Digging holes is one of many canine behaviors that originated in dogs' early developmental history. Many domesticated dogs, like their wild ancestors, cannot resist getting their paws into plots of earth. Although some humans interpret digging in the yard as misbehavior, a dog's primary motivation is the instinct-driven pursuit of pleasure.
Boredom and Separation Anxiety
While their humans are at work, some dogs experience separation anxiety. Your dog might dig to counteract the stress of waiting or to escape and go find you, among other reasons. When napping, staring out windows and going in or out of the doggy door becomes tedious, digging can be an entertaining pastime. Providing enjoyable diversions for use only when you leave might occupy your dog and reduce her need to dig. Try leaving a treat-stuffed rubber toy outdoors or a mentally challenging dog puzzle containing hidden edible rewards.
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Burying edible valuables is an innate trait passed down from your dog's ancestors, which relied on this food storage method to protect leftovers from scavengers, according to Wayne Hunthausen, DVM. You probably use the refrigerator to store food, but some dogs prefer stashing special possessions in holes they dig and cover with dirt. To stop your pup from burying treasures in your garden, try providing rewarding alternatives in the form of exercise, such as long walks or playtime with her favorite people.
Helping in the Garden
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You and your furry friend may disagree about a garden's purpose. Dogs don't differentiate between planting and digging. It's all dirt to them. Your dog doesn't mean to dig up specifically the flowers and vegetables you carefully planted in rich soil and organic fertilizer. Dogs love to dig in fresh dirt and are attracted to fertilizer's irresistible smell. Try giving your overeager helper a special garden plot of her own. Hide enticing treats and bones beneath the dirt, and encourage her to dig them up. Praise her for using her garden, and maybe she will leave yours alone.
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Some dogs dig to escape from confinement when they are lonely and anxious. Bored dogs may be seeking something or someone to play with beyond the fence. If your dog is digging out of your yard, you will need to fill in holes under the fence and block temptations and distractions. Spaying and neutering may reduce seasonal escape digging. Females in heat and interested males may become so determined to get together they will scale or burrow under ostensibly escape-proof fences and walls.
Foraging for Food
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Industrious dogs may discover that digging diligently in certain parts of the yard will yield delicious self-serve food. Dogs keep themselves busy digging in soil and playing with roots that are challenging to yank out. Some dogs uncover, chew and eat the dark soil, roots and sticks; while their harvest may not be fresh carrots or beets, any foraging that leads to tasty soil-seasoned snacks is a worthwhile endeavor for some dogs.
Maura Wolf's published online articles focus on women, children, parenting, non-traditional families, companion animals and mental health. A licensed psychotherapist since 2000, Wolf counsels individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, body image, parenting, aging and LGBTQ issues. Wolf has two Master of Arts degrees: in English, from San Francisco State University and in clinical psychology, from New College.