Please help! My dog is digging up my yard and I can't get him to stop. Even my garden hasn't been spared! Do you have any tips?
- Michelle and Lloyd, Bedford, NH
Some of the SpotOn team dabble in gardening, and we know how upsetting it can be to find your hard work undone by hungry critters – whether it’s the work of rascally rabbits or your own beloved pooch! We reached out to trainer Nicole Skeehan, CPDT-KA, for some insight on how to keep your pup from tearing things up… read on and see if her advice may fit your situation!
“I’ve found that many people rely on fences to act as babysitters when it comes to the furry members of their families,” Nicole says. “But dogs are emotional beings that have a LOT of social needs. They need plenty of interaction, especially if they don’t have another canine family member to spend time with.”
It turns out, a dog without enough interaction can get into mischief!
“When a dog isn’t getting their other needs met, they’ll start to show increased reactivity to stimuli outside of the fence, start to dig more, and even attempt to flee completely,” Nicole continues. “I know from first-hand experience with my dogs, Uluru and Porter, that boredom breeds destruction. I’ve got herding dogs, and if I didn’t train them and walk them regularly, no amount of time in our yard is going to stop them from using their smart brains to get into mayhem.”
"Dogs still need their exercise, of course. Run them in that giant yard with some balls and other toys, but they also need their walks to engage their noses, and they need enrichment, which includes training, to engage their minds. Digging is usually caused by an emotional need, not a physical one.”
If you’ve exhausted all your options and your beloved pup is still digging – don’t worry, there are still a few other things you can try. Here are some of Nicole’s recommendations:
1. Change the habitat. If your dog is struggling to be happy in the yard, then change their life in the yard. Give them something to do. Play hide-and-seek, or plant treats around the yard so they can sniff them out and find them. (One of my trainers calls this a sniffari.) Let them use their nose and engage with the yard in a different way.
TIP: If your dog is struggling to find the treats, help them with some problem-solving. Teach them a solid sit-stay, and show them where you’re hiding the treat first. Release them to go find it. Pick the same spots every time so you can ultimately hide quite a few treats without your dog seeing before releasing them to hunt.
2. Add a sandbox. Grab a kid’s sandbox or baby pool (these are a little easier to find after the panic of the quarantine has died down and the weather cools), and dump a whole bunch of sand in it. You can also hide their toys in the sand for them to find.
TIP: You may have to help them the first few times to encourage digging in the sandbox. Dogs can struggle with object permanence, so help them dig up their toy and show them that fun things happen in the sandbox.
3. Lay down some chicken wire. For our compulsive diggers, new mulch and dirt are especially exciting. Before you mulch, put down some chicken wire, since dogs will usually stop when they hit the metal. This is for gardens only, as it’s not feasible for the entire yard, but may work for the perimeter as well.
4. Spend time out in the yard with your dog. If your dog has built up an association that going into the backyard means leaving you, then they may develop digging as a coping mechanism. Spend time out there with him to build up more positive associations with the backyard.
5. Avoid getting a second dog just to try to solve problems with the first dog. If you want a second dog, by all means, bring her home. But if your goal is just to use the second dog to try to ease some of the issues with the first dog, your better bet is to start with the behavioral issues of the first dog, then go from there. A second dog can be a wonderful companion, but won’t solve everything.
And that’s all this trainer has for now! Give these tips a shot and let us know what works for you!
“When a dog isn’t getting their other needs met, they’ll start to show increased reactivity to stimuli outside of the fence, start to dig more, and even attempt to flee completely,”
Do you have questions for our experts? Either leave them in the comments below or email us.
Nicole has a long background in animal welfare and dog training. Her training career began in college where she taught equestrian and horseback riding. After graduating from Robert Morris University, she worked at a boarding kennel as head trainer and obedience instructor and earned her CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer) title.
Nicole currently owns and operates Philly Unleashed (www.phillyunleashed.com), a dog training studio that provides group and private lessons and behavior modification to the Philadelphia metro area. She continues to work in the field of animal rescue by contracting with shelters to build behavior programming. She also instructs the shelter behavior residency for the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.