I’m sure almost every dog owner on the planet has witnessed their canine dig a hole before. Have you ever been playing with your dog and noticed him furiously pawing at the ground? Does your dog ever hide his toys under piles of laundry, or make big piles of dirt with his nose in the backyard? Maybe you’ve taken your dog to the beach and seen him bouncing from sand pile to sand pile? Throughout the years, dogs have evolved this intriguing behavior for various reasons, some good and some not so good. Digging is something that can often cause alarm in dog owners when suddenly your yard is completely torn apart. Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive behavior guide to try and “clear the fog” regarding this intriguing instinctual behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
Digging is a behavior that goes back thousands of years. Once upon a time, this particular proclivity was crucial to a dogs' survival in the wild. It enabled these ancient animals to preserve food and keep it safe from scavengers, as well as protect their young from predators. Modern domesticated dogs have inherited this behavior from their wild brethren, often doing things such as circling a specific area, or clawing at the ground or carpet. While you may think they're just trying to make themselves more comfortable, the truth is that they're actually displaying a behavior inherited from these early days in the wild. Even today, there are certain breeds of wild dogs that use dens to protect themselves from severe weather. They engage in this behavior often when they're raising young as well.
Comfort is also a reason for digging. You may often see your dog try to pull up ground with his paws and circle his resting places before settling in. If your dog is getting overheated or too cold, he may be attempting to find some respite from the extreme temperatures. Dogs will usually tend to pick spots that will help change and regulate their body temperature. Keeping your dog comfortable has become exceedingly easy with the advent of both heated and cooled dog houses. A lot of dogs also just dig for fun, especially certain breeds such as Daschunds or Beagles. That being said, any breed of canine can display this behavior. Canines that tend to become expert diggers seem to adopt a playful posture, bouncing around as they move from hole to hole. Snowy conditions will often get your dog excited to dig, as will beach-like conditions. An easy way to find out if your dog does this for enjoyment is to watch out for groups of holes in the same area. Yet another reason dogs dig is to hide their “valuables”. They’ll often bury things like food, treasured toys, and sometimes even small animals that they've successfully hunted. From time to time you can even see this “stashing” behavior indoors, under piles of laundry and blankets. Normally, your dog will bury and then rebury their treasured items, using their nose to cover them up each time. This is yet another motivator behind your dog’s digging.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog is digging frequently, it can really mean quite a few different things about your companion. Generally, it’s a behavior that is both normal and acceptable. In fact, sometimes it is really just as simple a situation as your dog being bored and looking for something to do. Dog owners tend to only take issue with digging behaviors when they begin to do damage to their homes or property. There can be several reasons for this. For example, some dogs may dig on your arm or chest as a way to "get to you" or gain your attention. Other times, they may feel confined and therefore compelled to try and "escape". While digging is generally a normal behavior, there are times in which these behaviors need to be addressed. Some canine breeds, for example, Bichons, can suffer from extreme psychological issues such as Obsessive-Compulsive disorder and separation anxiety. Oftentimes these various issues can externalize itself in digging behaviors. In addition to digging, you may notice other signs that something is wrong. This would be behaviors like the destruction of shoes and other possessions or going to the bathroom in the house when they’ve already been successfully potty trained. As a dog owner, it is always crucial to maintain knowledge of your dog’s behaviors and proclivities, so that problems can be fixed before they grow.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While this behavior isn’t automatically a cause for concern, something to remember is that there are always resources available in regards to your dog's behavior. Getting in touch with a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist can often give you more insight into what these behaviors may mean, and it’s usually a great idea to seek professional assistance when your dog’s behavior is baffling. Oftentimes, these individuals will recommend training programs that can have very beneficial results. Normally, the solutions tend to be created in tandem with you, the owner. This ensures that you can maintain these improved behaviors throughout the lifespan of your animal.
As we have mentioned here, seeing your dog digging could be caused by several different reasons. Careful consideration should always be given to new behaviors in your animal. But as long as your dog is happy, healthy, and active, it is probably just best to let your dog “do what he digs!”
Written by a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020