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Dogs and Digging by Frank Utchen, DVM
Front Legs

Dr. Utchen, my dog routinely digs up my yard (she is 8). Why does she do this and will she EVER outgrow it? 

Answer:

Some dogs do love to dig! This instinctive behavior is generally impossible to break, although it can be directed to appropriate places in the yard. Of course, you can restrict your dog to one area of the yard by building a fenced dog run, but chances are despite your best efforts she will still occasionally be out in the yard unsupervised.  

So try this: pick one place in the yard—behind a bush perhaps—that will be designated as “okay” for digging. Dig up the area yourself and bury 5 or 10 chew toys, rawhide chews, etc., including a few edible treats with a strong smell, and then cover them and tamp the dirt down. Bring your dog over to this spot in the yard and let her sniff the dirt and begin digging and—Jackpot!—she will find one of the things you’ve buried. Another minute of digging and—Bingo!—another treat or toy.  

In this way she will be positively reinforced for digging in that location. At the beginning of this process she will likely still dig a few holes elsewhere in the yard without finding any rewards. Then when she wanders back to the designated spot, digs, and finds yet another toy or treat she will realize that this is the spot in the yard with all the buried treasure. This becomes the spot where digging is most fun. You may have to re-bury things a few times to keep her mining location “productive” but over time this approach will attract her to dig in that area instead of all over your yard, so that even when all the “booty” has been excavated, she’ll continue digging here in the hope that more will turn up. It’s not a guarantee that she’ll leave the rest of your yard alone but it will go a long way toward reducing the overall damage to your yard. 

A final thought: you may want to investigate whether your yard has been invaded by gophers or other burrowing rodents. Some dogs are acutely aware whenever their “perimeter” has been breached by uninvited visitors!

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