I have observed many dogs digging over the years and find the behaviour quite interesting to figure out. There are a variety of reasons dogs dig and some solutions for owners.
The main reason is certainly in their DNA. Thousands of years before humans began domesticating the dogs they were part of a pack. Their pack would hunt together for survival as did their ancestors. Any excess food left over after eating was buried to hide from other scavengers and to save for another time instead of sharing.
At times a female dog ancestor would dig to create a den for her young and for shelter.
All of the Labradors in my life have enjoyed scooping out a part of a flower bed for a nest. It can certainly be annoying when plants are coming up in the early spring! Abby choses a particular corner where she can keep an eye on neighbors in their gardens through the fence, see us coming out the garden door, and prime viewing for the mail being delivered!
I do, however, think that she does it to keep cool, another reason dogs dig in the earth. It can easily lower their temperature on a hot summer day.
Dogs have keen senses which drive the digging activity. They can hear things we cannot under the ground and certainly smell at a level we can never experience. I have noticed at the off leash park in the last few weeks tons of dogs digging or scratching at the spring soil. Owners are frustrated as the behaviour is out of control at the moment! Some dogs are attempting to eat the dirt, a whole other post! A dog trainer friend of mine, Jon Fowles, suggested that it could be that the dogs smell the worms coming close to the surface of the newly warmed up soil, or the worm poop scent. It has proved to be quite an attraction for the canines after a few months of hard frosted groundcover.
Dogs can dig for other reasons, boredom is a big one. A dog left outside in a garden for long periods of time might dig to have something to do with excess energy. Others dig from separation anxiety as pack animals want to be with their family.
I have known owners of dogs that dig to escape and unfortunately once out they are rewarded by being “free” and will attempt it again and again. Supervision is key!
Providing a toy distraction sometimes works to keep their digging at bay. A nice chew toy that requires an effort to get some tasty bites could work. Exercising a digger is another tip. You can avoid digging by tiring your dog out.
Occasionally fear triggers digging, for example rumbling thunder in the distance; a dog’s instinct is to get out of the open and find a safer spot.
Another tip to stop digging is to put some fresh dog poop in their desired digging area if it is not in a safe or desired spot. Dogs do not like being in a “dirty spot.” It sounds pretty drastic but might work.
Chicken wire can be laid over an undesired area or some small garden hedge fences about a foot high to block a dog from more digging.
On a positive note there are other options. You can give in and let your dog enjoy his/her ancestry and let them dig and have a special desired spot, if they are in no danger of escaping or of chewing a plant/shrub that might be poisonous!
I have known a couple of families that created a digging corner for their dog that has the urge; a sunken sandbox type of idea. A neat toy or a treat could be buried and encouraged to be dug up but only in that spot – behavioural modification at its best!
I do let Abby have a beef bone on occasion and let her “go wild.” She spends a great deal of time savoring the treat out on our grass. If I leave it with her for more than 45 minutes she will look in all directions before carefully scanning around our garden for the perfect of all locations then will dig a shallow hole. Within five minutes the bone is covered up not by her paws scooping the soil but her nose! She pats it down to “remove” all evidence of her stash with her nose and then returns to rest and dream of digging it up on another day.
When I bring her in we laugh as her dirty muzzle and nose provide evidence of her fun; we pretend not to “let on” that we are in on her trick. Her “wild side” despite being almost thirteen, is alive and well!
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