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Learn how to stop a dog from digging in the yard once and for all

These helpful tips can stop your dog from digging for good

You look out the window, and your heart sinks as you see dirt flying in all directions. Your dog is having a great time digging yet another hole in the backyard. When this happens, it’s important to remember that, while a yard full of craters might be your worst nightmare, your pup sees it as the perfect playground.

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

30 minutes

What You Need

  • Sandbox (optional)

  • Commercial training spray (optional)

  • Citronella oil, citrus fruit, or apple cider vinegar (optional)

  • Chicken wire (optional)

It will take time and patience to break their digging habit, but many dogs can learn to rein in the impulse. Read on to learn how to stop a dog from digging, so you can get your yard looking nice again.

Terrier digging a hole in the backyard
PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Adobe Stock

To learn how to stop your dog from digging, you need to know what's causing them to dig

Dogs dig holes for many reasons, and canine training experts say figuring out what’s motivating your pooch can help get to the root of the problem.

Let’s look at the most common reasons dogs dig and what you can do to stop it.

Step 1: Provide a sandbox.

Some dog breeds are natural-born diggers. After all, digging is an instinctual behavior that goes back to our dogs’ wild ancestors. Many hunting dogs, such as beagles, terriers, and dachshunds were bred to dig prey out of their dens.

Behaviorists at the Humane Society of the United States recommend providing a sandbox to meet your dog’s digging needs. Bury a bone in the sand to attract them to their new playground, if needed.

Step 2: Redirect your dog to cooler spots in the yard on really hot days.

Does your dog tend to dig holes during the summer months and then lie in the hollow they've made? Smart boy! The earth under the surface is much cooler and probably feels refreshing to your dog.

Redirecting your dog to shady spots in the yard, such as under a tree, can give them an alternative way to cool off. Don't forget to praise your dog when they stay there! You might also consider an all-weather-protection doghouse if your furry friend tends to spend a lot of time outside. In extreme temperatures, of course, your dog should stay indoors.

Step 3: Keep your dog from trying to escape.

Some dogs dig holes under the fence to escape. This could be in pursuit of wildlife or a neighborhood pet but can also happen if a dog is bored.

Attach chicken wire to the base of the fence to stop escape digging. To avoid this problem altogether, never leave your dog alone in the yard for long periods. It’s also important to provide mental stimulation by walking your dog at least twice a day.

Step 4: Prevent your dog from taking toys into the yard.

In the wild, wolves bury food they can’t eat immediately to protect it from scavengers. Dogs inherited this behavior, and some will bury toys or bones in the yard.

Limit the number of toys or bones you give your dog, so they won’t have extras to hide. Don’t let your dog take toys into the yard, and if they chew on a bone outside, remove it when they lose interest, so they don’t have an opportunity to bury it.

Step 5: Keep your dog mentally stimulated.

Many dogs dig just because they enjoy it. Digging turns up interesting smells and offers mental stimulation. This will often happen in places where you’ve recently been gardening.

In addition to long walks, training experts recommend playing ball or Frisbee or enrolling in training classes to provide mental stimulation.

Step 6: Limit access to diggable areas of the yard.

For some dogs, having a designated place to dig or a cooler spot to rest may not be enough. Old habits die hard, after all! To prevent your pup from going back to digging in a spot you don't want them to dig, make sure to cut off their access to that area or keep them under constant supervision.

Dog sitting by hole with a bone.
Kolbz/Getty Images

Can you use cayenne pepper in your yard to stop your dog from digging?

According to the American Kennel Club, some have considered sprinkling cayenne pepper where their dog digs. While cayenne pepper may not be harmful to your dog when swallowed, it can irritate their eyes. This could be a problem if your dog touches their face or eyes with their paws after digging in an area that’s been sprayed, so it’s safest to avoid using cayenne pepper as a deterrent.

A brown brindle-coated dog with his head buried in a large hole.
CLShebley/Adobe Stock

What can you use to stop your dog from digging?

If you need an extra hand keeping your dog from digging, you can use commercial products or make spray at home. However, keep in mind that what works for one dog might not deter another. Always check with your veterinarian before using a new product.

Experts at Garden Season suggest making natural homemade sprays with citronella oil, apple cider vinegar, or citrus fruit to deter dogs from digging. If you prefer to go the commercial route, though, you can choose from several repellents. Here are three products that use natural ingredients:

NaturVet Off Limits Training Spray is a combination of herbal extracts, including clove, garlic, and thyme.

Pet Organics No Dig! includes citronella oil, lemongrass, geranium, clove oil, and thyme oil.

Bonide – Go Away! Rabbit, Dog, and Cat Repellent uses granules instead of spray, with natural ingredients including cinnamon and thyme oils.

A brown and white Alaskan malamute digging in a yard.
Ludmila Smite/Adobe Stock

How to correct digging when you catch your dog in the act

Helping your furry friend replace their digging behavior with something more acceptable can be a challenging process, but there are effective ways to correct and redirect the problem.

Step 1: The Humane Society of the United States recommends creating a loud noise as an interruption.

Step 2: Immediately tell your dog "no dig." This will help them understand associate the behavior with the consequence, especially if they already know "no" through obedience training.

Step 3: Then, immediately remove your dog from the situation. You can either bring them to somewhere where digging is allowed (such as a sand box) or by bringing them to an area where they can't dig.

Whatever product you choose, be prepared to use it in combination with behavior modification. It will take patience and persistence to break your dog’s digging habit. If you’ve tried everything and your dog is still digging holes in the yard, you may have no choice but to stay out there with your pet. The good news is that gives you additional time to play or just relax with your buddy. And that’s definitely a win-win for both of you.

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Vera Lawlor
Contributor
Vera was the pet columnist for 201 Family magazine and has contributed pet and animal welfare articles to Bone-A-Fide Mutts…
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