Why Do Dogs Dig Holes?

There's a reason your dog is rearranging the dirt in your yard.

Figuring out why your dog digs is the first step to knowing how to get him to stop. Sundays Photography/Shutterstock

Some dogs just can't help it. Let them loose in the backyard and the temptation is just too great. Their front paws become a crazy set of whirring garden tools as they furiously set to work digging a hole.

Although you may not be thrilled with the flying dirt, digging is a very natural behavior for dogs. There are plenty of reasons why they do it and ways you can (sometimes) get them to stop.

Looking for entertainment

dog with dirt on his nose
Sometimes dogs just dig for the fun of it. Shawn Kirton/flickr

Dogs may dig just for the fun of it when they learn that roots and soil move and "play back," according to the Humane Society of the United States. Dogs that dig for fun often do it when they're left outside alone to find their own entertainment and have no toys, playmates or other outlet for their energy. They may dig for entertainment if they're an active breed or even if they've seen you digging or gardening and want to do the same thing.

How to get them to stop: This type of digging can be the hardest to stop because the action of digging is rewarding in and of itself, says WebMD and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). You may want to create a special digging pit where your dog is allowed to dig and consider fencing off areas that are particularly off limits to your pet. Give your dog lots of exercise, give him outdoor toys and make sure he isn't outside unsupervised in the yard.

Trying to escape

puppy digging at fence
Some dogs will dig near a fence, attempting to escape. Annette Shaff/Shutterstock

Some dogs dig because they are attempting a getaway. They figure they can't get over the fence, so why not try under? Your dog might be trying to get to something or get away from something. It could be that they just see something they want to chase, want to escape confinement or they could be dealing with separation anxiety.

How to get them to stop: First, make sure your dog is confined in your yard. Bury chicken wire at the bottom of your fence or bury the fence line at least a foot deep and place large rocks at the bottom of your fence line. Don't leave your dog alone outdoors. Work with a trainer to deal with any anxiety issues.

Searching for comfort and protection

dog sleeping in a hole in a garden
Dogs will sometimes dig holes and sleep in them to cool off. Ton Bangkeaw/Shutterstock

Dogs might simply be digging a hole to find a cooler spot to escape the summer heat. In colder, rainier weather, they may be trying to find protection from the elements. Dogs can also dig to try to find water. You might be able to tell this is why your dog is digging if she lies in the hole she digs.

How to get them to stop: Be sure your dog has the comfort she's looking for. Provide shelter for her outside, but don't leave her outdoors when it's hot, cold or it's raining or snowing. Make sure she has plenty of water outside.

Burying hidden treasure

dog gnawing on bone
If your dog doesn't finish his bone, he may just want to bury it for later. Oskari Porkka/Shutterstock

"Dogs dig in dirt or other substrates, like mulch or sand, to bury items they want to save for later, like a favorite chew or toy, or to search for items that they have hidden in the past," says veterinarian Wailani Sung in VetStreet. This is based on hereditary behavior when wild dogs and their relatives would bury extra food and bones so they could eat them later.

How to get them to stop: Don't give your dog food or bones that he won't finish right away. If your dog doesn't finish something completely, take it away before he has the chance to stash it away. If your dog really seems to enjoy this kind of digging, you might want to consider giving him his own digging pit and encouraging him to bury his goodies there.

Searching for prey

dogs digging in the leaves
It's tough to stifle the prey drive when dogs are chasing insects or small animals. Sundays Photography/Shutterstock

Dogs sometimes dig in search of insects or other prey that run on the ground or underground. They might go hunting for moles or chipmunks or anything else they see scurrying around the ground.

How to get them to stop: The ASPCA cautions, "Be forewarned: punishing your dog for this type of digging isn’t likely to work, because the act of hunting is naturally highly rewarding to most dogs, regardless of whether or not it results in unpleasant consequences." Instead, you might want to find humane traps to remove the animals from your yard or find ways to fence off the parts of your yard where they're most common.

As much fun as your dog might be having when he digs, you likely don't want a yard full of pits. Once you figure out your dog's motivation, you can take steps to get him to stop landscaping your backyard.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.