Digging occurs for many reasons. Dogs dig to bury and recover bones; they dig cooling pits when it’s hot and warming pits when it’s cold; they dig up prey and they dig dens. Digging is a highly enjoyable and natural canine activity. Lack of exercise, prolonged confinement and boredom can also cause digging. Once digging starts, it can quickly become a habit.
If you provide your dog with regular walks, runs, play-time and training, the chances are you will not have a digging problem. But until your dog has been taught that digging up your garden is not allowed, he should not be confined indoors or to a dog run, a certain area of the yard. Though this is not the solution; it is a temporary measure until your dog can be trusted not to destroy your garden or freshly planted bulbs.
The Digging Pits
If your dog loves digging, provide him with his own digging pit Make sure the pit is neither exposed to extreme hear nor unprotected against the winter temperatures/winds. A 3 x 5-foot space about 2 feet deep is recommended. Dig it up to loosen the dirt and mix in a little sand to help it drain when it rains.
Let your dog watch you digging and if he joins in to help, praise. Once the pit is ready, it is easy to convince your dog to start digging in it. Take some of his favorite toys and treats and bury them. Call your dog and help him dig things up. Remote collars might help too to adjust behavior.
Once he gets the idea and is digging without your help, enthusiastically praise him and repeat, ‘Dig in your pit, dig in your pit.’ When he digs up a treat, he is immediately rewarded by getting to eat it. If it’s a ball or toy you’ve buried then you can immediately play a short game of fetch, then bury it again.
Repeat this over and over, always repeating the command, ‘Dig in your pit.’ Your dog will quickly learn what the command means. You can test this by putting your dog inside the house, burying a dozen or so treats and exciting chew toys, and then letting him out. Say ‘Dig in your pit’ and praise him if he goes to the pit. This training can usually be accomplished within a few hours.
Continual Reward for Digging
Once your dog has learned that digging in his pit is fun; you must still encourage and praise him whenever he shows any interest in the pit and especially for digging there without any encouragement from you. Every day you can hide all kinds of fun things in the pit, which will keep your dog busy for hours. Even if he has found all the goodies, he will keep digging and looking to see if anything else is buried there.
Discouraging Bad Digging Habits
Once your dog understands that digging in his pit is acceptable and knows the command ‘Dig in your pit,’ you can teach him that digging elsewhere is forbidden. Teach him first to say completely off the vegetables and flowers, only grass or other parts, such as a driveway, etc. is allowed territory. If your dog barks excessively, read here what to do about it.
Make a short fence, only about one foot high around your flowers and vegetables. That fence itself won’t hold your dog off these places but it clearly gives him a signal of a forbidden area. A few small sticks with a length of string attached to the top are fine also.
Spend some time outside and watch your dog. Each time he gets close to the boundary, immediately warn him by saying ‘Off.’ If one paw goes over the line, scold him firmly until all four paws are back on the correct side and then immediately praise him. If you invest some time, your dog will learn to keep out of your precious flowers and vegetable garden.