A dog’s digging is one of those habits that’s really hard to break unless you can supervise your dog every time he’s in the yard.
In this post, I’ll go over how I would stop a dog from digging in the yard as well as how to train your dog to dig in one, specific area.
If you’re dealing with a dog that digs, it helps to ask yourself three questions:
1. Why is my dog digging?
Usually it’s out of boredom and the habit can be fixed by increasing exercise and interaction. Other times, it’s a habit linked to a strong prey drive.
2. Is the digging really a big deal?
Can’t you just put up with some holes in your yard and muddy paws?
Some people can. Some really can’t.
3. Would you be OK with providing your dog a specific place to dig?
Like his own sandbox?
If your dog were actually trained to dig only in that one area, would you be OK with that?
Now I’ll go over both options: Teaching the dog to dig in his own area and teaching the dog NOT to dig at all.
First, here are some reasons why dogs dig:
- It’s fun! Wooo! It’s a natural way to release energy.
- Instincts – Some dogs are bred for digging and have a prey drive!
- It helps them cool off on hot days by digging into the cooler dirt
- A response to excitement! (See above, “It’s fun!”)
- A way to deal with boredom, nothing else to do
- Trying to bury bones or toys
How to teach a dog to dig in one area
This is as simple as putting together a sandbox for your dog and then encouraging him to play and dig in that area.
The best way to do this is to simply engage with your dog in that area and reward him for playing/digging in the sand box while preventing him from digging in other areas until he learns.
You can do things like:
- Place his toys in the sandbox & play with him there
- Hide treats and toys in the sand and play “Find it”
- Teach him a command like “Where’s your box?” or simply “Box”
How the heck do I make a sandbox?
Buy a plastic sandbox designed for kids and fill it with sand for your dog. These typically come with a cover so you could keep cats and other animals out of it at night. Others just fill a cheap, plastic pool with sand.
Another option is to build a sandbox with lumber placed in a square and fastened together. My parents built me a sandbox like this one when I was a kid. It was awesome!
How to stop a dog from digging.
You might be thinking, there’s no way in hell I’m building my dog a sand box! I understand.
My method for stopping a dog from digging goes like this:
- Reduce freedom and supervise.
- Prevent unwanted behavior by re-direction.
- Reward good behavior.
- Very slowly increase freedom as the dog is successful.
(Weird, it’s the same as potty training … and teaching a dog pretty much any concept.)
But first things first – make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and general obedience training!
Now that we have that out of the way …
1. Reduce freedom – use a long leash.
By reducing freedom, I mean supervising your dog at all times in the yard temporarily. Leave him indoors while you’re not home and put him on a long leash when you’re in the yard together.
2. Re-direct his attention and praise.
With a long leash (20 feet+), you can “reel him in” as needed and re-direct his attention away from digging.
Calmly say “no” if he is about to dig, and then re-direct him to something appropriate like playing with a toy or lying in the grass. Reward him for good behavior with treats and praise.
3. Give him other things to do and reward him.
4. Slowly increase freedom as your dog is successful.
Do this in small steps. For example, after a few days of keeping your dog on the long leash, try dropping the leash but remaining in the yard with your dog.
Then, maybe a week later, remove the leash completely but stay in the yard with your dog (possibly carrying highly valued treats). Then, leave him outside alone but watch him from a window.
The key is not to increase freedom too quickly. Don’t leave your dog in the yard when you’re not home until he’s been successful for a few weeks with closer monitoring.
Other ways to stop a dog’s digging
Use an e-collar.
Some people will say they would never resort to punishment when a dog is digging. That’s fine. Others are so frustrated with their dogs they really need to put a stop to the behavior very quickly.
An e-collar with a remote can be helpful because you can correct your dog very clearly and instantly reward him for stopping. It also allows you to be standing indoors watching from a window. Most dogs should only need one or two corrections to learn not to dig in the yard.
Putting your dog’s poop in the hole!
I have not tried this method but it always comes up. Basically, when your dog is not looking you fill his usual digging spot with his own poop and then cover it up. So when your dog goes to dig, he finds his poop and is like, “Yuck, I don’t want to dig here!” Do that enough times and he’s like, OK, digging is not so fun!
I have had professional trainers tell me this works. Has it worked for any of you? Nothing wrong with giving it a try.
OK, let me know in the comments …
What ideas do you have for stopping a dog from digging in the yard?
There are so many reasons dogs dig and I can’t address them all in one post (prey drive, trying to escape, burying bones, etc.). What’s worked for you?
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