How to Stop a Dog from Digging, According to Dog Trainers

Dogs are hard-wired to enjoy digging. This may not be great news if you have a beautiful, landscaped lawn you're hoping to preserve. So if craters in the front yard aren't your thing, read on to get expert tips on how to stop a puppy from digging.

Dogs dig for a number of reasons, and once you get to the bottom of why, you can learn how to stop a dog from digging.

Why do dogs dig?

Digging is an instinctual behavior in all dog breeds. Some breeds, including some hounds and terriers, were bred to dig so they could catch and kill rodents or small animals on farms or while out hunting.

In addition to trying to snag the occasional rabbit or two, dogs love to dig for lots of reasons. These include:

  • boredom
  • needing exercise or mental stimulation
  • making a cool place to rest in
  • trying to escape from a confined area
  • stress or anxiety
  • filing down their nails
  • hiding food or other precious items, like bones and toys

Trying to figure out why your pup is digging is the first step to figuring out how to stop a dog from digging.

Is your dog bored?

Your dog experiences boredom the same way you do and will try to entertain himself when he has nothing to do. Enrichment activities and puzzles may help your dog stop digging as well as promote more acceptable doggy behaviors, shares Cathy Madson, MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, of Preventive Vet, a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. “It’s very important that dogs get enough physical and mental exercise each day,” she says. But even dogs that do may still dig, as they’re hardwired to do so. One way to make sure you don’t wind up with holes in your lawn is to provide your dog with a special dig pit specifically for them that’s more enticing than other places in your garden or yard. “Fill a small swimming pool with dog-safe sand or dirt, and bury special treats and toys for your dog to find,” she suggests.

Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA, a professional dog trainer with Rover, agrees, even going so far as to say that digging is good for dogs and encouraged by physical therapists. Segregating off an acceptable place for your dog to dig may be a great solution for reducing their excess energy (and maintaining your beautiful lawn).

Does your dog have excess energy?

Dogs need playtime and exercise. If they don’t have enough outlets to burn off that excess energy, digging behaviors are bound to result. Ellis suggests building in lots of time to play fetch with your dog as one solution. “Running, swimming, and other physical activities will help your dog work off his nervous energy. You should also try scheduling more walks, to get your dog out of the yard and exploring the world,” she says. Here’s how to tell how much exercise your dog really needs.

Check the temp

If it’s too hot outside for you, it’s also too hot for your dog. If your puppy or dog is digging a hole they can lie down in, they may be trying to cool off their bodies from too-high temperatures. If so, supplying your dog with a shady area to relax in, or bringing them inside when it’s hot out, may be enough to stop a dog from digging. “If your dog is digging because he’s trying to regulate his body temperature, make sure your pup has adequate shelter, shade, and water when outdoors, or bring him inside when the weather is poor,” says Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, of Camp Bow Wow.

Keep your dog company

If your dog always digs when they are alone in the yard, don’t let them play outside unsupervised. Madson suggests setting your dog up for success by managing and setting up their outdoor environment. “Don’t allow your dog to hang out alone in the yard if they dig. If you see them starting to dig, simply redirect their attention to a better behavior, such as fetch or tug. Or, if you have a dig pit set up for them, simply take them there and encourage them to find a buried treasure,” she suggests. Here’s how to make the best backyard for your dog or cat.

How to stop a dog from digging if the dog has a digging sweet spot

If your puppy or dog is fixated on digging in one particular area, there may be a reason why, such as the scent of burrowing animals; this may be especially true if your dog is digging at the roots of trees or shrubbery. If you have unwanted critters on your property, it is imperative that you remove them safely and humanely, without traps or poisons that could hurt or kill your dog.

It’s also possible that your dog is picking up the scent of something that is buried or decaying underground on your property. To eliminate digging behavior in one particular spot or along a fence line, you can try filling the hole or holes partway with large, flat rocks or plastic chicken wire with no sharp edges as deterrents. Do not put anything in the hole which your dog might swallow or that might scratch or hurt him.

How not to stop your dog from digging

When you’re wondering how to stop a dog from digging, remember that your dog is not being “bad”; she’s simply doing an instinctual behavior she enjoys. If you catch her in the act of digging somewhere she shouldn’t, a stern “No,” followed by removing her from the hole, is sufficient. Do not yell at or punish your dog for digging. And under no circumstances should you fill the hole with water and stick her head in it. This old-school digging deterrent is a form of animal abuse, which may make your dog fearful or distrustful of you. You’re better than that! Now that you know why dogs dig, read on to find out the reasons behind why dogs roll in stinky things and other perplexing dog behaviors.

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.