Vets share 6 reasons why your dog won't stop digging and how to handle this natural behavior (2023)

  • Dogs often dig out of pure instinct, so frequent digging isn't always a cause for concern.
  • You can redirect problem digging with training, adequate exercise, and a digging spot of their own.
  • Call a vet if your dog has broken nails or other paw injuries, digs to escape, or seems anxious.

Many dogs absolutely love digging.

Your pup might tunnel into sand at the beach, plow through the mud at the dog park, or even, much to your dismay, uproot your carefully cultivated garden. A particularly dig-prone dog may even paw at their bedding, the sofa, or the bare floor.

But while digging is a natural behavior for many dog breeds, it can sometimes become problematic — especially if your canine pal ruins furniture, scratches floors, or damages newly placed sod.

Read on for six reasons why your dog so desperately wants to dig, according to vets — plus a few tips on how to accommodate their instincts while minimizing destruction of your house and yard.

1. They're trying to cool off

When the weather gets particularly hot, some dogs might dig to cool themselves off, says Dr. Stephanie Sheen, a veterinarian at Fuzzy Pet Health. This is because digging exposes cooler dirt that your dog can rest on more comfortably.

She adds that breeds with heavy coats, like Siberian huskies, malamutes, and Spitz dogs, may be more likely to dig in hot weather.

Companion pets are less likely to dig to cool off because they usually spend time indoors in hot weather or have access to shade areas. Outdoor farm dogs and dogs built for the cold, on the other hand, tend to dig when they need to cool down, according to Preston Turano, veterinarian and AKC Pet Insurance spokesperson.

Some dogs may also dig in stormy, rainy weather, regardless of temperature. According to Sheen, digging may kick in as a protective mechanism when a dog doesn't have appropriate shelter from the elements.

2. They're hunting for prey

According to Sheen, hunting for prey is a big reason for digging — especially for dogs like terriers and dachshunds. Terrier means "earth dog," in fact, and dachshunds were bred specifically to hunt for underground animals like rats or moles.

Still, plenty of other breeds might also dig to unearth burrowing creatures. An acute sense of smell and a finely tuned prey drive makes all dogs highly perceptive. So, when your dog gets a whiff of prey, it may try to dig it out.

You can tell your dog is digging for prey because they dig in lines or around the bases of trees, according to Sheen.

And of course, they might even bring you the fruits of their labor, Turano says — a sure sign they're digging for prey.

3. They're about to give birth

Your pregnant dog's nesting instinct will kick in within about 24 hours of giving birth, according to Sheen.

Usually, this means she'll seek out a quiet spot. If she's outside, she might start digging in the dirt to create a safe, comfortable spot for newborn puppies. Indoors, she may settle down in a soft, blanketed area and paw at the blankets to get them just right.

You'll likely notice other signs of pregnancy well before your dog displays nesting behavior, Turano says. These may include:

  • Enlarged nipples
  • A potbelly shape to her abdomen
  • Increased appetite
  • More affectionate behavior than usual, such as being more cuddly or following you around more often
  • Irritability, which may include growling or possessiveness of toys and treats

4. They're hiding or retrieving something

A dog tearing up your yard or frantically digging at the couch cushions may be trying to retrieve something they hid.

"This is a behavior dogs share with their wolf ancestors, who bury their excess meat from hunting to avoid scavenging by other animals," Sheen says.

If your dog seems ready to upturn your living room, you could join in the search to help them find their missing treat or toy. In the future, avoid letting them out with a toy or bone to prevent them from digging to bury these items or find them again later.

5. They're anxious

Anxiety can also trigger digging behavior, Sheen says.

What's more, anxiety is actually the most common cause of excessive digging, according to Turano.

Anxiety-related digging most often happens after a triggering event, such as being left alone. A dog might dig to escape an uncomfortable situation or as a stress relief mechanism, Sheen says.

If your dog's digging relates to anxiety, you may also notice:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Frequent barking
  • Frantic pacing or restlessness
  • Other destructive behavior, like excessive chewing
  • Lesions, blood, or broken toenails on the front paws from excessive digging

Addressing the root cause of the anxiety can help reduce destructive digging behavior.

6. They're bored

Many dogs might dig excessively or engage in other problematic behavior because they need a task to feel fulfilled.

Working dogs like Portuguese water dogs, border collies, German shepherds, and rottweilers were originally bred for herding, protection, or search and rescue jobs.

As pets, they don't often get to perform these tasks — but encouraging these innate abilities through training can help reduce boredom and build your dog's confidence.

"This is especially true for highly intelligent breeds such as border collies," Sheen says.

A bored dog won't display the same body language as an anxious dog, Sheen says, but they can cause destruction just the same.

Other signs of boredom might include:

  • Chewing things other than toys
  • Tearing out trash and making other big messes
  • Jumping on humans
  • Excessive barking

In short, a bored dog will find their own fun — but there's a lot you can do to address your dog's boredom. According to Sheen, some ideas for enriching your dog's daily life include:

  • Making sure they get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, though the ideal amount of physical activity depends on your dog's breed and personality.
  • Engaging in active play with your dog, like hide-and-seek or tug-of-war games
  • Giving your dog plenty of toys, including interactive toys or food dispensers, and regularly rotating them. For instance, you might keep half their toys in a cabinet out of reach and swap them every couple of weeks.
  • Trick training, or using positive reinforcement and treats to teach fun, mentally stimulating tricks like "paws up" or "high five." Sheen says trick training around favorite digging spots can mentally tire your pup and change the association of the space. More importantly, it can help improve your bond.

Is digging ever harmful?

Anxiety-related digging can hurt your dog over time.

"Excessive or obsessive digging can lead to broken nails or paw lacerations and ulcerations, which can be painful," Sheen says.

And a dog who digs to escape may get hit by a car or scrap with other animals, if they do manage to get out. A dog on the loose may also become aggressive toward people they don't know, which may put you at risk for legal action, Sheen says.

How to stop the digging

"Although escape-driven or anxiety-related digging is almost always negative, in many cases, problematic digging is in the eye of the beholder," Sheen says.

"This natural behavior isn't just typical in dogs. It's also rewarding. Instead of trying to stop the digging outright, you might consider training to help redirect the behavior," Sheen says.

These tips can help:

  • Evaluate your dog's current enrichment levels: For instance, are they getting enough walks? Do you play with them regularly? Do they have a variety of toys to play with?
  • Block them from digging areas: You can try putting up fencing or other barricades around areas you want to keep hole-free.
  • Get competitive: If your dog is a born digger, Sheen recommends researching organized dog sports such as Earth Dog, Barn Hunt, and Scent Work competitions to help keep your dog entertained.
  • Give them a digging spot: Natural-born diggers might also appreciate a designated area where they can tunnel to their heart's content. "Encourage interaction in this area by hiding toys for them to find and rotating these items regularly," Sheen says. When they dig elsewhere, redirect them to the desired spot and praise them until they develop a habit of digging there, and only there.
  • Limit bedding materials: For dogs who tend to dig in soft materials indoors, like sheets or couch cushions, Sheen says this helps your pup feel more comfortable and isn't likely to cause problems. For destructive indoor digging, she suggests reducing the amount of blankets and pillows you provide or opting for sturdier bedding, like mesh or sturdy vinyl. "If it occurs on furniture, you'll need to work on a training program to establish boundaries," she says.
  • Consult a professional. Not sure how to get started with training? You can ask your vet for suggestions and recommendations or consult a dog trainer or dog behavior specialist.

Insider's takeaway

Unless your dog's digging results from anxiety or a desire to escape, it's fine to let them dig. If they do show other signs of anxiety, you may want to schedule a check-in with your vet — but most of the time, digging is pretty harmless.

Digging is a natural behavior for dogs. So, while it might annoy you when your dog digs up your garden, they're just following their instincts. If the behavior bothers you, consider blocking off the area or redirecting your dog's attention to other activities.

The bottom line is that your dog just wants to have fun. Bonus points if they get to have fun with you.

Steph Coelho

Freelance Writer

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer and homebody with a passion for home and kitchen goods. She's always on the hunt for the best home and kitchen gadgets and is determined to help people sort the treasure from the trash. As someone who works from home 365 days a year, she's well versed in how to make a space feel cozy and comfortable for every activity on her to-do list. Steph is currently based in the Montreal area, where she lives in a 70s-style bungalow with her husband, two dogs, and a parrot named Felix. Say hello or @seestephrunmtl on Twitter and @frontyardharvest on Instagram


Vets share 6 reasons why your dog won't stop digging and how to handle this natural behavior? ›

Provide your dog with the comfort or protection they seek. Bring them inside more often and make sure their outdoor shelter is comfortable, protected against extreme temperatures and has access to water in an un-tippable bowl. If your dog is still a dedicated digger, try setting aside a digging zone.

How do I stop my dog from obsessively digging? ›

Provide your dog with the comfort or protection they seek. Bring them inside more often and make sure their outdoor shelter is comfortable, protected against extreme temperatures and has access to water in an un-tippable bowl. If your dog is still a dedicated digger, try setting aside a digging zone.

Does vinegar stop dogs from digging? ›

Vinegar can stop your dog from digging. Despite being completely harmless, the smell can be intense for a dog and will hopefully deter them from digging. Mix water and vinegar in a spray bottle, shake, and spray! Both cayenne and vinegar can be effective solutions, but they may not work on every dog.

Why are dogs obsessed with digging? ›

Dogs dig to bury or retrieve bones. Dogs also dig to escape from confinement or due to separation anxiety. Digging may also be an activity similar to destructive chewing that occurs when pets are left alone with insufficient stimulation or attention.

How do I stop my dog from digging positive reinforcement? ›

Simply ignore the behavior, reward him when he stops, and provide him with alternative activities. Make sure you are spending enough quality time with your dog each day so that he doesn't have to resort to destructive behaviors.

Does coffee grounds stop dogs digging? ›

Deter Digging With Herbs

Chili pepper and coffee grounds sprinkled throughout your garden can also act as an effective dog deterrent.

Will my dog ever stop digging? ›

Some dogs will stop digging as they get older, but others will not. Some breeds, such as terriers, were bred to dig.

What kind of vinegar do dogs hate? ›

Vinegar. While this non-toxic household substance is safe for use around your home, your dog won't appreciate it. The strong, acidic smell of vinegar is one most dogs don't like. This dislike includes apple cider vinegar.

What does white vinegar do to dogs? ›

While some dogs can safely consume diluted vinegar, it's important to be aware that many dogs do not react well. Vinegar can cause gastrointestinal upset when ingested — especially when undiluted. This is especially common in small dogs, dogs with sensitive stomachs, and dogs with kidney disease.

How often should I spray vinegar to keep dogs away? ›

Spraying undiluted vinegar around the perimeter of the lawn creates a sort of invisible fence that drives off both dogs and cats. A roaming dog will take one sniff of your lawn and turn away, but you should keep reapplying the vinegar on a daily basis.

What is the best negative reinforcement for dogs? ›

Something as simple as pushing a doggo's behind down until they're sitting (the desired behavior), and then releasing the aversive stimulus by stopping the push then rewards the pup for good behavior. This is a negative/aversive method because dogs don't like to be forced to the floor and held.

What is a good negative reinforcement for dogs? ›

Negative reinforcement was used to teach loose leash walking by tugging on the leash while the dog was at a distance from the owner, and stopping tugging when the dog was close by. Sit was taught by both pulling the leash up and pushing the dog's bottom down and only releasing when the dog was in the sit position.

What is inappropriate reinforcement in dogs? ›

Many pet parents may not even know what negative reinforcement looks like when training a dog or puppy. Some examples of negative training include physical punishment, yelling, shock collars, use of squirt bottles and leash correction.

What smells keeps dogs from digging? ›

Ground chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, ground mustard, and more are great for keeping your dog out of your garden. The spices won't affect your plant life, but they will stick in the soil to prevent your dog from digging up roots.

Will vinegar and water stop my dog from itching? ›

Skin Irritations: vinegar has natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. If your dog has skin irritation, bathe with water and vinegar to relieve inflammation and soothe the itchiness. Use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water and apply it to the affected area with a clean cloth.

Does apple cider vinegar stop dogs from scratching? ›

Apple cider vinegar has a lot of uses for not only humans but also pets. If your pet has itchy skin, this concoction of 50/50 water and ACV spray can help relieve your pet's skin allergies or irritation. This home remedy can also be used in a bath format.

Does vinegar neutralize dog urine on grass? ›

Vinegar is a natural, safe, and effective way to clean up dog urine. And, it is also very affordable. Vinegar is non-toxic, so it's safe to use around pets and children. And because vinegar is acidic, it helps to neutralize the pH of dog urine, which can prevent grass burn.

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