Romanian Bloodhound doing what comes naturally.

Living With Animals: Why Dogs Dig

Why do dogs dig? Great question but we can’t go to the source: the dogs aren’t talking. On the other hand, our species won’t stop talking, which means we’re left with many self-proclaimed experts’ theories. One popular theory, dogs lacking certain key minerals in their diet dig holes in hopes of finding them in the soil. This theory conjures images of dogs in white lab coats twirling test-tubes, which I like but don’t find helpful. Perhaps it’s more logical to look at food-focused theories, dogs being dogs, and those tell us that dogs dig in search of yumminess (small prey, the remains of something left behind) or to stash away food for some future feast (likely becoming the yumminess dug up by another dog). Then there’s the shelter theory: dogs are naturally denning animals (why crate-training works!) and digging is a way to create their own dens. And the comfort theory: digging takes a dog to a cooler lower level and, combined with the fluffy soil, creates a comfy bed.

Observations of my own dogs lead me to observe, theoretically of course, that digging is fun. Dogs like to play and, as experienced by the canine cranium, flying dirt, wiggly roots and the occasional smelly treasure are all indeed fun experiences, as is the unpredictability of just when another decomposing discovery is to be literally unearthed under those whirligig front feet. 

Can we get a dog to stop digging? Yes, but not all at once and not likely 100% for those most committed backyard renovators. Assuming the possibilities of mineral deficiency and hunger, make sure your pup is both healthy and well-fed. Assuming shelter and comfort motivate the unwanted behavior, don’t leave dogs unattended outside to create coziness. Assuming burying treasure, don’t give treats which aren’t finished in one indoor feeding. Assuming fun, make sure your dog is well entertained and exercised, both physically and mentally. (Mentally? Lots of toys require a dog to work through a bit of a puzzle in order to get a treat buried within.) There are more radical approaches, like burying chicken wire several inches down to create a barrier or setting up one approved dig spot, but let’s first do what comes easily.

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