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Backyard Bandits: Why Dogs Dig

Is your dog destroying your backyard with holes? The good news is he probably isn’t trying to escape. The bad: you may have a rodent problem. 

Dogs typically dig because they’re hunting small ground animals, but there are also a host of other, more complex reasons that may be to blame. Consider your dog’s daily routine, emotional state, and environment to figure out the cause for those holes.

The Emotional

Is your dog particularly needy or prone to nervousness? When paired with pacing or whimpering, digging can be a manifestation of anxiety. If you’re away often and come home to find your dog digging, it could be that he or she misses you (and is trying to find where you’ve been hiding).

Instincts run deep in our dogs, so they occasionally dig to protect their belongings. Check out your dog’s holes; are they filled with bones and balls? Your pup may be trying to hide these treasured gems, especially if you have other pets in the house. (Not everyone is great at sharing!).

If you’re not around often or your dog has no other outlets, digging may simply be a means of combatting boredom and leftover energy. Consider spending more time walking or playing with your dog and see if the digging diminishes. 

The Environmental

In hotter months, dogs will dig holes outside to create cool resting places in shady areas. You can manage this impulse by cooling your dog down with access to a doggy door or shady landscaping, plenty of fresh water, and a shorter haircut.

Dogs that dig by fences may actually be trying to escape, but it’s nothing personal. If your dog has not been neutered, it’s possible that he’s just trying to run off for a hot date up the street. And if you live on a particularly busy road filled with noisy people and cars, your dog may just be digging to get to the excitement outside. Escape digging could also be a symptom of growing aggression in your dog, in which case you should consult your veterinarian immediately.

The Genetic

Digging may be in your dog’s blood. Some breeds are more in touch with a hunting instinct that encourages them to seek out small animals in your yard.  This is probably because at some point, your dog’s breed was literally bred to hunt and dig. Breeds that dig compulsively include dachshunds, terriers and beagles. Your yard could also just be overrun with small rodents like chipmunks, mice, or squirrels, in which case you may want to thank your dog for saving you the cost of an exterminator.  

You may have also noticed your dog digging inside: at the furniture, the floor, and the bed. This is known as “denning” or territorial digging and is another deeply rooted instinct in your pup, leftover from when dogs in the wild would dig for shelter and protection before going to sleep.  Your dog isn’t trying to destroy your new carpet; he’s trying to build himself a den!

Dogs are also believed to dig at their resting spot in order to leave their scent behind and mark their territory. There are special glands in our dogs’ paws that emit their signature smell, warning other dogs off their claimed space.

There are plenty of reasons why your dog may dig, and causes will ultimately vary depending on your dog’s character and the nature of your home. In determining the roots of your dog’s holes, try to consider when this habit began, where the holes tend to be located, and when your dog seems to dig the most. As always, paying a little extra attention to your pup usually leads to an increased understanding of what makes that tail tick.

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