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Have you ever caught your pooch sneaking off to the backyard – only to be caught red-pawed while digging themselves into a hole?
Well, don’t feel too bad about this weird yet common behavior. If you’ve got a yard and a dog, they’ll have a hard time resisting the urge of messing it up, especially if the breed has a predisposition towards digging.
So, why do dogs dig holes and lay in them? This natural behavior helps dogs stay warm or cool depending on the weather or hide their bones and toys. Some dogs dig holes for entertainment, or when they feel stressed, and laying in these holes makes them feel safe.
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg, so if you want to know more about your dog’s digging obsession and how best to manage it then keep on reading!
Why Do Dogs Dig Holes And Lay In Them?
Whether you have a beautiful back garden that you want to protect or you don’t know what to do when seeing your otherwise innocent dog goes wild at the sight of dirt and a diggable area, the first step is understanding where they’re coming from.
Before you can handle or redirect this primordial urge first you need to find the source!
Reason 1: It’s An Instinct
Digging holes might be unacceptable to us, but according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), digging is part of a dog’s instinct that has been passed down through generations going back to their gray wolf ancestors. Gray wolves would also dig holes or use natural dens like burrows to keep warm, and during the breeding season to keep their pups safe from predators. So, it comes as no surprise that digging holes is rooted deeply in your dog’s DNA as well as hiding in them, and some breeds seem to be more in tune with this ancestral behavior.
Breeds like the Siberian Husky can spend all day digging up holes in your yard and using them as shelter like they would in the freezing Tundra. Similarly, Rottweilers can also find joy in digging up a backyard to escape the hot summer! And if you think only large dogs will look for any opportunity to show off their digging skills then you’ve never seen a Fox Terrier and their endless desire for digging!
Reason 2: To Regulate Their Body Temperature
No matter how much we try to make our dogs comfortable during the hot season, cool water and shade aren’t enough and some dogs will use the knowledge of their forefathers to adjust their body temperature and that’s by laying in a hole. Dogs also don’t sweat as efficiently as humans do which can make summer a truly difficult season for them.
They pant and use their tongue to cool down, and as Catherine Carrier, a veterinarian states “they do have true sweat glands in their paw pads, [but] that’s not enough to cool them down.”
So, finding other ways to combat overheating is essential, especially since our dogs lead an active lifestyle, that usually involves a lot of running.
Think about it, is your dog more prone to dig up a hole and lay in it because they got too hot after a walk? Dogs with long and thick fur, especially ones that are black will face even more difficulties, and the deeper the hole they’ll dig the cooler the ground underneath.
Dogs that are kept outside during the winter can exhibit similar behavior. If they find themselves caught in the snow or rain, they’ll dig holes to insulate their bodies and keep themselves as warm as possible.
Reason 3: To Bury Their Valuable Possessions
No matter how generous and loving our dogs are they’re not foolish enough to leave their valuable possessions out in the open. Toys, bones, or even your favorite trainers can get stashed away in their secret layer, created through vigorous digging. Domestication never truly changed this protective instinct and dogs will go as far as to bury these valuables, in order to keep them to themselves.
In some cases, they might lay in the hole to guard their bone or toy. Teoti Anderson, a professional dog trainer explains this behavior by saying that “The reason why a dog buries something is to save it for later.” He also adds that “some dogs stash a treat and then ignore it for a week.
Some dogs seem indecisive and move their prize 20 times before settling on one spot. And other dogs bury a bone and forget altogether.” So, the digging might go on and on, and by the time they’re done, you’ll find them panting in a cool hole they’ve just dug for themselves.
Reason 4: It’s Fun!
Digging is serious business, but this doesn’t mean your canine friend can’t have fun with it. Some dogs “may dig as a form of self-play when they learn that roots and soil “play back”,” explains the Human Society of the United States. Their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than that of the average human means and they can sniff out possible critters hiding beneath the soil.
That alone can make any dog go wild and start digging. If they don’t find anything they might simply lay in the fresh hole to rest, or they’ll continue until your whole yard looks like a battlefield.
In some cases, the reason why they choose to lay in the hole may be ingenious. Take this dog, for example, one minute he’s enjoying some playful digging, and the next minute he’s covering his mischief by laying on the hole!
Dog breeds like Terriers, Beagles, Siberian Huskies, and Dachshunds are known to be diggers by nature. Hounds, in particular, have been used as faithful hunting companions for centuries and were trained over generations to dig up rabbits and other game animals.
Basically, it’s a natural instinct for some breeds to follow their noses and dig up an unfortunate mouse or mole!
Reason 5: It Helps Them Feel Safe And Secure
While it may not make sense to humans, sitting in a shallow hole gives dogs a sense of comfort and security – yes, dogs stress too.
In this case, digging holes in your yard could be classified as destructive behavior and the result of separation anxiety. This usually happens when your little friend becomes anxious at the prospect of you leaving and once, you’re gone the only way they can cope is by digging up your yard and laying in the safety of their dens.
Rebecca Sargisson from the University of Waikato states that “dogs seem to develop separation-related behavior problems if they are male, sourced from shelters or found, and separated from the litter before they are 60 days old.” This could explain why your fellow friend is digging up your backyard, but there are other stressors to consider.
A strong fear of loud noises could be triggered by a thunderstorm or fireworks, even being scolded can make your pooch want to hide in the comfort of their own makeshift shelter.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Dig Holes And Lay In Them?
Dogs are well-known for their love of digging holes and laying in them even before they became our best friends. So, it’s certainly not unnatural to observe a dog halfway underground, tail wagging in the air! However, if your dog doesn’t have a history or breed predisposition towards digging, chances are that something might be bothering them. Lack of exercise, boredom, or even a small animal living underground could be the reason your dog has found a new interest in backyard excavation.
Animal behavior specialists from the University of Lincoln, UK, suggest that “separation anxiety in dogs should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis, and understanding these root causes could be key to effective treatment.” So, before you embark on the journey of changing this digging behavior it’s important that you understand why your fellow familiar would act out this way!
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Digging Holes And Laying In Them?
While it may be natural for a dog to dig, it’s completely understandable if you’re not too keen on the idea. The first step is of course to understand your dog’s motivation, and the next should be a steady effort, trying to redirect their digging.
Every dog will have different needs that you’ll have to fulfill, but here are a few suggestions on how to keep your pooch occupied without getting his noses in the dirt!
1. Training Is Fundamental
No matter how old your dog is, proper training can help you navigate their behavior and help them live a stress-free life. I truly believe that the best way to motivate yourself and your dog on getting started is by enrolling in a training program that uses positive training techniques. This way you’ll be able to find the tools to properly communicate with your dog and help them understand why you don’t like it when they dig holes and use them as shelter.
A professional trainer can give you specific advice on their digging behavior and attending classes will force you to practice everything you’re being taught. Training your dog all by yourself is possible, but it’s a lonely road where any setback might discourage you. Within a group, you’ll see other dog parents struggling, and perhaps other dogs that enjoy digging as much as your little rascal. Most importantly, taking part in dog classes will help strengthen your bond and give you the tools to deal with digging issues in the future even if it’s a behavior that’s not present or prevalent right now.
2. More Opportunities To Exercise
No matter how small or big your dog is they still need to exercise, and you need to let them blow off steam in more creative ways other than digging. I know that we have a lot on our plates, work, family, friends, and Netflix, but we still need to put in the work for our doggies when we come back home. Instead of taking your dog on a short walk around the block, take them somewhere outside the city where they can run without a leash, and even dig, like the beach for example!
Look for dog parks where they can interact with other dogs, and where you both have the space to play fetch. Some dogs dig because they want to recreate a hunting experience and playing fetch with them can help satisfy this instinct. Simply relying on your backyard, no matter how big it is, isn’t enough. Dogs need to be socialized, played with, and receive reward-based training.
Remember that not all dogs like toys, and changing things up will also keep your doggy invested in your mutual activities and they won’t get as easily bored.
Try taking your dog along on a hiking trip, or let them go with you when you cycle. If for some reason you’re stuck inside, try playing a few games by running up and down the stairs a few times, or playing the game of tug in your yard. “Tug can promote impulse control, build confidence, and strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners,” says Dianna L. Santos.
She also points out that “allowing a dog to win means they can celebrate with their prize, but it also presents them with a wonderful opportunity: to choose to bring the toy back to you on their own!”
When creating an exercise routine for your dog, taking their size, age, and personality into account are also important, as all dogs come with different energy and stamina levels. It’s always best to consult your dog’s vet or trainer to determine the right amount of exercise your dog needs.
3. With The Right Environment
Your dog’s natural tendency to dig your yard is not going to stop overnight. After all, it’s in their nature and most likely the urge won’t go away completely, but by making sure that their environment is fulfilling their needs, makes them feel comfortable and safe then that urge can be managed.
You can start by taking the right steps that will ensure that your buddy feels adequate in their body no matter what season it is. If you can keep your dog inside during the winter, it can help reduce digging because of the proximity reason, and they won’t need a mud den to protect them from the cold. But I understand that this isn’t the option for everyone so investing in a good and solid doghouse should be on your list!
Doghouses are great because your dog will see that he doesn’t need to dig his own shelter if he already has one that protects him from the sun and from the cold. If you’re on the lookout for a roomy doghouse, the Midwest Home For pets on Amazon is easy to assemble and it comes in different sizes to choose from.
By adding a dog bed inside you can turn it into a cozy little corner, or if you’re crafty yourself you could add extra insulation for the cold months of the year.
During the summer a lot of dogs enjoy splashing in the water so why not try taking them to the beach where they can also enjoy some harmless digging. If that’s not an option for you, but you have a large balcony or yard then think of getting a paddling pool instead.
A great option is this portable and heavy-duty pool from Koreks that you can check on Amazon, it’s easy to put together, and it comes in different sizes where even a large dog can have fun!
It’s also possible to meet your doggy somewhere in the middle and instead of completely denying them the pleasure of digging you could set up a sandpit in your yard. By proper training you can teach them that this is the only area that digging is allowed, so they can stop harassing your vegetable garden and beautiful rose bushes once and for all!
4. By spending More Time With Your Dog
Dogs thrive when they are around their owners and vice versa and if you don’t believe me then listen to this study that claims that “when dogs and humans interact with each other in a positive way (for example cuddling) both partners exhibit a surge in oxytocin, a hormone which has been linked to positive emotional states.”
So, if dogs are happy and relaxed when they’re in our presence then they’re more likely to feel bored and neglected when they’re left alone for too long. When that happens excessive or unwanted behaviors like barking, chewing on shoes, and digging can become the norm.
Of course, it’s not that we want to neglect our furry friends or spend less time with them, but work and our day-to-day responsibilities can take up a lot of space and leave us drained. But our dogs don’t know that and so they develop separation anxiety, and in some cases, they end digging themselves into a hole.
Helping our dogs with separation anxiety is crucial and it can be done through counterconditioning. “Counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like delicious food.” This doesn’t mean that we should leave our dogs alone for too long, we still need to be there for their needs and if you ever feel that you’re struggling ask a friend, or hire a professional to walk your dog and play with them.
The perfect environment isn’t simply about temperature, dog houses, toys, and exercise it’s also about being an active member of our dog’s life!
What To Do If Your Dog Is Digging Up Small Animals?
If you own a Beagle or Terrier, you might have spotted them digging around some shrubs. Chances are that their keen senses have detected an underground intruder, usually some kind of small rodent. Hunting was the only way dogs could survive, and even though now they’re spoilt with high-quality foods, the urge to hunt is still there.
While this might be a proud moment for your canine friend, finding them lay in the hole next to dead prey might not be as exciting for you.
Such rodent encounters can also be dangerous since these critters can carry diseases and parasites. Punishing your dog will most definitely not have the result that you want as studies show that “the art of hunting is naturally highly rewarding to most dogs, regardless of whether or not it results in unpleasant consequences.”
So the best tactic would be to get rid of these animals. You can use ultrasonic rodent repellents to humanely get rid of these pests and keep your dog from further messing up your yard, or look for advice from professional pest control.
If you’ve noticed that your dog’s digging is based on hunting, then you can check our list of best toys for dogs that like to dig and get a reward out of it! You can also take a look at our top pick, which is This toy will allow your pup to dig safely, and it also offers mental enrichment as they have to sniff out the treats and then figure out how to get to them.
Do Dogs Dig Holes When They Are Going To Die?
When animals get sick their first instinct is to ensure their own safety. According to veterinarians, “although your sick or injured pet is in no danger in your home, his or her instincts trigger the immediate desire to locate a safe hiding place.” That’s why you might find your dog hiding in their dog house, under the bed, or in a hole they’ve just created in your yard. While sick or moody dogs can display such behavior, there’s no substantial evidence that can claim that dogs do know when their death is near.
Pets in general are not strong enough to protect themselves when they are ailing, but their immediate instinct is to go into hiding and dig a hole where they feel safe. Dogs isolate themselves when they are injured or in pain, and the perfect spot for this could be a dirt hole. But dogs cannot grasp the concept of death, hence it would be really unfair to say that they know when they are dying.
Digging is a typical dog characteristic, and it shouldn’t be confused with the fact that your dog knows when he’s about to die, although they can certainly withdraw into a hole when feeling sick or weak.
Should I Be Worried If My Dog Digs Holes And Lays In Them Often?
Digging holes and using them as a hiding spot shouldn’t be enough of a reason to worry you unless you see other behaviors in your dog that concern you. If your dog is lethargic, doesn’t want to go out for a walk and they’ve lost their appetite then you definitely should take them to the vet for further examination.
If your pooch is physically healthy, but they still would rather dig a hole and lay in it, then they could be mentally distressed or in need of your attention. Excessive digging could be a symptom of some underlying issues such as stress, and if you’ve been spending less time with your friend then perhaps it’s time you’ve invested more time into playing with them and taking them on long walks.
In the case of certain hunting dog breeds, digging is, in fact, part of their genetic makeup and helps them destress and have fun! If your dog is happy then the only thing you need to be worried about is your yard. Fortunately, with some good training, this can too become a problem of the past!
At the end of the day, digging might be an unwanted behavior for us, but if we take a second and see the world through our dog’s eyes then we’ll discover that it’s part of being a dog.
By taking a gentle, and friendly approach we can truly understand what digging means to them and only then find ways to change this behavior. But we can make that change if we can’t give them something in return.
What our dogs want is our time, our love, and our attention and all that can come in many forms as we’ve discussed above. An environment that stimulates them, and an owner who spends the time to teach them and play with them.
And let’s not forget that if we make sure that our pooches are walked and exercised every day then there’ll be no energy left to dig holes!