Controlling a Digging Dog Through Behavior Modification

Many dog owners struggle with their digging dog. The first step to stop dogs from digging involves understanding why the behavior started and why it persists. From that understanding, the dog owner can employ simple behavior modification techniques to stop the dog from digging.

Why Dogs Dig

To stop digging dogs, a dog owner should consider the dog's breed and all the possible reasons behind the behavior.

While each dog has individual characteristics and tendencies, certain dog breeds are more predisposed to digging behaviors. If you have not yet brought a dog into your home and are considering doing so, decide ahead of time if digging is a behavior you could tolerate in designated areas. If not, you may want to avoid terriers, Malamutes, some members of the Spitz family, and Huskies.

Besides breeding, there are many possible reasons for the dog digging holes. Dogs often dig holes because they are bored. Digging a hole gives the dog a sense of purpose and something to do to pass the time. The dog may feel a need to escape, either due to fear or simply because of a natural desire to see what's beyond the dog fence. Another possible motivator for digging comes from separation anxiety. In a dog's mind, digging a hole to get beyond the dog fence represents the most direct path to you and other family members. Your dog may be digging to find a way to cool off in hot weather. The bottom line from a behavioral perspective is that the dog is getting some reward from digging holes. The owner can provide more compelling rewards for digging in designated areas only.

Behavior Modifications to Stop the Digging

Curbing the behavior involves behavior change not only for the dog but for the owner in finding creative solutions. The most powerful way to curb the behavior is to focus on creating a new and acceptable behavior while deterring the old. Punishment itself often leads to a different result than what the owner intended, i.e. making the dog afraid of the owner or aggressive as a result.

To try and deter the digging behavior, make it less rewarding. If possible, roll out turf or put something in the digging area that the dog cannot dig through. As soon as the dog learns that the digging doesn't lead to a hole, the behavior becomes less rewarding. You can then create a specific area, a sand box or box with dirt and sand and buried treats and toys, where the dog can create holes. He or she will naturally gravitate to the area that's more rewarding for digging. If it is warm outside, provide your dog with a small pool or area that is shady and moist that will provide even more cooling off than digging a hole.

When you catch the dog digging in the designated area or going to the designated area for cooling off, offer praise and attention and whatever else you know your dog loves (i.e. food, or a favorite toy).