I was at a new Home Dog Training session in Lawrenceville last Friday with a new Home Dog Training client and his three-year-old Labrador Retriever named Harriet.  She was a great dog and full of adrenaline. We spent most of the training session working through standard exercises including things like being calm when people come to the front door, not jumping on everyone, having a peaceful walk around the neighborhood, coming when called, etc.  The venue for most of Harriet’s training consisted of inside the house, on the sidewalk, or in the front yard. 

Stop your dog digging in the back yard

While in the front yard, I had the opportunity to glance in the back yard and was very interested in what I observed. I counted at least ten rather large holes in their well-manicured lawn. I then noticed that there were a lot of dead flowers scattered about. It appeared that the now deceased flowers had come from their once beautiful flower beds.  Jokingly, I asked them if they had thought about changing gardeners.

They laughed and then said, “We forgot that Harriet has one more, really annoying habit that we could use some help on.  As you can see, she is a digger, and our back yard has a lot of “targets of opportunity” for her. Can you help us with that?”

I began by telling them that dogs normally don’t get up in the morning and come up with the idea of “I want do make a big hole today and yank plants from the ground!”.  There are almost always mitigating circumstances that cause them to dig holes and make a mess in the back yard. There are generally three reasons why dogs dig in the back yard.

THEY WANT TO GET AWAY OR EXPLORE:  When your dog digs at the fence line, it may be as simple as wondering what is on the other side of the fence. There could be another dog, a strange or impelling smell, or a “mystery” they need to investigate.  Another reason for digging at the fence is a lack of real or perceived safety within the yard and house. Both the “I wonder” and “I’m afraid” emotional situations will often compel them to dig holes at the fence line or under the garden gate. They are just trying to “get somewhere else”.

THERE ARE NOISES COMING FROM THE GROUND:  I completely understand that you may think this explanation is a little strange.  The truth of the matter is that your dog can hear a lot more things than you. Their superior hearing is the reason they are always the first in the house to hear the mailman coming down the street.  They get excited because they hear that little squirrel jumping from tree limb to tree limb at the top of the tree at the far end of the back yard. Believe it or not, water often slops around in the backyard sprinkler pipes, the pipes between the pool filter and the pool, or the pipes from the house to the septic tank.

You and I will never hear these “underground noises”.  With their superior hearing, our dogs will often hear them. Once they year them, they will become curious and try “to find” where the noise is coming from. Since the noise is coming from under the ground, their natural course of action is to dig a hole where they hear the sound.  If you think about it for a minute, many of your dog’s holes will uncover an underground pipe or are near hose outlets.

MONOTONY: “Just having nothing to do” is always the major reason why dogs will dig holes in the back yard.  This is the main reason why dogs dig in the back yard.  Just like little kids, if you give them nothing to do, they will probably find something that you don’t want them to do and then do it.

Your dog may have already spent most of the morning doing boring things like walking the perimeter of the yard fifty times, chasing some fallen leaves, and barking at the neighbor’s cat until it ran back int the house.  After all that, he took a little nap.  Once he wakes up, he ponders “Now what?”

You know what? The grass in the back yard looks soft and cool.  I wonder if it would be fun to dig? When your dog “checks it out” and does a little digging, he may find great things like rocks and worms.  These things could cause him to continue digging in order to discover new and undiscovered “treasure”.  An even bigger bonus ensues when the hole becomes so large that it turns into a “doggie bunker”.  He has now created a safe and cool oasis from the summer heat. If it is wintertime, it becomes a wind break.

So now you know the major reasons why your dog may create holes in the back yard.  What you need to do next is to understand the actions you can take to stop these things from happening.

Of all the reasons I have listed above, I am always most concerned it the reason focusing on the dog’s need to escape.  This is because it is based on fear.  “Fear” is a very strong emotion and is normally rooted around something the owner has done or not done. The owner must first admit their fault and modify their actions to correct their behavioral failings.

If the issue of your dog’s need to escape is based on something outside of the property that he wants to investigate, you must address that yourself.  You may need to put up a fence that eliminates line of sight issues or come to an understanding with your neighbor regarding letting the pets out in the yard.

When it comes to “boredom” or “what’s that noise underground”, the solutions are less intrusive and far easier for you, as the dog owner, to implement. The two options we offer our clients are not based on a corrective or “just don’t do this” process. Just giving a solution that involves “stop it” may deter them for a moment or two, but it does not address the underlying cause of their actions.

That is why the solutions that we offer are based on the principle of redirection. Instead of simply telling them “You can’t do that”, we redirect their focus and boredom to a far more enticing and “dog owner acceptable” target.  To state the obvious, that target has nothing to do with tearing up the back yard. Our options are as follows:

  • Scatter Feed:  Take some of your dog’s favorite goodies and treats and “scatter them” around the back yard.  He will naturally want to go after them because they are “high value” targets for him.  Your dog now has been placed in the middle of an Easter Egg hunt in the back yard and all the “eggs are his for the taking”.  He will now focus on the goodies you have designated and not miscellaneous holes and plants.  This is a fun and self-directed activity that will keep him busy for a long time.
  • Create a Digging Pit:  Sometimes you just have to go with the old adage of “If you can’t beat him, join him!”  Since your dog obviously loves to dig, why not allow that under the rules and circumstances that are acceptable for you?  We suggest that you first designate an area in the yard that you will allow him to dig.  We propose that this area is “out of the way” and clear of things like plants and grass. Next, encircle the “digging pit” area with a border of wood (redwood or cedar planks).  Now, place a plastic mat in the area and fill it with clean sand. (When he digs, he won’t bring dirt with him back inside.)  Conceal some of his doggie toys in the sand, making sure that the tops of the toys are visible above the surface of the sand.  In addition, hide some of his favorite (smelly) goodies in the digging pit.  He now has a “target rich environment” in which to dig that you find acceptable.

Try these two dog training tips and I am sure that your backyard will return to a place of beauty in the immediate future.

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over nineteen years.  We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.