What to do when your furry friend starts tearing up the backyard? Learn ways to stop dogs from digging holes and why they do it in the first place. Find out which tricks work the best!
I grew up in a house with a lot of pets, so I’ve been around dogs my whole life. Fortunately, most of them didn’t dig or make a mess of the yard.
Fast forward to our new homestead. My husband and I adopted two littermates that were born to a stray mama. (Side note: this is NOT the easy to way to bring a dog into your family and not recommended for new dog owners).
We adopted these girls because we could tell they were going to be big dogs and our goal was to raise them to be farm dogs. Big dogs are a must when you live out in the country with lots of other big animals around.
I knew training two BIG puppies with questionable (to put it nicely) breeding would be a challenge.
What I didn’t expect was to end up with two diggers! So I can tell you that we’ve tried quite a few different things to stop them. Some work better than others…and I’ll break that down later in the post.
5 Reasons Dogs Dig Holes
Dogs don’t dig to annoy you, even though it can feel that way. Often the reasons they dig, or do other unwanted behaviors, are the result of something that WE are doing wrong!
Here are a few common reasons why your dog may dig holes in your yard:
Digging is a method that dogs use to hunt for food — unfortunately for us, we are working against tens of thousands of years on instinct here!
Certain breeds of dogs, particularly in the terrier family, have been bred to dig. These dogs were used to flush out vermin from underground burrows.
Understanding your dog’s breed and intended purpose is the first step in dealing with digging. It may be more difficult to curb this behavior in some breeds.
2. To Bury Toys or Food
When we rescued our dog Zelda last year, she immediately set to digging in the backyard. Right away, she uncovered two toys that the previous owners’ dog had buried!
Many dogs will dig holes to hide toys and bones from other pets. Or from any perceived “threat” to their belongings. This too is instinctual behavior.
On the flip side, if they find “buried treasure” like our dog did, this only serves to reinforce the behavior, and they may start digging to look for more surprises.
3. For Comfort
Dogs may dig holes to shield themselves from the weather. If it’s hot outside, they may dig so they can lie down in the cool dirt.
Conversely, if it is cold or windy outside, they may dig to shield themselves from the elements.
Dogs should always have accessible shelter. If they’re digging especially during periods of inclement weather, this is a clue that they are uncomfortable and that you need to address it.
When dogs are stressed, they may dig as a distraction or release. Think of it like fidgeting in humans.
If you can pinpoint the source of anxiety, you can potentially alleviate the feeling of needing to dig.
5. They’re Bored
Of all the underlying causes of digging, boredom is probably the toughest to stop.
Dogs left on their own in a backyard for long stretches of time will find a way to entertain themselves. It may not be how you hope they would keep busy either!
The problem is, once dogs discover that digging is fun, it may become their go-to whenever they’re bored. Once it’s become a habit, digging is much harder to stop.
How to Stop a Dog from Digging
If you want to successfully stop digging (or any unwanted behavior), you’ve got to figure out WHY your dog is doing it in the first place.
The reasons above are not necessarily an all-inclusive list, but they are a good place to start.
Once you know the why a dog digs, you can take steps to stop them from doing it.
1. Give them More Exercise
It may seem that being outdoors is exercise enough, but that is often not the case. Taking your dog on a daily walk works both their body and brain.
Toys that can be played with alone, or with you, are important too.
Finally, dogs need attention to be healthy and sane. You wouldn’t stick your kid alone in a room all day and expect them to thrive, and the same goes for your pets.
Since we are training our dogs to help watch our chickens and to generally keep the property safe, I take them with me when I do chores. They love to accompany me to the garden, to check for eggs, or to get the mail. Having a “job” has been very helpful for improving their overall behavior.
2. Bury Poop in their Holes
This actually “kills two birds with one stone” so to speak. Since you have to pick up poop piles in the backyard already, why not put them to good use?
Before you fill in holes with dirt, add a pile or two of dog poop. Then cover.
We’ve had pretty good results with this in keeping our dogs from digging in the same place over and over.
However, one of our dogs occasionally likes to eat poop (dogs will be dogs…) it works better for one of them than the other.
3. Use Chili or Cayenne Pepper
This is my favorite trick to stop a dog from digging holes. It works best if your dog has a certain place that they keep digging, even after you fill in the hole again.
Once you have your hole(s) filled in with dirt, sprinkle a healthy dose of chili powder or cayenne pepper on top. It doesn’t have to be completely coated, but you want to be able to see the pepper and cover most of the surface.
Dogs will sniff the pepper and walk away. Our dogs didn’t even want to go near the holes again!
We also tried jalapeño pepper powder, but surprisingly that did not work as well. Stick with chili or cayenne — it’s cheaper and works better.
4. Pee where they Dig
Yes, it sounds gross. But it works!
I have my husband do this…for obvious reasons.
Our dogs mostly dug holes around the perimeter of the yard, so that’s where you apply the urine.
Not only does this help with places that they already dug, but it seems to prevent them from digging new holes too.
It’s basically marking the territory as YOURS and tells the dogs to stay away.
5. Bury Chicken Wire in the Yard
I’ve seen this suggestion: bury chicken wire in the yard and plant grass on top. I think it would work, but probably wouldn’t be practical in all circumstances.
If you have a big yard or well-established grass, this might be a bigger project than you want to try and tackle.
If you have a small yard or a dirt area where you’re going to plant grass anyway, it may be something to consider.