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The Root of the Behavior
Everyone knows that it is in a dog's nature to dig. It’s neither a learned behavior or misbehavior that should be immediately scolded. It is important for every owner to understand that it is a deep, primal, and instinctual behavior passed down from his wild ancestors that have been used by them for survival and it is the basis to why most dogs dig. Wolves and other dog relatives dig holes for a variety of different reasons and examining them can provide us with a better insight into our own dog's behavior. Wolves dig dens in preparation for their litter and to keep their young ones safe, they also dig for warmth in the winter, for shelter during turbulent weather, and to keep cool during the summer. Lastly, many four-legged relatives dig to store their food for later and to hide it from other predators or competitors. Even though your canine companion most likely doesn’t have any opponents in his own backyard and he isn’t exposed to harsh weather conditions, it is simply in his genes to dig and it is completely normal. Some breeds are more predisposed to the hole-making behavior. Terriers and hounds are notorious diggers, but the behavior is also very common in Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, and Dachshunds who were bred to dig. Other than the primal instinct, your dog might be digging as a way to release stress. This can especially be the case if you’ve noticed other symptoms of anxiety in your dog or if there have been some big changes in his life recently, like a new schedule, a move or another dog joining your family. If your dog destroys things or digs primarily when you are away, it could mean that it is caused by separation anxiety. In this situation, it is best to consult your veterinarian about the issue. Some digging is seasonal, so if you see the behavior occurring primarily during the summer and your dog lays down in the holes he digs afterward, it means that your furry friend is digging to keep himself cool, especially if he has a thick coat. This can be solved by providing your dog with better conditions and an ideal place to cool off; such as an air-conditioned room, a cool floor, or some shade and a kiddy pool as well as lots of fresh water.
Encouraging the Behavior
Unless you want to give your lush backyard landscape a makeover and turn it into a moonscape, you should not be encouraging your dog's digging. However, you should not be scolding him for it either, at least not until you find the root of the problem and address it. For example, if your dog doesn’t have a cool place to relax in you can’t really blame him for being proactive and wanting to create one. A very common reason why dogs dig through their backyard is that they are bored. In dog terms, boredom is usually pent up energy. Your dog might be digging to release that energy and tire himself out - hence the saying a tired dog is both a happy and a good dog. This is especially common in dogs that are left alone for longer periods of time, who don’t have other animal siblings or don’t get enough attention. This can be fixed by exercising your dog more often with longer walks and more active playtime, by taking your dog to the dog park, or considering a doggy daycare - basically, anything that could make your dog's life more interesting and active could reduce his digging behavior. Especially since if you tire him out, he simply won’t have the energy or the urge to dig. If your dog is digging next to or under the fence he is most likely planning an escape. Again, this can be targeted by creating a more interesting, active and thus happy life for your dog but if the problem still persists it is best to consult a dog trainer about it.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog digs small holes and buries items in them such as treats or toys it might mean that he feels unsafe about enjoying them around other dogs or just wants to leave them for later. In this case, it is best to give him the treats indoors and away from other dogs so that he can safely enjoy them. Lastly, your dog might just truly love digging and his natural urge is too strong to battle. Consider seeing a dog trainer about it or getting your dog some interactive toys and maybe even a sandbox with his favorite toy buried there to find or a designated area where he can freely satisfy his natural instinct.
Whatever the reason is for your dog's garden destruction, you need to dig to the bottom of the problem before you can stop your dog from digging to the bottom of your backyard. With patience, experimentation, understanding, and some professional support, you can help your dog remain a man's best friend without becoming your lawn's worst enemy.