How to Stop Dogs From Digging Under the Fence (5 Solutions)
Can’t get your dog to stop digging under the fence? It’s a very common problem – digging is a natural instinct for dogs. Some types of dogs were bred for just this purpose.
But it’s not always a simple expression of their genetics. Sometimes our furry friends are rooting through flower beds and the bottom of the fence because they’re anxious, bored, denning, or expressing their natural tendency to become escape artists.
Digging behavior is not only destructive for your landscaping. It could also portend problems in your dog’s psyche. Read on to find out everything you need to know about why dogs dig and what you can do to stop digging before it destroys your yard.
View Table of Contents
- The Science Behind Your Dog’s Digging Habit
- Why Does My Dog Dig Under the Fence?
- 5 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Digging Under the Fence
The Science Behind Your Dog’s Digging Habit
What we see as destructive behavior was a highly advantageous skill for the ancestors of modern-day dogs. Not only were the wolves and other species in the genus Canis able to root out prey and other food from beneath the dirt, but they could also dig out dens.
Dog breeds in the Spitz classification were bred and encouraged to dig to help their owners get rid of underground pests like gophers, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, voles, and shrews.
Before they were being selectively bred to encourage this subterranean hunting behavior, these Spitz diggers were carving out dens to stay warm in cold weather and cool down when it was hot.
Spitz breeds include the Samoyed, Husky, Chow Chow, Malamute, Akita, Pomeranian, and Shiba Inu, among others. They share the name Spitz because they all have pointy ears – “spitz” means “sharp” or “pointed” in German.
The Finnish Spitz is also a member of this category, as you might expect.
Why Does My Dog Dig Under the Fence?
It’s all good and well that pooches are genetically predisposed to dig, but that doesn’t tell the whole answer. Your doggy isn’t just suddenly stricken by a familial urge to start digging. There are many more immediate causes. Here are some of the most common explanations for why your dog is digging holes under the fence:
1. Dogs Dig Out of Boredom
Maybe you have a puppy that’s constantly filled with energy or you have a high-energy breed such as a terrier, dalmatian, collie, or retriever. Or perhaps your otherwise docile pup inexplicably goes into a frenzy whenever you let it out into the yard.
The fact is that digging is great mental stimulation for dogs. When there’s nothing else to do, it’s understandable that they would make their own fun. And for the majority of dog breeds, digging is tons of fun.
Hounds that have heightened senses of smell like beagles and bloodhounds experience a whole host of new scents as they dig up the earth. Not only are underground animals giving off a smell, but so are the minerals and the soil itself.
As for how long your pup can go without getting bored, that depends on their attention span. The number of stimuli they’re used to receiving and the degree to which you condition them to behave themselves in such situations will affect how likely they are to go into a digging frenzy when boredom strikes.
2. Dogs Dig to Play
Just as they dig when they’re bored, dogs also dig for the pure fun of it. The difference here is that it’s not out of boredom – not because there’s nothing else to do, but because it’s playtime and digging a hole is their activity of choice.
In some cases, they could be primed to dig because they saw you working in the garden or flower bed and you were digging. Many dogs also seem to feel that the rocks, roots, and dirt they encounter when they’re digging are a kind of response as if someone was responding to and playing with them.
Keep that in mind if you see your pup digging away. The solution could be as simple as just playing with them to give them something better to do.
3. Dogs Dig to Hunt
Look at where your dog is digging to find out whether they’re chasing burrowing animals or not. If they focus on one particular area, around the bottom of trees and plants, or appear to be digging in a tunnel pattern, there are likely pests beneath the lawn.
Underground pests can do enough damage to your yard without the additional chaos wrought by your dog’s digging. Addressing this problem can be tricky – many a pup has effectively lost their yard privileges because they can’t stop chasing after rodents.
If you’re turning to pest control tactics, just make sure you use methods that aren’t going to pose any danger to your dog. Poisons and other deterrents could put your dog at serious risk.
4. Dogs Dig to Cool Down
When the sun is beaming down with all its might, the soil just beneath the surface tends to remain cool and moist, especially compared to the topsoil. Dogs know this intuitively or learn by accident.
Once they know, they’ll start digging like crazy and even splooting in the dirt anytime it gets hot. Dog owners with less motivated pups would do well to provide shade or some other method for the dog to stay cool.
It’s not a 100% guarantee that they won’t dig their own cool spot out of the ground anyway, but it does reduce the chances of them digging.
5. Dogs Dig to Stay Warm
Ditto for the cold months. The dirt just beneath the surface retains heat from the day and doesn’t get icy as the topsoil does. Sled dogs and other breeds with a significant amount of wolf genetics will dig out a little spot even when there’s snow on the ground.
This instinct is tied into their natural propensity for denning, or creating dens for themselves. Ancient dogs and wolves shared this behavior in nature and our domesticated friends still have the instinct today.
6. Dogs Dig When They’re Anxious
Separation anxiety is a big deal for lots of dogs and puppies. Look out for this behavior particularly when there’s a big change in routine, such as a new job that requires the owner to be away for long stretches.
If your absence is what causes the dog to start digging, you should see some clear indications when you’re getting ready to leave. The dog could drool, bark, whine or even chase you to try and keep you from leaving.
Ask neighbors if there is any barking and whining when you aren’t there. They’ll probably be eager to tell you about it anyway to put an end to it. Training for separation anxiety can stymie the worst of the resulting behavior and keep your doggo calm when you can’t be around them.
7. Dogs Dig to Be Free
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Alright, so conditions in your backyard probably aren’t anywhere near what they were in Alcatraz Penitentiary. But your dog could well turn into a copycat Frank Morris for a variety of reasons.
Dogs are natural escape artists, particularly breeds that enjoy a good puzzle, such as labrador retrievers, beagles, dachshunds, terriers, and German Shepherds. Look for bare dirt along the fence line and examine any holes that have already been dug.
If there is some kind of debris or large rock that blocked your pup’s path and caused them to restart elsewhere, then escape is probably the goal. Separation anxiety is one reason they could be trying to escape. Boredom is another common cause.
5 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Digging Under the Fence
There are a few ways pet owners can reduce and prevent a dog from digging under a fence. These tips come from dog behaviorists who have put them to the test with great success across many different breeds.
1. Give Them Plenty of Exercise
This is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to change your dog’s behavior. Some high-energy breeds never seem to fatigue, but for the majority of others you can wear them out with lots of playtime and activities such as swimming, running, and hiking.
If they’re too tired to dig, your problem could be solved. Getting enough exercise is also a good solution to the boredom problem and the anxiety problem we discussed earlier in this guide. But busy dog parents don’t need to spend hours and hours with their pup at the dog park.
You can give Fido some exercise by leaving them plenty to do when they’re left alone. If you have a dedicated backyard where you leave your dog, fill it with plenty of interesting toys. Give them a comfortable dog house that’s elevated and gives them a view.
Lots of dogs need some kind of job to be happy. You can mimic work with creative toys.
2. Direct Their Digging Elsewhere
The odds of completely stopping any and all digging behavior are highly unlikely. A much more successful method is to give them somewhere that they can dig without wrecking the yard or threatening the stability of the fence.
Installing a dedicated digging pit or sandbox is a great way to let your dog do what comes naturally to them. The internet is filled with some creative DIY methods for constructing your own digging pit without too much effort.
Find out where your dog’s favorite digging spots are and put the manufactured digging zone there. They’ll be happy to investigate the new change to their territory and they’re also already primed to dig in that area. It’s not always feasible, but if it is you should do it.
A sandbox or other digging pit also opens up the possibility of new and more entertaining games for your pup. Bury toys with treats inside for them to find during the day if you’re going to be away, or fill the pit with chewable objects that will hold their attention for a long time.
4. Boundary Training
One extremely useful type of dog training is boundary training, which aims to teach dogs to stay within a certain area. People use it to keep their dogs out of certain rooms or even inside an unfenced yard.
It’s a solid alternative to locking them up in a kennel, but boundary training also takes lots of time and effort. It pays off in the end. Dog trainers use methods like invisible fences enforced with shock collars.
You can also keep your four-legged friend leashed up as you demonstrate boundaries, just make sure you don’t let them off the leash until they can show you that they know and understand. Clicker training is also a good option for showing your dog boundaries outdoors.
There are many distractions in the great outdoors and something innocuous like a small bird could throw your pup off, so make sure you start this training with plenty of treats for some positive reinforcement when they do the right thing.
4. Get Them Out of the Yard
This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes dogs are digging because they’ve outgrown or gotten bored with their environment.
Certain dogs might take a long time to get bored – beagles, for example, are endlessly fascinated with the same smells and scents over and over again while goldens might find the same stimuli boring after a while.
In any case, show your dog new places a couple of times a week. Dog parks and hiking trails are perfect for this purpose. Not only will they love exploring a new location, but they’ll probably be ecstatic to return to their familiar home next time they’re out in the yard.
If you don’t live in a place where there are tons of places to take a dog, you can also change the yard every so often. We’re not saying you should get an overhaul from the landscaping company, but you can change a few features to give your dog something new to explore.
Install a chain-link fence so your dog can still see what’s going on outside without getting the urge to try and escape.
5. Negative Reinforcement & Deterrents
Many dog owners take the simplest route first. When their dog starts digging, they bury chicken wire or a similar deterrent at the fence line. It’s direct and it is honestly a good method for really stubborn dogs.
But if you don’t want to risk your dog getting scratched up in its enthusiasm for digging under the fence, you can use negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement isn’t taking away something they like as a consequence of digging but rather rewarding them for behaving the right way by taking away something they don’t like.
For instance, you might keep them on a leash until they demonstrate they can go without digging. Install interior barriers within the yard and keep them there until they learn to stop digging.
Pair this with positive reinforcement (i.e. treats) and you should have a successful dog training program to stop your pooch from digging.
Digging is a natural instinct for dogs across breeds. It’s as natural to them as eating. They love to do it and it presents them with a great puzzle. But when they dig beneath a fence or fill the whole yard with pits, it can make the place unlivable for the human inhabitants of the house.
Hopefully, the information in this guide has enlightened you on the genetic and behavioral reasons why dogs are so fond of digging beneath fences. You can use one of the five strategies mentioned in this guide to discourage your dog from digging under the fence.