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Why Dogs Dig and What You Can Do

ASPCA logoSome wild dog relatives, like foxes and wolves, dig dens to raise their young. Sleeping in a den protects the young pups from extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) and from predators. Our pet dogs share the desire to sleep in and under things that resemble a den. They often dig at the ground and circle before lying down, as though they’re trying to make a softer resting place. (Many dogs do this on the carpet or furniture as well.) Dogs also dig when trying to get warm or stay cool, to entertain themselves, to bury valued items, and when hunting ground-dwelling animals.

Why Dogs Dig

Keeping Cool and Comfortable

Dogs often dig and circle to make a comfortable bed. If a dog is especially hot or cold, she may dig to find a warmer or cooler place to rest. Holes are often strategically located in cool or warm areas, such as in the shade, underneath bushes or outdoor furniture.

Entertainment

Many dogs love to dig. Some breeds, like terriers, are more likely to dig than others. But any dog can develop a digging habit. Dogs who dig for fun usually adopt a playful posture and alternate between digging and running around. Sandy surfaces often trigger bouts of digging. If your dog digs for entertainment, you’ll probably see holes located randomly around the area.

Burying Valued Items

Dogs bury food, chew bones, toys and prey. This behavior was once key to the survival of dogs’ wild ancestors because it allowed them to leave food safely concealed and then return to eat it later. It’s not surprising that our domesticated dogs still feel the urge to dig. If a dog wants to bury something, she digs a hole, places the item in the hole, and then uses her nose to cover the item with dirt. Often the dog will repeatedly bury an item, dig it up and bury it again in a new spot. Some dogs “bury” things indoors, on carpeting or furniture, or underneath dog beds or piles of laundry.

Hunting Ground-Dwelling Animals

Most dogs have the desire and ability to hunt small prey such as moles, groundhogs, etc. If a dog finds a hole with an animal inside, she may dig relentlessly in an attempt to get to the animal.

Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out

Separation-Anxiety Digging

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may dig to get to a family member or to escape from being left alone. To learn more about this behavior problem, please see our article, Separation Anxiety.

Escape-Motivated Digging

Some dogs dig to escape from confinement.

Eating Dirt or Other Inedible Objects

Some dogs dig holes to consume soil, roots and other inedible material. They’re usually selective about the soil they consume, so this kind of digging is usually restricted to a small number of spots.

Digging is a normal behavior for dogs. Certain breeds are more likely to dig than others. For example, terriers were bred to hunt underground prey, such as rabbits and badgers, so they tend to dig a lot. However, any dog of any breed can develop a digging habit under the right (or wrong) conditions. To deal with a digging problem, you’ll need to identify your dog’s underlying motivation for the behavior. If you can figure out why your dog digs, you can figure out how to fix or reduce the problem. In some cases, you’ll need to prevent digging in unwanted locations and offer appropriate places for digging instead.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

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