One of my favorite social media pictures is a Belgian Malinois and the wonderful holes he dug. It reminds me of my old Hunter. Hunter was a large, active dog who was a digger. At our first house he excavated a crater about four feet across and three feet deep under the landing of our back steps.
Dogs dig for many reasons including: digging is enjoyable, they want to escape a yard, trying to alleviate boredom, creating a cool spot on a warm day. Digging is a trait various breeds and crosses of those breeds have. Terriers, for example, have centuries of breeding telling them to go to ground and dig out vermin. We have a Standard Schnauzer, a working breed. Part of her breed history includes farm work and vermin eradication. True to her breed, Uhura has dug some serious holes where we knew rodents were taking up residence in our gardens. Why should I try to fully train out a natural behavior? I compromise with my dogs.
Designate a space in your yard where it is fine for Rover to dig. The spot should be located away from fences to reduce escaping. Using landscape blocks or timbers mark out off an area a couple feet longer than your dog. This is his designated digging zone. In the digging area, put several inches of soft dirt. I would place the digging spot in a shady area or provide shade over it. Do not expect your dog to immediately take to the digging zone, especially if he is used to digging somewhere else.
As with any behavior, I want to set dogs up for success. Showing them what is desired before they do something undesired is important. Bring him to the digging zone and make it interesting. Scatter bones and treats across the dirt. Bury things for him to find. Dig with your dog, show him what to do. Make a big, fun deal of this behavior. In the beginning, every time you go out with your dog, show him where it is good to dig. You will need to monitor him, especially if he was used to digging in a different area. If you see Rover heading to the old area, before he gets digging, redirect him to the new spot.
From a dog’s point of view, many yards are boring. Enriching our yards with different toys, creating places for games of tug, using food releasing toys, ramps and raised platforms for climbing (away from fences), wading pools for playing bobbing for kibble, and human led games such as fetch, flirt pole chasing, etc., along with a digging spot, can help alleviate boredom.
If your dog is digging to escape, you need to address it immediately. Make it harder for your dog to dig under the fence. There are commercial products like Dig Defense you can buy. These stick in the ground at the base of your fence. River rock or gravel around the fence may discourage other dogs from digging out. Make an L out of 18” vinyl coated wire fencing and run it along the fence perimeter. Cover with dirt, gravel or mulch. Bored dogs are at greater risk of digging out to find activity. Make sure along with securing your yard that you meet your dog’s physical and behavioral needs.
Digging is a normal behavior many dogs love to do and may be driven to do based on breed/type. Instead of discouraging it, encourage it in a more acceptable place.