Why Do Dogs Dig Holes?

Understanding why dogs dig holes is essential and will help you handle the behavior rather than become frustrated with your dog. Keep reading to learn why dogs dig holes.

May 9, 2024By Holly Ramsey
why do dogs dig holes

Many dogs find pleasure in digging holes and will happily excavate your yard. This is a common behavior problem that many dog owners face. Digging is generally harmless, however, if your dog is digging to escape your yard, that can be dangerous for your pooch. Learning why dogs dig holes will help you understand how to deal with this behavior.

Digging to Escape

dog digging at fence
Image credit: dogcoachingacademy.com

Some dogs are escape artists and will do everything they can to get out of an enclosure, even if it means tunneling underneath. Most people do not install a fence that extends underground, therefore, determined dogs can easily dig a trench under a fence and be off and running.

If you notice your pup is determined to escape their enclosure, try to figure out why. Many times, dogs looking to get out of their yard or enclosure are suffering from separation anxiety or they are bored and looking for something to do.

Digging for Stress Relief

black tan puppy digging
Image credit: thesprucepets.com

While we may not see the excitement of digging a hole, some dogs delight in flinging grass and dirt and creating a crater big enough to curl up into. It is a great way to relieve stress for dogs, especially bored or anxious dogs.

When a dog is left to its own devices for too long, they will become bored with toys and bird watching. This is when they start the excavation process of your backyard. Anxious dogs will look for a way to channel their emotions and can quickly become obsessive about digging. Mental and physical stimulation is being provided when dogs dig.

Genetically Predisposed to Dig

terrier digging in sand
Image credit: rd.com

Genetics plays an important part in the temperament of a dog. A herding breed, such as a Collie, will want to run and try to herd children, other dogs, livestock, and even cars. Guardian breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, will want to protect their family and property. Small hounds and terriers, such as the Dachshund, were bred to go underground and flush out vermin from their dens.

Some dogs, especially terriers like Wire Fox Terriers, will tear up your yard when they are on the hunt for moles or other small burrowing animals. Do not be surprised if your yard is fully excavated by the time your pup reaches maturity. Some terrier, and Dachshund, owners have installed digging pits in their yards to encourage their dogs to dig in one specific area rather than decimate the entire yard.

Digging a Den

dog digging hole
Image credit: moneypit.com

Even indoors you may notice your dog digging in their crate or rearranging their blankets by digging them up. This is an instinctual behavior; dogs naturally look for shelter in dens and want to dig to make the den fit them better and be comfortable. Pregnant females will also dig to create a den for their new pups.

Breeds that are heavily coated or come from colder northern regions will dig a shallow hole during the summer months to find cooler soil to stay cool. The Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute will dig shallow dens in shaded areas during the summer and in sunny areas during the winter.

Stopping the Dog Behavior

dogs in yard
Image credit: dogcoachingacademy.com

Is it possible to stop a dog from digging? Dogs will dig, that is just something they do. You can, however, minimize the amount of digging your dog does and save your lawn from overactive diggers. Identify why your dog is digging and work toward reducing the behavior with training, stimulation, and innovation.

Dogs that are bored need more physical exercise and mental stimulation. Make time to play games with your dog, go on a hike, or take up a dog sport. Dogs that have something to look forward to will be happier and less anxious. Anxious dogs will need confidence-building games and exercises. Obedience training an anxious dog is a great way to build their confidence.

Add some training sessions in your dog’s space. If they spend a lot of time in the backyard, that is where you train. If they are in a dog run, add a few training activities inside the run. This will change your dog’s perception of the space.

norfolk terrier earthdog trial
Image credit: norfolkterrier.org

Dogs that were born earth dogs may even require some thinking-outside-the-box ideas that will encourage them to dig in one specific area. Set up a large box, like a child’s sandbox, and fill it with loose dirt and sand. Bury some of their favorite things in their new digging box to encourage them to dig there. If you see your dog digging outside the box, redirect them to the box.

Dog sports such as barn hunts and earth dog trials may be perfect for your digging hound. Using your dog’s instincts, they will search through tunnels and mazes for the caged rats, which are kept safe and never harmed during these trials. Scent work trials are a great idea for mental and physical stimulation. Your dog will search through a variety of areas for hidden scent targets. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC) offer earth dog and barn hunt titles for qualifying pooches.

dog digging in grass
Image credit: highlandcanine.com

Your dog will inevitably dig holes in your yard, whether these holes become tunnels leading down into the great unknown or small nuisances, will depend on why your dog is digging in the first place. Once you understand the why, then you will want to work toward minimizing their obsession with holes. Adding more mental and physical activities to your dog’s day will keep them happy and not as apt to excavate your entire yard.

Holly Ramsey
By Holly Ramsey

Holly is a 2nd generation dog breeder/trainer and has over 25 years of experience with several different breeds. She enjoys working with her Japanese Chin and Rough Collies and helping her mom and daughter with their chosen breeds. Most evenings, Holly is hanging out with her daughter watching movies, crafting, or playing with the fur-kids.