Some breeds, in particular, have a higher propensity for digging, smaller breeds in particular. This is due to the natural survival instincts that have been bred into smaller dogs through generations of natural selection. Prior to a time where small breeds like Hairless Terriers were considered to be good companions for humans, when they were out in the wild, the ones who dug themselves out shelters in the ground and survived while the ones who did not, died off. This passed that behavior down and eventually it became a staple in the genetics of terriers. The behavioral instinct they are exhibiting is called denning.
The Root of the Behavior
The behavior is rooted in survival instincts. Dogs would create dens for themselves to protect against predators. They would also bury food and other possessions to store them for a later time. A den would serve as a shelter for the young by hiding them from sight. Now that they have the protection of their human companions and this behavior is no longer needed, that does not remove their instinctual behaviors from thousands of years. Perhaps a few thousand years down the road with their current form of protection this behavior could be bred out of the species. The reason these traits are far more common in smaller dogs is due to their more limited ability to protect themselves from a larger amount of predators. Larger dog breeds would have the strength and weight to protect themselves from a larger variety of animals and would not be hidden away as efficiently by burrowing.
Smaller dog breeds tend to have higher levels of anxiety and are more prone to compulsive behavior. This includes digging. They may not be trying to dig themselves a home or store a bone, but rather have found digging to be an efficient way for them to relieve some stress and anxiety. This is often the cause of digging in all breeds of dogs. Hairless Terriers, in particular, have additional challenges that digging can help protect them from. A hairless dog is far more prone to sunburn than a dog with hair, this would be counteracted if they are covered in dirt or seek some shelter under the Earth. Regardless of the cause of these behaviors, there are things you can do to prevent it in the future! The first step is to identify why they are digging and targeting that root cause with specific measures. These steps may not be 100% effective but should at least reduce the compulsion to dig.
Encouraging the Behavior
Naturally, your intention is likely to stop this type of behavior and keep your yard intact. There are a variety of methods that can be used to deter digging which we will get into, however, it is important to start with addressing their need to dig in the first place. Often it is intended as a way to build a shelter. If this is the root cause of your canine's behavior then your best move is to make sure they have one already. This does not have to be anything fancy, or even outside.
Provide them an area in the home that is as far removed from the hustle and bustle of your household as possible. Include a blanket or pillow they enjoy, some toys to occupy their time, and a environment removed from outside sounds. Many dog owners simply use the kennel for this, and canines typically react well to it provided the kennel has not been used as a method of punishment for the canine in the past. A potential positive side effect is that they will start to enjoy their kennel and often retreat to it on their own volition. Canines who suffer from forms of anxiety will also find comfort and relief from an area like this.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some dog owners will place cayenne pepper in areas where the dog is known to dig. This works very well to prevent digging in that area, but that does not mean the behavior will not just move to another area of your yard. A behavioral specialist or dog trainer will be able to help you identify what is causing these behaviors in your canine and show you what you can do to prevent this type of behavior in the future. In some cases, your dog may not be trying to create a den or bury something but may rather be trying to dig something up.
Regardless of why your dog is digging, it can be an incredibly annoying and destructive behavior. Terriers, in particular can be exceptionally prone to this type of behavior but it can be addressed and corrected. The key to adjusting any behavior in a dog is to consistently practice good reward systems in the home.
By a Malamute Husky lover Robert Potter
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/30/2020