Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Do Dogs Dig? Canine Behavior Explained

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

a dog digging in a snow

Dogs exhibit all types of goofy behavior such as chasing their tails, spinning in circles before they sleep, and sniffing each other’s butts for hours on end. And most of these behaviors are just laughed off or accepted as lovable idiosyncrasies.

But why do dogs dig?

Digging is very different from most other doggy quirks. Often, we try to discourage their digging as it can ruin yards and property. It also helps them to escape fenced-in areas and roam the surrounding neighborhood. This can lead to lots of trouble for both you and your pup.

In this article, we’ll go over the reasons that dogs naturally want to dig and a few ways you can prevent it. Hopefully, through understanding why a dog is exhibiting certain behaviors, we can figure out the best way to deter or embrace it.

divider 9

The 5 Reasons Dogs Dig

There isn’t just a singular reason why dogs dig. In fact, there are several different explanations for your pup’s digging habit.

1. Genetics

german shepherd dog jumps over fence
Image Credit: Photodigitaal.nl, Shutterstock

Did you know that some dog breeds are more genetically predisposed to be diggers than other breeds? That’s because hunting dogs such as terriers were originally purposed to root out hunted quarry from their underground dens.

Your dogs might be sensing creatures such as gophers or field mice burrowing underneath their yard. It’s in their instinct to dig these pests out and hunt them down. But even if there aren’t any rodents living below, some dogs will dig anyway to seek them out.

2. Denning

dog digging in the snow
Image Credit: HeartlandMom, Pixabay

In the wild, wolves and dogs don’t always have a nice cozy bed to clamber into when it starts getting cold. And when it gets hot outside, digging up some cool dirt to lay on really hits the spot. When dogs build or create a nest like this, it’s known as denning. They’re essentially building a shelter for themselves to maintain comfort despite the climate.

You can even see the remnants of this instinctive ability in domesticated dogs today.  That’s just the wild side of your beloved pooch creating their own den of comfort.

3. Stress Relief

a french bulldog lying on the grasss
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

Would it be so hard to believe that some dogs just dig because it’s fun? If you’re a dog, digging can be an extremely good stress reliever. Dogs—like humans—can build up stored stress and emotion. However, they don’t have the creative liberties that we do to healthily release it. Instead, they tend to lean towards more destructive behaviors such as chewing or digging.

This can be one of the more difficult reasons to stop a dog from digging. And that’s because digging is actually pretty fun for them! Dug up earth is like the ultimate interactive resistance toy. Plant and grassroots will tickle them back. Loose soil or dirt will cave into the hole, refilling as they dig deeper. And coming across something buried is like finding a lost treasure chest.

4. Escape

a dog digging under the fence
Image Credit: freestocks-photos, Pixabay

There are some dogs that just long for freedom and wide-open spaces. They don’t want to be held back by the fences of oppression we keep them behind. And if they can’t make it over them, digging seems like the next best option.

Preventing this can be as simple as ensuring your fence is buried at least a foot underground when putting it up. Not only will this help prevent your dog from escaping out into an area where they can be hurt or lost, but it’ll also lend more stability to your fence itself.

5. Grooming

dog's nails
Image Credit: Nature_Blossom, Pixabay

How can digging in the dirt help groom your pup? Well, it has nothing to do with their soon-to-be stained coats, and everything to do with their overgrown nails. Digging through soil, loose rocks, and clay can act as a natural nail file.

So, if your pup starts digging out of the blue, check their claws. They just might need a quick trim.

Divider 4

How to Stop Your Dog from Digging Up Your Yard

As you can see, digging is a natural behavior for dogs. But that doesn’t mean you should just let them dig freely and tear up your entire yard. Here are a few tricks you can use to minimize a destructive digging habit.

Address the Root Cause of the Digging

First, you need to understand why your pup is digging in the first place. Did it start right after you took a new job that kept you away from home longer? If so, it’s probably a stress-related habit over separation anxiety. Perhaps, you could look into a dog-sitter or doggy daycare program to help them out.

Or maybe their nails are just too long. Trim them down and see if that stops the behavior. By attacking the cause of the issue instead of punishing the digger directly, you have a much more likely chance of stopping the unwanted behavior.

Provide Them With More Stimulation

If your dog is just digging out of boredom, there’s a very simple way to get them to cease. Just give them some more playtime! They may have so much pent up energy that the only way to let it out is through digging. Free up some time in your schedule and give your pup that extra 30 minutes.

Rid Your Yard of Burrowing Pests

You may notice that your pup is only digging at the base of trees or shrubs. Or that their digging spots resemble a path-like pattern. This is probably because they’re trying to hunt down prey that has set up camp underneath your yard.

In this case, you should call a professional exterminator to help you decide upon a safe, natural elimination plan for those pesky burrowers. The last thing you want to do is throw out a bunch of dangerous poison or traps that can easily hurt your fierce, furry protector.

Provide Your Pup With a Suitable Shelter

If you notice your pup digging themselves a pit to lay in or shelter to hide in, they may just be looking for a better shelter. Even if you have a covered patio for them to seek refuge, your pup may still prefer their own space out in the yard. Setting them up with a new doghouse or pop-up tent may help them keep their independence without tearing up the yard.

Create a Dig Zone

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to stop your dog from digging—especially if they’re a digging breed. And that’s okay. You just need to channel your dog’s digging into an appropriate time and place. Train your pup to dig in a designated section of the yard only.

This can be done by stopping unwanted digging and then relocating the pup to a place you’ve set aside. Next, encourage your dog to dig there and reward them when they do. Soon, they’ll recognize that area as theirs for the digging. Some owners go even as far as to teach their pup to dig on command and put them to work helping till the garden!

Divider 3

Final Thoughts

Digging doesn’t have to be the demonized activity that we make it out to be. Although it’s a natural instinct of almost every dog, it can be redirected or eliminated safely. The real key to controlling your doggy’s desire to dig is determining and handling the base cause of the behavior.

Featured Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database