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Sometimes you just know the dog is too quiet, and a small voice at the back of your mind nags that you really should go and check what he's up to. But the peace and quiet is so blissful, and deep down a small optimistic part of you hopes the dog has merely gone outside to doze in the pleasant spring sunshine.
But as more time passes you can't in good conscience turn a blind eye any longer. Putting your coffee cup and novel aside, you go out into the yard. You know it's not going to be pretty when the Beagle comes padding over, that flagpole tail wagging slowly....and his front paws covered in mud.
Your worst fears are shortly confirmed when you discover an earth excavation near the apple tree, which you could bury a large suitcase in with no problems. Internally you sigh, knowing full well that you should have come out earlier...
Teaching a dog, especially a Beagle, not to dig can be a bit like expecting the dog not to breathe (well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea). Digging is a deeply satisfying behavior with deep instinctive roots for many dogs. How you go about re-educating your dog is important, because if you approach things wrongly you could accidentally reward the digging behavior and enforce it. Therefore the wise owner takes a different approach.
They ponder on why it is the dog feels the need to dig, and addresses any underlying triggers. If this doesn't do the trick, then redirecting deep-seated digging behavior to an appropriate spot is likely to create a happy compromise for everyone involved.
To train a dog not to dig requires some time spent observing the dog so you better understand his motivation. This may then suggest avenues to explore in order to make his life more content. This could mean longer walks, games of fetch, or a digging pit, depending on what your dog needs.
You may need some or all of the following items:
- Wood to make a large frame to go around a digging pit
- An area of the yard you can sacrifice to the dog's digging
- A collar, leash, and balls to enjoy on walks
- Toys or treats to bury
The Find His Motivation Method
Understand the motivation
Dogs dig for any number of reasons. Sometimes it's just plain fun to dig and feel the soil flying out between your paws. Other times the dog may dig to hide food, burn energy, or fulfill a behavioral need. The first step to stopping a Beagle from digging is to identify the reason he is digging, because by correcting the underlying cause he may no longer feel the need.
Beagles love their food, but even a Beagle can sometimes have too many chewbones or biscuits. In order to protect the treats he can't deal with right away, instinctively the Beagle may try to hide them by burying them. After all, what could be more traditional than a dog burying a bone? If your Beagle is burying treats, then change the rewards to bite-sized pieces and don't let him store them up. For larger chewbones, only allow the dog to have access to them indoors and remove it at the end of each chew session.
Find a cool spot
The earth is cooler beneath the topsoil. On a hot day, the dog may instinctively dig down in order to reach a cool place to lie. To avoid this, make sure the dog has plenty of shade from which to escape the worst of the summer heat. You could also provide a wading pool for him to dip his paws in when things really heat up.
The escape artist
Beagles love running free and following a scent. If he picks up a really interesting smell on the breeze, instinct may take over as he tries to dig his way through a boundary fence. Reduce the dog's wanderlust by making sure he gets plenty of mental stimulation. This can be simple things such as regular obedience training sessions which mean he has to concentrate and listen, and by using puzzle feeders to give his meals, so he must problem solve in order to eat.
For a Beagle, digging is a real boredom buster. Beagles are hunting dogs and its in their genes to be on the go all day, running nose down following a scent. If instead your Beagley friend is stuck in a yard with little to occupy him, he'll turn his paw to digging. The answer here is to provide plenty of exercise. If your dog's staying power outlasts your own, then teach him to play fetch so that he does all the legwork, not you.
The Place to Dig Method
Understand the idea
Digging behavior can be deeply ingrained and a habit the dog just isn't prepared to give up. This is when it pays to get around the problem by providing the dog with an appropriate place to dig. By giving him a recognizable patch to call his own, he will concentrate his digging efforts there and leave the rest of the yard alone. In this case, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em wins the day.
Provide a digging pit
Decide on an area of the yard that you don't mind sacrificing to the dog. If possible, make it large enough to be at least twice as long as the dog and comfortably wide. Mark the area out so that it's clear where it starts and stops. A low wooden frame or plank is a good idea, as this will also keep some of the soil in. Dig the ground over inside and then finish it with a nice inviting layer of soft digging soil.
Show the digging area to the dog
Escort the dog to his new digging patch. Scatter a treat or two on the surface, and when he jumps in to get them, give him lots of praise and encouragement. Repeat this every time you go outside, so that he links the digging spot to treats and being clever.
Partially hide a toy
Now take a favorite toy (preferably one that won't be damaged by being half-buried). Partially conceal it in the soil so that the lower half is buried but the top is clearly visible. Let the dog into the yard and encourage him to visit the digging area. When he spots the toy, encourage him to get it. If he paws at the eart around the toy to get it, then react with excitement, praise him and say "Dig". Repeat this several times on different occasions. Once the dog is regularly running over to the spot in anticipation of finding a toy, he is ready to move onto the next step
Bury a toy or treat
Now bury a toy or treat just below the surface. This time the dog won't have sight of the toy to guide him. As he sniffs around, encourage him to find the object by saying "Dig" in an excited voice. Make this into a regular game, and the dog will simply love performing his favorite occupation (digging) and unearthing a treat as a consequence. Regularly bury objects when he isn't looking, so as to maintain his interest in the area.
Now the dog has a place to dig, you can start guiding him toward it. If he is about to dig in the wrong place, say a firm "Oh no!" and guide him towards the right place. Then get very excited and give lots of praise when he hops in and gets to work. Now he understands there is a right and a wrong place to dig, he'll happily occupy himself in a good way.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Punish the dog for digging
Smacking a dog or shouting at him to stop digging may appear effective, but usually it isn't. All that happens is the dog doesn't dig when he knows you are around, and waits for you to leave before happily tunneling his way through the rose border.
Do: Be Patient
Many puppies go through a digging phase, which they often grow out of. It's important to distract the pup from digging with a squeaky toy or a game the pup likes, rather than tell him off, which can accidentally backfire by enforcing the behavior. (See next)
Don't: Accidentally train the dog to dig
Dogs love attention. If you walk over and chastise your digging Beagle, there's a risk of accidentally rewarding him with attention. Since we know dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarded, this makes it more likely the dog will dig rather than less likely.
Do: Securely fence areas
If your Beagle is a known tunneler take steps to ensure the yard stays safe. Measures such as burying chicken wire just below the soil surface, especially near fences, could save him escaping and becoming injured as a consequence.
Don't: Leave the dog unattended for hours in the yard
Where possible, supervise the dog at all times and make sure he has plenty to occupy his mind. Leaving the dog out in the yard on the grounds that he'll exercise himself, may well result is some finely toned muscles from all that digging he does to pass the time.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 12/19/2017, edited: 01/08/2021