Is my dog digging to escape - or is there something else going on?

Did you know…

  • Digging is an instinctual behavior for many dogs that dates back to the days of their wild ancestors.
  • Some breeds, like terriers, had digging instincts further developed by humans for hunting purposes.

Digging is such a joy for many dogs! Digging is a common problem behavior in dogs, and many dog owners suffer the consequences at some point. Understanding why your dog is digging will help better equip you to handle and live with this instinctive behavior.

Being a dog:

Dogs dig for many reasons, but the core of the behavior goes back to a dog’s wolf ancestors. Digging is arguably as much a part of dogdom as barking or sniffing. In fact, that instinctive tendency is why some breeds were originally used for hunting animals in underground dens. In the case of certain breeds, human intervention made the digging instinct even stronger. Think about terriers; these dogs are also known as “earthdogs” because of their incredible commitment to following prey into tunnels in the earth, even if that means digging their way in. Humans purposefully developed these breeds to exhibit this behavior. Therefore, it seems unreasonable to expect it to vanish, just because we don’t want to lose our vegetable garden.

Digging for many reasons:

Stress Relief

Digging can be fun for dogs, making it a great way for them to relieve stress. This stress can be created in several ways, but most active diggers are either very bored or suffer separation anxiety. Dogs left on their own for too long, without ways to remain occupied, will often turn to digging. Dogs with separation anxiety need a way to channel their negative emotions into something productive and can become quite obsessive about digging. Digging provides mental and physical stimulation — something necessary for curbing feelings of boredom and anxiety.


Genetics play a key role in the temperament of our dogs, and the propensity to dig is no exception. Many hunting dogs, such as terriers and small hounds, were bred to dig out quarry from their dens. If you have gophers or other small animals in your yard, there’s a good chance that your dog will dig to catch them. In fact, some dogs just enjoy digging to look for prey.


Some dogs are dedicated escape artists. If they can’t go over or through, there’s a good chance they’re going to try and go under. For many dogs, this works quite well. Many people don’t have fences that go under the ground, so dogs can easily dig right under them, creating the perfect tunnel to crawl through. If your dog is an escape artist, you might want to consider why he or she is trying to get out of the yard. More often than not, it’s also due to boredom or anxiety.


Dogs naturally seek the shelter of dens. Although it’s not as noticeable in our domestic pets, wild canids still dig dens. Dens are cooler in hot weather, warmer in cold weather (this is why many of the northern breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, are known for digging), and a shelter they can feel secure in. You might notice your dog digging on his or her bed or in the crate; this is also an instinctual behavior related to digging dens outdoors. In short, denning is very natural for dogs and is a difficult behavior to break if your dog enjoys having a self-constructed home outdoors.

Putting a Stop to Digging:

It’s extremely difficult to stop a dog from being a dog. But, there are ways to minimize digging so your yard and garden don’t look like Swiss cheese. First, think about why your dog is digging. An anxious dog needs confidence-building, and a bored dog needs more stimulation. By identifying the cause, you will be more effective at curtailing the behavior.

Ensure your dog is getting enough mental stimulation and physical exercise every day. This will help with boredom and anxiety, and provide more appropriate types of fun. You can also make the backyard more entertaining by providing puzzle toys for your dog to play with outside. Training sessions in the backyard are another way to occupy and exercise your dog. Plus, they have the added benefit of changing your dog’s perception of what the backyard is for i.e. interacting with you, rather than getting into trouble.

Any time you catch your dog digging, redirect your dog to another activity like doing a trick or fetching a ball. Reward that new behavior heavily with praise, pets, and treats so your dog comes to see that new action as more rewarding than digging. Finally, even with toys and games, the yard is not a place for solitary confinement. Don’t leave your dog alone and unsupervised outside for long periods of time.

Channeling Digging in Appropriate Ways:

Despite all your best efforts to redirect your dog, that digging instinct can still kick in. So why not embrace it? If it brings your dog joy, find a way for it to work for you. The easiest way is to give your dog a digging spot. A sandbox can work wonders in this way. Bury rubber bones and other toys in the sand so your dog can find treasures while exploring. This will make the digging spot more rewarding than the rest of the yard. Any time your dog starts to dig somewhere other than the digging spot, gently redirect them and reward any digging in that preferred place.

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