How to Prevent Your Pup from Digging Holes Everywhere

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

How to Prevent Your Pup from Digging Holes Everywhere

Dogs can be enjoyable, fulfilling, and a wonder to keep around, but they can also be utter nuisances that get on your every last nerve. For example, when you've spent months growing and tending your well-manicured lawn and keeping a garden in vibrant bloom, except every dang time you let your pup run and play in the yard, they dig holes everywhere. Argh! Not the petunias again, you hooligan!

Young or old, if your pooch is digging holes, there's a reason for it, and it's not just to annoy you or in some vendetta against the landscaping. You can get them to stop, but it's important to understand why they do what they do. So, let's talk about it!

Why Do Dogs Dig Holes?

In cartoons, dogs dig holes because they want a place to bury their bones for later, or they're searching out that buried treasure, or sometimes because it's a prison break. None of that is really accurate to real life other than the fact that dogs will dig holes. Why do they do that, though?

Digging is an instinctive behavior of many kinds of canines. Even wild wolves will dig, sometimes enough to form whole dens for their pack. Modern dog breeds vary in how strong this instinct is; the "earth dogs," breeds like terriers, were historically bred to be small enough to chase problem rodents to their dens and even dig out those dens to get at the pests.

Back when pest control was more of a matter of keeping predators around than it was mechanical devices and chemicals, that was just how it was done, and some dogs were bred to be better at it.

Other dogs might not have been historically bred to be mousers or hunting dogs, but they still have some instinct to dig. Sometimes, it's because they hear or smell underground prey like moles. Other times, they smell something interesting under the surface. But these aren't the only reasons.

Another common reason is simply that the earth is cool beneath the surface. On a hot day, your dog gets overheated and wants to seek a cooler temperature to relax. They might find a shady spot in the yard to lie down, or they might seek out a puddle from last night's rainstorm.

Or, some dogs recognize that if they scrape away a layer of hot sun-heated dirt, the dirt beneath it is cooler, and they can lie down and let the ground absorb some of their heat. This is especially common with certain breeds like malamutes and huskies, who both love being cold and love being active.

A Dog Digging a Hole Image by Toe Beans

And, to go back to those cartoons, the "dog burying a bone" image actually isn't as far off from reality as you might think. Dogs like to keep their valuable items safe, and while in the wild, that's usually excess food, in our house pets, it's more likely to be a chew toy or other beloved item they don't want to get stolen.

You're more likely to see this in breeds with a bit more anxiety and self-defense behaviors, where they're worried about other dogs in the house stealing what they have.

The jailbreak idea isn't too far from the truth, either. If your dog really wants to explore beyond the borders of your yard, but you have a pesky fence in the way, well, if they can't jump the fence, they can certainly try to dig a tunnel under it.

In some cases, it's not curiosity but anxiety that drives this behavior. A dog that is anxious and fearful might want to escape your yard so they can find a calmer and more isolated space.

And, hey, let's be real here. Digging holes is pretty fun. A bored dog with energy to burn can only do so much running in circles and barking at the trees before they try to find other behaviors, and those behaviors are often things like digging. This goes double if you've been gardening recently and they've seen you digging holes; they're just helping!

It's one thing to know why they're digging holes, though, and quite another to stop it. So, what can you do?

Ways to Stop Your Pup from Digging Holes

Knowing how to stop your pup from digging requires knowing what is leading them to dig in the first place and finding ways to redirect the behavior.

Keep your pup busy.

If your fur baby is bored and has excess energy they need to burn off, and they've decided digging is the way to do it, then you're going to need to find ways to spend that energy that don't involve digging.

People Playing With Their Dog Image by Toe Beans

Some of your potential options include:

  • Playing fetch. Active toys engage their body and their mind, especially if you make a more complicated game out of it than just grab and return. Some dogs have endless energy and need their mind occupied more than their body, so coupling the fetch with other tricks, like getting them to hold before chasing, can be a good option.
  • More walks. Especially for active breeds, you may need 2-3 walks per day, long enough to engage them and burn some energy. If you take them to frolic in a dog park, they may have more active time spent per walk and won't need as many, but it's contextual to the breed, age, and kind of activity of each walk.
  • Keeping engaging toys around the yard, especially for less supervised time. Make sure they're toys that are mentally engaging and safe enough that your dog isn't going to hurt themselves by chewing on them when you're not watching them. Change out toys regularly so they don't get bored with them.

Generally, you just need to give them something to do with their boredom and nervous energy other than digging. It's not always possible without direct supervision, though.

Disincentivize digging.

There are a few options you have that can help disincentivize digging. You might notice that your pup is often digging in the same spots over and over. They also tend to like sniffing and exploring the dirt they're digging through.

A common option to try to stop this behavior is to make it unpleasant to keep digging. Some people recommend, for example, using a bit of their poo and burying it at the bottom of their holes. Then, the next time they go digging, they find their leavings.

A lot of dogs love exploring and even eating poo, but more the poo of other creatures and dogs, not their own. They generally don't like going after their own leavings, so finding it at the bottom of every hole they dig is going to become unpleasant and teach them not to dig.

An Owner Disincentivizing Digging Image by Toe Beans

If poo doesn't work, a couple of other options are lemon or cayenne. A bit of lemon juice at the bottom of the hole can be unpleasant enough that they stop digging, though it's tricky in that it won't last too long, so you need to get the timing right.

Cayenne, red pepper, or any capsaicin-containing spice can work too. It's not toxic to dogs, but it's irritating; putting a small sprinkle in the hole before you let them out will leave them reeling, unhappy with having sniffed it. Just don't use too much!

Make a dig pit and redirect the digging.

One of the best options is redirection. Digging is, as I mentioned above, a natural behavior for dogs. It's practically impossible to fully train out an instinctive behavior like that, so it's an uphill battle.

The actual best way to handle digging is to accept that digging is going to happen and just try to redirect it to a place where it won't bother anyone. A sandpit or sandbox, a corner of the yard you don't care about, wherever it is, it's a place you teach them it's okay to dig.

Then, when they dig anywhere else, redirect them to the digging place and away from your garden or the fence line or wherever else it is they're digging.

A Sand Pit For Digging Image by Toe Beans

The tricky part with this kind of redirection training is that it takes a lot of direct supervision and fast reactions with rewards. Stay close to the digging area, and if they dig anywhere else, call them over. Reward them only if they dig in the digging area and not if they dig anywhere else.

You can help make this more interesting by burying treats or toys in the digging area so they have something fun to unearth and play with. If they dig anywhere else, they won't find anything rewarding, so they'll be more likely to dig in the digging area because they know they will find fun things there.

You definitely need to be consistent and intentional with this kind of training. If you have to leave them alone, either have someone else watch and train them or have some kind of very enticing toy that will hold their attention until you return. Consistency is critical for any training like this.

Try to ward off pests.

If your fur baby is digging explicitly because they hear, smell, or otherwise notice underground critters like mice and moles, no force in the universe is going to override their hunting instincts and keep them from going after their prey.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many ways you can ward off these critters. Sometimes, fencing that reaches a bit underground around your yard can help. Sometimes, certain plants or scents can keep them away. It's very hit or miss.

A Small Dog Digging Image by Toe Beans

What you definitely shouldn't do is try to put out poison or another chemical to try to keep the smaller creatures away. Anything dangerous or deadly to a rodent is dangerous to your dog, whether they encounter it directly or they dig up and chow down on a poisoned rodent.

Try a ground cover.

If your fur baby is trying to dig under a fence or other barrier and get out of the yard, there are two ways to stop it.

The first is to figure out why they're trying to escape and remove that cause. Maybe there's something very attractive outside the fence that's harder to handle, but you may be able to collaborate with a neighbor to adjust schedules or otherwise avoid letting two dogs out at the same time. If, on the other hand, there's something in the yard they don't like, try to figure it out and remove it. You don't want to drive them away, after all.

A Dog Digging a Hole in the Dirt Image by Toe Beans

The second is to make it unpleasant to try to dig around the base of a fence. Something like a ground-covering roll of chicken wire or chain link can make it uncomfortable and unpleasant for your fur baby to walk across and can keep them from approaching the property line to dig.

You can also use large, partially buried stones along the bottom of the fence line so they can't dig there, or even just a border barrier of something like gravel or lava rock that they'll find unpleasant both to walk on and to try to dig through. It can be a bit of a landscaping project to put these down, but once they're in, they should only require some ongoing maintenance.

Note: be very careful with chicken wire in particular. Since it's made of a thin wire that can break, rust, and be sharp, if your poor fur baby tries to walk over or dig through it, they can cut their paws. You will, generally, need to replace any chicken wire every year or two, depending on the condition, and you need to make absolutely sure the sharp ends of the wire are folded back and away from anywhere your pooch can access.

Your Ideas

Do you have any ideas on how to stop a dog from digging? Punishment is right out, of course. Never use punishment to try to train a dog; it doesn't work, and it's inhumane.

A Dog Digging a Hole in the Sand Image by Toe Beans

Other than that and the ideas I've mentioned above, do you have any? If so, feel free to let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear from you about your experiences with a pup that wants to live underground.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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