- Author: Erin Mahaney
Two years ago, when life and work were particularly tumultuous, I turned to my husband and said, “Life is already chaotic; let's get a puppy!” Really. I actually said that. And we ended up with a digging dog in our newly redone backyard.
Roxy is a Bernese Mountain dog whose enormous paws are perfect for scooping and moving massive amounts of dirt. She expresses such delight as she excavates a hole and dirt goes flying! At one point, she was even scooping plants out of my larger pots. It's especially exciting when she hits a whistling drip line, which creates a fountain, which then creates a mud puddle, which apparently is the most fun of all to dig in. She is not trying to hide or escape. Rather, her digging is a picture of pure joyfulness.
While we've had several dogs, I've never had a digging dog before and so it wasn't really on my radar. At first, I chalked it up to puppy behavior and tried to redirect Roxy when we caught her digging. When it became apparent that the behavior was going to continue for a while, I researched the following reasons why dogs dig and tips for preventing digging. I'll share them in the hopes that they may help someone else with a digging dog (I'm sure I'm not the only one) preserve at least a portion of their backyard garden. Ideally, you will be able to identify the reason for your dog's digging and address the underlying cause, such as boredom, separation anxiety, looking for a cool place, hunting for prey, or other reasons. But digging is an innate canine behavior, so sometimes a digging dog just has to dig!
- Exercise. To address inactivity and excess energy that can lead to digging, a leading suggestion is to provide the dog with more exercise. This didn't really work for us, although perhaps it prevented worse behavior. Roxy already gets two walks a day of at least two to three miles each. As my husband ruefully said, “exercise only makes her stronger.” In fact, she is more prone to dig after a long, vigorous walk. She is especially energized then!
- Activities. Some dogs dig because they are bored. Provide them with toys and chews that distract them or give them a chance to work for a reward. We had limited success with this approach, which gave us up to approximately 1.5 hours of non-digging time. For us, a long morning walk followed by some treat-dispensing toys was optimal.
- A cool place. Some dogs dig to create a cool space to rest so providing a cool area might help.
- A place to dig. If you are able to supervise and redirect your dog, consider creating an acceptable place to dig. We sunk a big rubber container into the ground and created a “treasure chest” which we filled with buried toys. Needless to say, Roxy loved it! Because however, we could not supervise her every minute, we were not consistent in catching her digging elsewhere and redirecting her to the treasure chest. Otherwise, I actually think we may have had more success with this approach Some people wondered if creating a “dig zone” might create an incentive for Roxy to dig elsewhere, but since she was already digging everywhere else, we decided it was worth a try.
- Deterrents. If the dog tends to dig in certain areas, try making those areas inaccessible by covering them plastic mesh, rocks, or other material. Some people recommend citrus peels, but Roxy finds them to be delicious. We were somewhat successful in using short border fencing (the wire type that is about 12-16” tall) around plants and our vegetable garden. For some reason, this provided a sufficient deterrent even though Roxy could easily step over it. It also made our yard look like a plant zoo with many plants in “cages” until they grew over them. Not the look I was hoping for. Also, in our case, deterrents in one area only led to a game of “whack-a-mole” around the yard where Roxy simply moved onto a new location once we closed off a previous digging location. At one point, I even had to “fence off” my pots.
- Gophers and moles. We are fortunate that we don't have burrowing animals in our backyard, but Roxy loves to dig in gopher holes in my parents' yard. Controlling such animals may help minimize digging.
Two years later, the digging has slowed, but not stopped. Our backyard renovation isn't the oasis of peacefulness I once envisioned; instead, we have a yard full of caged plants, half-hidden, mulch-covered mesh, numerous dog toys, and a few holes. I can't pull weeds without a smelly, dirty plush toy being shoved in my face in an effort by Roxy to get me to play. But she makes me laugh and remember how fun it is to be invited to play. I wouldn't trade a pristine garden for all the joy that my digging dog brings.