Should you be alarmed if your dog digs holes?

  Dogs are man’s best friend, but sometimes they have actions and habits that may be a little bit annoying. One of these is digging holes. These furry creatures are notorious for digging holes and sleeping in them. Seeing a dog halfway underground with its tail waving in the air isn’t unusual. You may even have accidentally stepped on those holes, or worse, the holes may be an eyesore to your backyard landscape.

Understanding your dog

Some dogs have a predisposition to digging because of breed or history. If your dog suddenly developed the habit of digging holes, this may be a symptom for an underlying issue that your pet faces. According to Animal behavior specialists from the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, separation anxiety is one of these issues, and this should be viewed as a symptom of underlying difficulties rather than a diagnosis. It’s vital that you comprehend why your companion is acting in this manner to help you understand what might be causing the anxiety. This will be a win-win situation for you and your dog.

Reasons why your dog digs holes

Nature and predisposition (genetics, hormones, and hunting), emotions (separation anxiety, fear, and boredom), weather and temperature, and dog’s playfulness are some of the possible reasons why your dog tends to dig holes. The symptoms and solutions for each will be discussed in the sections below.

Nature and predisposition

Genetics

This is all based on the dog’s genes and hormones. Because of genetics, some dogs have greater instinct towards digging.  For instance, Terriers are one of the breeds that are more predisposed to digging.

 Hormones

Hormones also have a role to play in this. When dogs of the opposite sex frequently visit the area, this could trigger a reaction, especially if your female dog has not been spayed or if your male dog has not been neutered. I

Solution: If this is the case, you may visit your veterinarian to ask for an expert’s opinion whether you should opt to neutering and spaying your pet.

Hunting

Even if you feed your dog well, canines, especially Beagle or Terrier, are naturally curious about their environment and inclined to hunt inferior creatures. Whatever the consequences may be, the art of hunting is naturally rewarding to most dogs, study shows.  It may be trying to get out of your yard to hunt an insect or an animal intruder nearby. If you suspect that your dog is trying to hunt, observe if your pet fixes its focus on one spot of your yard. If it is a yes, your dog is definitely trying to hunt.

Solution: What you need to do next is be aware of burrowing animals such as rodents and voles. Get rid of them as carefully as possible, without the use of toxic chemicals as this can also poison your pet. One way of getting rid of these intruders is by using ultrasonic rodent repellents.

Protection

A common misconception is that dogs dig because they know that they are going to die. The actual explanation behind this is that when animals get sick, their first instinct is to be in a safe hiding place. That is why, if dogs are weak, sick, injured, or in pain , they tend to dig a hole and lay on it. It is not an indication though that the dog is about to die.

Solution: If you notice changes in your dog’s behavior such as a lack of appetite and interest to go for a walk, it is time to get the help of a vet. If there are no physical symptoms present, your dog could be experiencing emotional problems such as separation anxiety and stress.

Emotions

 Separation Anxiety

Dogs may not be that expressive, but they also feel a wide array of emotions. If you notice that your dog tends to dig, pace, lick, and change its body posture when you are away, this could be a sign that your dog is missing you. This is what is commonly known as separation anxiety. They do these digging and other activities to keep themselves distracted and channel their restless energy.

Solution: To channel this energy into a more productive way, you may add exercising into your dog’s routine.  If they spend energy on exercising, they won’t have much excess energy left for digging. If possible, also spend more time with your pet. If these suggestions still do not keep your dog’s restlessness at bay, it may be time to talk about it with your trusted veterinarian.

Fear

If dogs feel separation anxiety just like humans, they also feel curious about what is happening outside. Sometimes, this curiosity can lead to fear. It is not uncommon that dogs are sensitive to sounds. If your environment has unusual or loud sounds and noises, this could be a cause of fear for your canine. Loud sounds such as fireworks and construction noises may be okay for us humans but not for dogs. You will know if this is causing discomfort to your hound ,and if he/she is attempting to flee if the digging and holes are under or around the fence. You should also take note if these diggings worsen during the occurrence of loud sounds.

Solution:  If your suspicion is confirmed, you may create barriers to lower the noise that your dog hears. This can be done by placing objects that block sound serving as a barrier, such as large rocks, or closing the game between the fence and ground to lower sound entry.

Boredom

To your canine, digging may be a thrilling task and is one way to ease the boredom. Think of dogs as like toddlers. When left alone, or perhaps outside with no one to interact with, and with no toys, digging will seem like an exciting thing to do. In the eyes of a bored dog, the soil seemingly flying from digging is like “playing back.” Anything can become interesting when you are left with nothing else to do, this is also true for dogs. That’s why, leaving a dog alone with no toys is not a good idea. Perhaps, next time you should consider accompanying them, or if a human presence is not available, at least leave them with toys such as tennis balls.

Weather and Temperature

If you notice that your dog tends to lie down in the holes that they dig, as if it is their bed, it is a sign that your dog is digging to feel cool. Seeing holes near canopies from trees, and water sources, could be a telltale that your dog is trying to lower its body temperature. Dogs with thick, furry coats have it worse when the temperature outside is high. They turn to find comfort in the soil that they dug as the ground is colder than the rest of the areas outside.          

To ensure that your dog will not suffer from extreme heat, you could bring them inside. If it is not possible, you may build a dog house for digging. Do not forget to keep your pet hydrated—give them a bowl full of water. Just remember, anything extreme could be bad for your dog. If it is also too cold outside, make sure to provide a safe place for your pet.

Playfulness

Dogs are playful creatures. Some of them may even have their favorite toys. These so-called prized possessions are so valuable to them that they tend to hide it away from other animals and even people, so that they can enjoy it by themselves. Hiding these “treasures” can be a thrilling, exciting and brain-stimulating activity for them.

If your dog carries its “treasure” to the area where he or she is planning to dig, then that could be a sign that your pet will bury his or her treasure there.

Solution: Your dog can still be playful and continue hiding his or her toys without destroying your lawn. You can do this by giving them a space to dig. You can also do reverse psychology wherein instead of your dogs choosing where and what to dig, you will make a sandpit with some buried toys in it. This will condition them to their new “digging zone”.

Conditioning: Another possible solution

If you have already identified what could be the cause of your dog’s discomfort, and followed the suggested solutions, but still to no avail, you may try conditioning. Conditioning is when your pet encounters a positive or negative response from an action, and may continue or discontinue to do so depending on the received response.

Appealing to your dog’s senses

The most practical way is to put a physical barrier in the area where the dog keeps on digging. You may do this by fencing or using thorny shrubs to block the area, or partially burying rocks, netting or plastic chicken wire in the digging areas. Just make sure to not use metallic objects as it may hurt your pet’s paw. However, in the event that this is not possible, you may use other deterrents.

Dogs hate the smell of poop and cayenne pepper. If you notice that that area is prone to digging, you may fill the holes with poop. If poop is too gross for you, you may try cayenne pepper. Other options are spraying citrus peels, or vinegar in the area, as the smell of these are offensive to dogs. Dogs hate these substances, and may get away from the area the moment they catch a whiff of these.

Appealing to your dog’s emotions

If you do not like your dog to keep digging in a particular area, you can try giving them a little scare. Just do not overdo it and do not use harmful objects. You can scare your pet a little bit by burying balloons in the area where they frequently dig. Once the dog starts digging in that area, he or she will inevitably pop up the balloon. This will scare the dog and prevent him or her from digging in that same area again.

On the other hand, if you want to direct your pet to a specific digging space, you can give them praises and compliments. Once they see that you are giving them positive attention when they dig in specific locations, they will continue to do so until it becomes a habit.

Other reminders when dealing with your dog’s digging habit

  1. Do not allow your dog to bring toys outside unless it is used to engage and play such as Frisbees and balls. Exemptions are when you are closely supervising your dog, or if the dog’s reason for digging is boredom.
  2. Do not punish your dog after digging. Doing so may make the dog feel that he or she finally got the attention desired. In other cases, your pet’s anxiety and stress will also worsen which could aggravate the act of digging. It will just worsen your dog’s habit, and the dog would not even understand the reason for the punishment.
  3. Remember that your dog will not grow out of digging. Digging is either because of nature, emotion or physical symptoms. If it is the latter two, it will not go away unless the cause is addressed. If this is because of nature, the best thing to do is use positive reinforcement such as compliments, and deterrents like the ones mentioned above—poop, vinegar, citrus peels, etc. You can even use mothballs as deterrents, however, when eaten, this can be toxic to dogs.

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