Dig It

Why Does Your Dog Dig?

Come spring, Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, Westwood, Kansas, gets the first exasperated call: "Help! My puppy is strip-mining my yard. It's got big holes everywhere."

You may think it's strange that dogs dig, but there are practical reasons for this behavior. And there are solutions, says Dr. Hunthausen, co-author of the Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. First, you need to understand why your dog digs.

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Predatory Instincts

"Young dogs may dig to entertain themselves," Dr. Hunthausen says. Or they may be triggered by predatory instincts. For instance, a dog may spy a snake slithering into a hole and dig after it. Sometimes, he says, your dog might dig to escape a fence. Maybe juicy drippings from last night's burgers on the grill are at fault. Or your pregnant dog could be trying to dig a nest.

Perhaps your dog likes burying bones. This trait was passed down to domestic dogs from ancestors. These wild dogs buried animals they killed just to keep the other dogs from stealing them ( Click here to read more about ancestral traits inherited by dogs.)

Or, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor of small animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University, a dog could be digging her very own "air conditioner." On a hot, summer day, dense, moist soil is cooler than a dog.

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If your dog paws your carpet or bedding, she may be bored. Try leaving out her favorite squeak toy to play with instead. If she digs in your bed while you're gone, she may be comforting herself with your scent. Leaving one of your old shirts or pajama tops for her to curl up on may help solve this.

If your dog is still digging, Dr. Hunthausen says to look for reasons and solutions. For example, your dog could be digging ...

  • To chase wildlife. Call a wildlife expert for advice on keeping critters away.
  • To escape. Try more exercise. Your dog may need some balls to play with.
  • To stay cool. Put a sandbox with wet sand in the shade and let her dig in that.

But don't punish your dog when you find a hole. Scolding won't work unless you catch him with his paws in the dirt and the mud on his muzzle. Your best bet is to find the cause of the digging and try to correct that.

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