There’s just so many compelling reasons why us dogs dig: for entertainment, to bury treasures, make a cosy den for an afternoon nap or to hunt those pesky moles! And no, we don’t mean to dig to China!
Some wild dog relatives, like foxes and wolves, dig dens to raise their young. Sleeping in a den protects the young pups from extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) and from predators. Our pet dogs share the desire to sleep in and under things that resemble a den. They often dig at the ground and circle before lying down, as though they’re trying to make a softer resting place. Many dogs do this on the carpet or furniture as well. Dogs also dig when trying to get warm or stay cool, to entertain themselves, to bury valued items and when hunting ground-dwelling animals.
Why Dogs Dig
Keeping cool and comfortable
Dogs often dig and circle to make a comfortable bed. If a dog is especially hot or cold, she may dig to find a warmer or cooler place to rest. Holes are often strategically located in cool or warm areas, such as in the shade, underneath bushes or outdoor furniture.
Many dogs love to dig. Some breeds, like terriers, are more likely to dig than others. But any dog can develop a digging habit. Dogs who dig for fun usually adopt a playful posture and alternate between digging and running around. Sandy surfaces often trigger bouts of digging. If your dog digs for entertainment, you’ll probably see holes located randomly around the area.
Burying valued items
Dogs bury food, chew bones, toys and prey. This behaviour was once key to the survival of dogs’ wild ancestors because it allowed them to leave food safely concealed and then return to eat it later. It’s not surprising that our domesticated dogs still feel the urge to dig. If a dog wants to bury something, she digs a hole, places the item in the hole and then uses her nose to cover the item with sand. Often the dog will repeatedly bury an item, dig it up and bury it again in a new spot. Some dogs “bury” things indoors, on carpeting or furniture, or underneath dog beds or piles of laundry.
Hunting ground-dwelling animals
Most dogs have the desire and ability to hunt small prey, such as moles. If a dog finds a hole with an animal inside, she may dig relentlessly in an attempt to get to the animal.
Other behaviour problems to rule out
Digging is a normal behaviour for dogs. Certain breeds are more likely to dig than others. For example, terriers were bred to hunt underground prey, such as rabbits and moles, so they tend to dig a lot. However, any dog of any breed can develop a digging habit under the right (or wrong) conditions. To deal with a digging problem, you’ll need to identify your dog’s underlying motivation for the behaviour. If you can figure out why your dog digs, you can figure out how to fix or reduce the problem. In some cases, you’ll need to prevent digging in unwanted locations and offer appropriate places for digging instead.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may dig to get to a family member or to escape from being left alone.
Some dogs dig to escape from confinement.
Eating dirt or other inedible objects
Some dogs dig holes to consume soil, roots and other inedible material. They’re usually selective about the soil they consume, so this kind of digging is usually restricted to a small number of spots.
What to Do If Your Dog Digs
After determining why your dog digs, you can try the recommendations below to manage or reduce her habit. If you need help with your dog’s digging, don’t hesitate to consult a qualified Animal Behaviourist.
If your dog digs to keep cool or get comfortable
Dogs living outside in very hot or cold weather often dig holes to sleep in, especially if they don’t have access to proper shelter, like an insulated doghouse. Even with a suitable doghouse, some dogs prefer to retreat under a deck and dig a big hole. Older dogs may start digging later in life if they become unable to regulate their own body temperature as well as they used to.
If your dog digs in an attempt to cool off, provide an insulated dog house, a shallow wading pool, shade, a fan (air blowing over ice feels just like air conditioning!) and/or a bed that allows air to circulate underneath. Hot dogs like to lie flat on hard, cool surfaces or upside down on soft surfaces, so give your dog access to those. If possible, keep your dog indoors, in an air-conditioned area—at least during the hottest time of day.
If your dog digs in an attempt to keep warm, provide an insulated dog house, give her extra blankets or a differently shaped bed that she can burrow into, move her bed to a cosier, less drafty location or give her access to an area where she can lie in the warm sun. If possible, keep your dog indoors when it’s particularly cold outside.
If your dog digs in an attempt to create a more comfortable resting place, provide a bed. It may help to offer a few different kinds of beds so your dog can let you know which one she prefers. Many dogs like circular beds with a raised edge that can be used as a pillow. Dogs also seem to like beds that are snug, so that they can burrow down into them and get cosy. Some dogs like beds that seem almost too small for them!
If your dog digs to entertain herself
Many dogs dig for the fun of it. This type of digging is the hardest to treat because the action of digging is rewarding in and of itself. To achieve success, rather than attempting to eliminate the behaviour, try to redirect your dog’s digging to an acceptable place.
Encourage your dog to dig in an area you have allocated specifically for this activity. Build a digging pit that is especially enticing.
Try to discourage digging in inappropriate locations by installing garden fencing around areas where you don’t want your dog to dig. Just the effort of going over or through a fence will stop some dogs. Others may need more convincing. You can try stringing tight twine across planters to create a “roof” through which your plants can grow. Should your dog hop the fence and jump into your planters, the twine is bound to feel unpleasant on her feet.
Some experts recommend burying a dog’s faeces in the holes she has dug. If she returns to dig more in those holes, the presence of the faeces may discourage her. However, she’s likely to just start a new hole somewhere else. This suggestion is only appropriate if your dog is repeatedly digging in a single undesirable place and you don’t mind if she digs elsewhere.
If your dog digs to bury her stuff
Wild relatives of dogs and feral dogs often bury or hide surplus food and bones so that they can retrieve and enjoy them later. Not only do they dig to bury their own things, they also dig to retrieve other dogs’ hidden goodies when they discover them. The best way to eliminate this type of digging is to refrain from giving your dog treats, food or chew bones that she will not finish immediately. Alternatively, you can build your dog a digging pit and encourage her to bury items there, instead of in your favourite flower bed. This is particularly great solution if your dog seems to prefer digging in sandy dirt.
If your dog starts chewing something but doesn’t consume it completely, remove it before she has the opportunity to bury it. If your dog reacts aggressively when you take something away from her, immediately seek help from a qualified Animal Behaviourist.
If your dog digs to hunt small animals
Most dogs love to chase small, fast-moving furry creatures, even if they never actually try to catch them. If your dog digs to pursue small animals like moles, you can set live traps and humanely remove those animals from your property. Be forewarned: punishing your dog for this type of digging isn’t likely to work, because the act of hunting is naturally highly rewarding to most dogs, regardless of whether or not it results in unpleasant consequences.
What NOT to Do
Do not take your dog to an area where she previously dug a hole and scold, spank or punish her after-the-fact. Your dog can’t connect punishment with something she did hours or even minutes ago. Delayed punishment won’t succeed in stopping your dog from digging later—but you could frighten and upset her unnecessarily.
Do not fill one of your dog’s holes with water and hold her head under the water for any length of time. This outdated and inhumane procedure won’t solve your digging problems, and it could cause other, worse behaviour problems.
It’s normal for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. For young dogs, it’s a way to relieve pain that might be caused by incoming teeth. For older dogs, it’s nature’s way of keeping jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve mild anxiety or frustration. First thing first, you need to rule out problems that can cause destructive chewing:
Dogs who chew to relieve the stress of separation anxiety usually only chew when
left alone or chew most intensely when left alone. They also display other signs of separation anxiety, such as whining, barking, pacing, restlessness, urination and defecation.
Some dogs lick, suck and chew at fabrics. Some experts believe that this behaviour results from having been weaned too early (before seven or eight weeks of age). If a dog’s fabric-sucking behaviour occurs for lengthy periods of time and it’s difficult to distract him when he attempts to engage in it, it’s possible that the behaviour has become compulsive. If you think this might be the case with your dog, please speak to a certified Animal Behaviourist with specialised training and experience in treating compulsive behaviour.
A dog on a calorie-restricted diet might chew and destroy objects in an attempt to find additional sources of nutrition. Dogs usually direct this kind of chewing toward objects related to food or that smell like food.
Reduce Destructive Chewing
The desire to investigate interesting objects and the discomfort of teething motivate puppies to chew. Much like human infants, puppies go through a stage when they lose their baby teeth and experience pain as their adult teeth come in. This intensified chewing phase usually ends by six months of age. Some recommend giving puppies ice cubes, special dog toys that can be frozen or frozen wet washcloths to chew, which might help numb teething pain. Although puppies do need to chew on things, gentle guidance can teach your puppy to restrict chewing to appropriate objects, like his own toys.
Normal Chewing Behaviour
Chewing is a perfectly normal behaviour for dogs of all ages. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing bones. This activity keeps their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Dogs love to chew on bones, sticks and just about anything else available. They chew for fun, they chew for stimulation and they chew to relieve anxiety. While chewing behaviour is normal, dogs sometimes direct their chewing behaviour toward inappropriate items. Both puppies and adult dogs should have a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys. However, just providing the right things to chew isn’t enough to prevent inappropriate chewing. Dogs need to learn what is okay to chew and what is not. They need to be taught in a gentle, humane manner.
- “Dog-proof” your house. Put valuable objects away until you’re confident that your dog’s chewing behaviour is restricted to appropriate items. Keep shoes and clothing in a closed closest, dirty laundry in a hamper and books on shelves. Make it easy for your dog to succeed.
- Provide your dog with plenty of his own toys and inedible chew bones. Pay attention to the types of toys that keep him chewing for long periods of time and continue to offer those. Try Nylabones, Greenies bones, Dental KONGs and natural bones. It’s ideal to introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so that he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys. Use caution: only give your dog natural bones that are sold specifically for chewing. Do not give him cooked bones, like leftover t-bones or chicken wings, as these can splinter and seriously injure your dog. Also, keep in mind that some intense chewers may be able to chip small pieces off of natural bones or chip their own teeth while chewing. If you have concerns about what’s safe to give your dog, speak with his veterinarian.
- Offer your dog some edible things to chew, like bully sticks, pig ears, rawhide bones, pig skin rolls, other natural chews, Dentastix, Dentabones and Nylabones. Dogs can sometimes choke on edible chews, especially if they bite off and swallow large chunks. If your dog is inclined to do this, make sure he’s separated from other dogs when he chews so he can relax. If he has to chew in the presence of other dogs, he might feel that he has to compete with them and try to quickly gulp down edible items. Also, be sure to keep an eye on your dog whenever he’s working on an edible chew so that you can intervene if he starts to choke.
- Identify times of the day when your dog is most likely to chew and give him a puzzle toy, such as a KONG, Twist ‘n Treat or Buster Cube, filled with something delicious. You can include some of your dog’s daily ration of food in the toy.
- Discourage chewing inappropriate items by spraying them with chewing deterrents (ask your vet). When you first use a deterrent, apply a small amount to a piece of tissue or cotton wool. Gently place it directly in your dog’s mouth. Allow him to taste it and then spit it out. If your dog finds the taste unpleasant, he might shake his head, drool or retch. He won’t pick up the piece of tissue or wool again. Ideally, he will have learned the connection between the taste and the odour of the deterrent, and he’ll be more likely to avoid chewing items that smell like it. Spray the deterrent on all objects that you don’t want your dog to chew. Reapply the deterrent every day for two to four weeks. Please realise, however, that successful treatment for destructive chewing will require more than just the use of deterrents. Dogs need to learn what they can chew as well as what they can’t chew.
- Do your best to supervise your dog during all waking hours until you feel confident that his chewing behaviour is under control. If you see him licking or chewing an item he shouldn’t, say “Uh-oh,” remove the item from your dog’s mouth, and insert something that he CAN chew. Then praise him happily. If you suspect that your dog might react aggressively if you remove an item from his mouth, please contact an Animal Behaviourist with specialised training in resource guarding for guidance. When you can’t supervise your dog, you must find a way to prevent him from chewing on inappropriate things in your absence. For example, if you work during the day, you can leave your dog at home in a confinement area for up to six hours. Use a crate or put your dog in a small room with the door or a baby gate closed. Be sure to remove all things that your dog shouldn’t chew from his confinement area and give him a variety of appropriate toys and chew things to enjoy instead. Keep in mind that if you confine your dog, you’ll need to give him plenty of exercise and quality time with you when he’s not confined.
- Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise (playtime with you and with other dogs) and mental stimulation (training, social visits, etc.). If you have to leave your dog alone for more than a short period of time, make sure he gets out for a good play session beforehand.
- Help your dog learn the difference between things he should and shouldn’t chew. It’s important to avoid confusing him by offering unwanted household items, like old shoes and discarded cushions. It isn’t fair to expect your dog to learn that some shoes are okay to chew and others aren’t.
Lack of exercise or mental stimulation
Some dogs simply do not get enough physical and mental stimulation. Bored dogs tend look for ways to entertain themselves, and chewing is one option. To prevent destructive chewing, be sure to provide plenty of ways for your dog to exercise his mind and body. Great ways to accomplish this include daily walks and outings, off-leash play with other dogs, tug and fetch games, clicker training classes, dog sports (agility or flyball) and feeding meals in food-dispensing toys, like the KONG, Twist ‘n Treat, Tricky Treat Ball or Buster Cube. Have a look at A Pet’s Life online shop to order your own! www.apetslife.co.za
Stress and frustration
Sometimes a dog will chew when experiencing something that causes stress, such as being crated near another animal he doesn’t get along with or getting teased by children when confined in a car. To reduce this kind of chewing, try to avoid exposing your dog to situations that make him nervous or upset.
Dogs who are prevented from engaging in exciting activities sometimes direct biting, shaking, tearing and chewing at nearby objects. Shelter dogs and puppies sometimes grab and shake blankets or bowls in their kennels whenever people walk by because they’d like attention. When they don’t get it, their frustration is expressed through destructive behaviour. A dog who sees a squirrel or cat run by and wants to chase but is behind a fence might grab and chew at the gate. A dog watching another dog in a training class might become so excited by the sight of his canine classmate having fun that he grabs and chews his leash (Agility and Flyball dogs are especially prone to this behaviour because they watch other dogs racing around and having a great time, and they want to join in the action). The best intervention for this problem is to anticipate when frustration might happen and give your dog an appropriate toy for shaking and tearing. In a class situation, carry a tug or stuffed toy for your dog to hold and chew. If your dog is frustrated by animals or objects on the other side of a fence or gate at home, tie a rope toy to something sturdy by the gate or barrier. Provide shelter dogs and puppies with toys and chew bones in their kennels. Whenever possible, teach them to approach the front of their kennels and sit quietly to solicit attention from passersby.
What NOT to do
- Do not show your dog the damage he did and spank, scold or punish him after the fact. He cannot connect your punishment with some behaviour he did hours or even minutes ago.
- Do not use duct tape to hold your dog’s mouth closed around a chewed object for any length of time. This is inhumane, will teach your dog nothing and dogs have died from this procedure.
- Do not tie a damaged object to your dog. This is inhumane and will teach your dog nothing.
- Do not leave your dog in a crate for lengthy periods of time (more than six hours) to prevent chewing.
- Do not muzzle your dog to prevent chewing.