That’s all very well to say but if you are a keen gardener or even a mildly interested one, it’s extremely frustrating to find a scale model of the World War 1 trenches trailing across your garden when you want to mow the lawn or simply relax!
So why do dogs do it? It’s instinctual behaviour originally designed to hide food from other predators or to search for prey. Sometimes a dog will dig a hole if it is too hot because digging exposes cool earth and provides a small shaded, shelter. If your dog is digging under a fence or next to a gate they may simply be trying to get out of the garden. Some dogs dig to alleviate boredom or just for fun. Others may have a genetic predisposition to dig.
In cases where it becomes a problem, it is often the case that the dog is not receiving enough exercise or stimulation and has found that digging not only is fun in that it tires them out, but that it gives them attention from their owners when they realise what they are up to. It can quickly establish itself as a habit which the owners then need to break. In other words digging can become self-reinforcing over time.
The first thing to do in sorting out this problem is to try to establish why your dog is digging. If they are hot, provide them with a shelter to keep them cool. If they are digging because they have learned to enjoy it, are bored or are trying to escape, then offering alternative ways to occupy them should help.
Ensure they have plenty of exercise to wear them out before they are put in the garden. Give them toys and activities to occupy them there so they don’t become bored. For example, a Kong filled with dog food is a challenging and time-consuming toy. Teach them tricks to give them fun and strengthen the bond between you.
Revisit the basic instructions and double check that they understand the meaning of the phrase ‘Leave it’. A reward and/or praise when they stop digging will encourage them to stop more quickly.
There is no substitute for patience and vigilance when changing a dog’s behaviour. If you can be with your dog at all times when they are outside you can then witness any digging, correct the dog immediately, praise them for stopping and offer them something else to do.
You could consider attaching a long line to them to prevent them from reaching the places they like to dig in, until the behaviour has been modified, but don’t leave them alone to get tangled up in it.
As far as digging when a dog is out walking is concerned, if they obey the phrase ‘Leave it’ or can be distracted, you should be able to prevent damage when you are with them. In a rural area you could take your dog to rough ground on occasion and reward them with a good digging session as long as you are confident that they are under control. It is a relatively straightforward exercise to teach a dog to dig on command by using the word ‘Dig’ when they are in the act. In this way they can dig happily and still be under control. It is after all, very good exercise!