saw them starting to dig elsewhere, I made sure to redirect by calling them over and having fun in the sand.  I also give them frozen stuffed kongs or bones to keep them entertained.

After a full summer with the digging area, I would say that it was worth the investment for my dogs. It did not completely stop the digging elsewhere (the ‘favourite’ holes they had already started were revisited here and there throughout the summer) but the number of new holes dropped significantly.


Author: Amelia Pizzi CPDT-KA

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