CVMA-ACMV

Boredom and Frustration May Lead to Destructive Digging

October 23, 2012

It is natural for dogs to want to dig and most dogs enjoy doing so.  In fact, many breeds have been genetically selected over the years specifically because of their inclination and abilities to dig. This includes most terrier breeds (hence, the name terrier, from the French word terre, which means earth or ground). Unfortunately, when digging is done in the wrong place, it suddenly becomes a behavioural problem.

Dogs that dig are probably digging either because of boredom or barrier frustration. Dogs that spend a lot of time by themselves outdoors or are confined to a yard for long periods of time without supervision tend to use digging as a means of combating boredom. The classic example of this is the case where the dog is let out to amuse itself, rather than being taken out for active pet-owner interaction.

To correct this digging problem, there are a number of possible solutions. Your veterinarian is the best source for obtaining information, resources, and solutions to this problem.

Among the many solutions available for correcting this behaviour, digging due to boredom can be resolved by eliminating boredom. First, make sure that you spend lots of time with your dog.   Make sure that he is well-exercised in order to burn off excess energy, including plenty of running, playing, fetching, and walks.

As well as exercise, you also need to obedience-train your pet so that he will respond to your "no" when you catch him in the act of digging.  Redirecting his energies to other activities when he wants to dig cannot be accomplished if he does not obey your basic commands. Obedience training also serves to further reduce boredom.

If the digging behaviour is due to barrier frustration (i.e. he wants to escape from your property), providing him with plenty of exercise and walks will help.  However, at those times when he is not supervised, you must either crate him or provide a run with a concrete floor for him.  Once he has been trained to stop digging, he can be permitted run of the property again.

If all else fails, you may need to provide him with his own digging area where he can dig to his heart's content without fear of reprisals. If this becomes an alternative, you will first need to train your dog to use this area.   This can be accomplished by encouraging him to dig in the digging area and rewarding him when he does so.  To encourage digging, you can try burying some of his favourite toys so that he can be rewarded when he digs them up.  At the same time, he should be reprimanded when you catch him digging elsewhere, then taken to the digging area and rewarded when he uses this area instead.  By teaching him to dig where and when it is appropriate, spending more time with him, preventing boredom, and providing lots of exercise, digging can be controlled.