Hey there! Before we address why dogs dig so much and have a freaking blast doing it we first need to address a common mistake most dog owners make when trying to correct the digging behavior. Punishing the dig. This is not going to fix your problem. If you catch your dog digging and do something to stop them then you will not truly stop the digging. It will only go away in your presence, if you're lucky.
How Can I Stop My Dog From Digging?
To truly stop it you need to understand why dogs dig so much and then offer them a safe place to dig. Your dog will not understand that digging is bad. Why? Dogs are amoral. Look it up. Dogs are not human and have never learned right from wrong. Don't correct the dog for digging just offer a safe place for them to dig instead and have fun with it. Hide toys, treats, and interact with them while they are digging in the dig pit. Build a relationship with the dig pit and your dog will fall in love with it and you will be able to leave your dog to dig on his own some days.
Meat & Potatoes of Dog Digging
Dogs dig for several reasons and in order to understand why your dog digs, you need to know these reasons.
1. Who likes to be bored anyways? Dogs are no different than humans in this way. They don't like to be bored and digging is straight up fun for dogs. Their adrenaline starts pumping, heart starts beating faster and boom their digging holes in your yard. Dogs absolutely LOVE to dig, plain and simple. They like to dig in mud, dirt, creeks, kids pools, water, fresh ground, sand, snow and even gardens.
Temperature Control for Dogs
2. Did you know, your dog's temperature sits at around 102.3 -102.5? That's much higher than a human's body temp. That means when we think it's warm or a little hot outside, it's really warm and super hot, to a dog, outside. Dogs will often escape a hot day by digging a hole and laying in it and hanging out. Learn more about how dogs sweat and how to keep them from overheating here > How Do Dogs Sweat?
Preserving Resources from Dog/Human Threats
3. Feels threatened/Hiding valuables - We see this happening when we dog owners take things from their dogs without giving something in return. It starts as a puppy and progresses as an adult. When you start taking things as a puppy they learn really quickly that when they have something of value, it will be snatched. This makes them feel insecure about their valuables which then makes them start hiding their toys/valuables by digging holes and burying them.
4. Hunting rodents - Some breeds were bred to hunt and dig out rodents that burrow beneath the ground. Digging is innate desire for dogs and you (human) will not take it away from them. You should embrace it and provide a digging outlet for your dog.
As a Certified Dog Trainer with 9 years of experience I have seen dogs dig couches up, carpet, (drywall) walls, anything they feel they can dig through, they will. I have a client who had a dog who dug/chewed a hole through her floor and was underneath her house inside of another hole the dog dug underneath the house. "It was like a den" my client said. Can you imagine coming home to a hole in your floor and you look down to find your dog inside of another hole?. Some dogs have that very strong innate desire to dig out a den and lay in it.
Prey Scent & Hearing Prey
Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in ours. In other words, they smell literally everything. Search & Rescue dogs can smell a human's footstep on someone's lawn, 24 hours after they stepped there. So, if they think they smell prey or hear something moving beneath the surface, they will not hesitate to dig it out.
How To Eliminate Digging In Unwanted Areas
Since this is a behavior your dog is going to do regardless of how many times you yell or clap your hands or catch them and/or say "bad dog" you need focus more on teaching your dog to dig in an area that you deem okay to dig in and safe to dig in.
Teach Your Dog To Dig In a Desired Area That YOU Choose:
Empty Sandbox for kids (they have plastic ones at the store) Boards or some type of barrier so you can make the area stand out to your dog. Fresh Dirt.
What to do:
Encourage digging in this area [the dig pit] by actually digging yourself, hiding bones, throwing treats in this area. MAKE. IT. FUN. or Turn it into a training session. You should also mark and reward your dog for digging in this area and do your best to ignore your dog or prevent your dog from digging in the other areas by covering those areas up or blocking them off to prevent further digging. If you leave those areas uncovered or unblocked and you let your dog around those areas then do not be mad when your dog continues to dig there. It is considered your fault for allowing the dog out there when you KNOW 100% that the dog will dig. It is also considered setting your dog up for failure.
Practice every day. This is a skill. You can even put this on cue so that you can have your dog go and have fun in the dig pit when you need them to, not just when they want to.
So, now that you know all of this, try to be a little more understanding of your dog digging and know that they aren't doing it to get back at you for leaving them outside or getting back at you for taking their favorite toys away.
If you have a dog that digs, leave a comment! Would you take a dog training course to teach you how to get your dog to dig in one certain area?