Dogs dig out of boredom. Why? Because digging is a ton of fun! Dogs love to dig up the smells of Mother Nature and get their paws, face, head, body and tail as dirty as possible so that you get to be the lucky one to clean it up when they track it into the house! Digging is fun for dogs, and definitely not fun for humans to deal with. While your dog just may be discovering a new species of dinosaur in your perfect garden, you'd probably rather have a hole-free yard. Here are 6 steps to kicking your dog's digging habit....
1) Your dog needs more mental/physical activity and attention. Just because you have a big yard for your dog doesn't mean that you get a free pass to not exercise your dog regularly. Even though he has space to run around, chances are he's waiting by the door or laying in his favorite spot just waiting for you to come play with him. Dogs are highly social animals and need a lot of attention from their owners. Whether it's in the form of play, walks, runs or bike rides, it's very important to actively engage your dog. If not, your dog will find all kinds of ways to occupy his time, including, creating potholes all over your yard. Like I've said before, dogs can be like boiling pots of water- if you keep a lid on it, it will spill over and make a mess. Give the steam a chance to escape, and you will have a happy dog who is happy to lounge around in the sun.
2) Extinguish the digging behavior by only letting him out in your yard when you have the time to be out there with him to train him not to dig. For many people who work all day and keep their dogs outside, it may mean keeping their dogs inside and perhaps hiring a professional dog walker to break up their dog's day. This way your dog will get plenty of exercise if he gets to go on an hour power walk with his dog walker (meaning that you get to come home to a mellow, happy dog) and he will get extra attention and play time in the yard with you. So what do you do if your dog does start digging while you're outside with him? Simply, shuffle your feet towards your dog as he's trying to dig and take up the space. I like to say, "No dig" and move the dog out of the desirable digging spot using my body language. As soon as your dog backs up, say "Good!" and then redirect your dog's attention and get him interested in a toy. And what if you have an avid digger? See #3.
Use small garden fences that stick in the ground to discourage your dog from excavating certain areas. Dogs are pretty opportunistic and when it comes to digging and are easily discouraged just by making it a tad bit more difficult to get to certain areas. The wire garden fences at Home Depot are cheap and easy to install (some look really pretty, others not as pretty), and will protect flower beds or areas of your lawn that your dog insists on digging in. For new puppy owners with nice landscaping, I highly recommend protecting your plants from puppy plant monsters with a few garden fences. When your puppy grows out of the crazy, destructive puppy phase, or when your dog gives up on digging, you can remove the fences.
Don't let your dog see you while you dig in your garden, plant flowers and/or fill holes, they will want to join in on the fun. If you watch dogs at the dog park, one will start digging a hole and then others will start to join in on the fun. It's just too tempting for your dog to start a dig party right in front him. While your dog isn't watching you, fill up all of the holes. A hole left unfilled is very tempting for your dog. Make sure that you pack the ground as hard and as evenly possible. Soft and uneven ground is a very desirable for a dog who loves to get dirty.
This may be an old wive's tale and I have seen this work a time or two, but you can also try diluting vinegar with water (1/1parts) and spraying it over the areas that your dog enjoys digging in the most. Dogs do not like the smell of vinegar and it can deter him from digging in certain areas.
6) Digging is really fun for dogs and is a great way to burn off energy! A dig pit just for your dog can be the answer to all of your frustrations. A kid's old sandbox does the trick and if you're worried about your dog getting sandy, fill it with decomposed granite instead (it's a little bit less dirty). Teaching your dog to only dig in his dig pit requires a bit of time and training on your part because you will have to manage your dog's time outside in your yard. Don't let him entertain himself outside while you're teaching him this new concept, otherwise he may wander off to dig elsewhere. While your dog is inside, go outside and hide a few of his toys in his dig pit. Let him out of the house and lead him over to the sandbox, telling him to go "dig". Let him explore it and dig if he wants to. Show him that one of his toys in buried in it. Then practice telling him, "no dig" and reward him for stopping by giving him a toy or a treat. Then tell him to "dig" again. This way you're making a game out of it and giving the digging behavior an on and off switch. If your dog tries to go off and dig out of the dig pit, interrupt him with a kissy noise to get his attention (or body block the digging space if he's adamant about digging in that spot) and then lead him back over to his dig pit and tell him to "dig". Once your dog reliably knows to dig in his special dig pit and he no longer digs anywhere else in the yard you can let him out in the backyard without you being there for a few minutes at a time. Watch him from the window the first few times and if he starts to dig lead him back over to his sandbox or bring him back inside. You may need to back up a few steps and work on the exercises with him some more before you allow him more freedom. If your dog is doing well with his unaccompanied trips to the backyard, gradually increase the amount of time that your dog can be outside by himself. Just remember, a bored dog is a destructive dog. Make sure that you give your dog plenty of exercise, play time and training games to keep him active and happy, and your yard hole-free.