Dogs and Destructive Digging
It is natural for dogs to want to dig and most dogs enjoy doing so. In fact, many breeds have been genetically selected over the years specifically because of their inclination and abilities to dig. This includes most terrier breeds (hence, the name terrier, from the French word terre, which means earth or ground). Unfortunately, when digging is done in the wrong place, it suddenly becomes a behavioral problem.
Dogs that dig are probably digging either because they are bored or they feel confined on their property. Dogs that spend a lot of time by themselves outdoors or are confined to a yard for long periods of time without supervision tend to use digging as a means of combating boredom. The classic example of this is the case where the dog is let out to amuse himself, rather than being taken out for active pet-owner interaction.
Tips for Preventing Digging
To prevent your dog from developing a digging habit, do not leave your dog unsupervised outside for long periods of time. If your dog enjoys playing in a fenced yard, always include plenty of outdoor toys for the dog to play with. Change the toys frequently so that the dog does not become bored with the toys.
Give your dog a cool place to stay when he or she is outside. This will help to prevent any digging behavior that is a result of trying to cool down. Make sure that your dog has a cool shaded area to rest in, provide a large clean bowl of water, and on especially hot days you may want to fill up a small kiddie pool or turn on a sprinkler. Vigilance is especially required for dogs that dig to escape. Spaying and neutering your dog early in life can help decrease the desire to escape. If a dog continues to dig even after he or she is spayed or neutered, than unsupervised outdoor times may not be possible for your dog.
Dogs that dig to search for small prey, such as rats, mice, moles, or small insects, perform this behavior out of instinct. It is pretty difficult to prevent instinctive behavior; instead you should try to help your dog focus on another type of action if you notice them engaging in this behavior.
Correcting a Digging Problem
To correct this digging problem, there are a number of possible solutions. Digging due to boredom can be resolved by eliminating the boredom from your dog's life. First, make sure that you spend lots of time with your dog. Make sure that he is well-exercised in order to burn off excess energy, including plenty of running, playing, fetching, and walks.
In addition to exercise, you also need to obedience-train your dog so that he will respond to your "no" when you catch him in the act of digging. Redirecting his energies to other activities when he wants to dig cannot be accomplished if he does not obey your basic commands. Obedience training also serves to further reduce boredom.
If the digging behavior is due to barrier frustration (he wants to escape from your property), providing him with plenty of exercise and walks will help. However, at those times when he is not supervised, you must either keep him in a crate or provide him with a run that has a concrete floor. Once he has been trained to stop digging, he can be permitted run of the property again.
If all else fails, you may need to provide him with his own digging area where he can dig without fear of reprisals. If this becomes an alternative, you will first need to train your dog to use this area. This can be accomplished by encouraging him to dig in the digging area and rewarding him when he does so. To encourage digging, you can try burying some of his favorite toys so that he can be rewarded when he digs them up. At the same time, he should be reprimanded when you catch him digging elsewhere, then taken to the digging area and rewarded when he uses this area instead. By teaching him to dig where and when it is appropriate, spending more time with him, preventing boredom, and providing lots of exercise, digging can be controlled.