How to correct (or reward) a dog’s digging habit

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How to correct (or reward) a dog’s digging habit

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

I adopted a lab/pug mix from a local shelter, and we just love her. Unfortunately, she’s a digger. She is digging our tree and lilac roots, which she pulls out and chews up. I’m hoping it might be a vitamin deficiency that we can fix with nutrition, otherwise any suggestions? I have put her poop in the holes, filled the holes with dirt, and dragged her to the holes after the fact and told her no. I have heard mouse traps work, but that seems mean. I have a dog door to the backyard, so I don’t have complete control of when she’s going outside. I also have a Shih Tzu, so I don’t want to block them from going outside altogether. 

– Jayne Miller from Aurora, IL.

Dear Jayne,

While supervising your dog and catching her in the act is the best way to correct unwanted behaviors, there are some things you can do to discourage or reward – yes, reward – the behavior when you’re not home.

There are many reasons why dogs dig, which all require different solutions. Based on your letter, I think your dog developed the habit to entertain herself, so let’s talk about ways to discourage the behavior first. 

You can put a small metal garden fence around the areas where she likes to dig. If she steps over the fencing too easily, then crisscross rows of twine in a grid pattern a few inches off the ground or put potted plants or heavy rocks where she likes to dig. The idea is to set up road blocks to keep her from digging in this area.

You mentioned using mousetraps to startle her into staying away. I don’t think they are safe around pets, but there is a product called Snappy Trainer® that is similar and safe to use. Place it in the yard where you don’t want her to dig. If she touches or bumps it, the device will snap and flip into the air, which may discourage her from going near your trees and lilacs. 

If she loves to dig, however, she may just find another place in the yard to have fun. That’s why I think it might be easier to reward her habit by making her a digging pit – a 3 x 6 ft. sandbox where you can hide toys and treats that she can uncover and discover every day.

To train her to use it, let her see you bury a few hot dog pieces in the sand, then use show and tell to teach her how to “dig in the box.” When she uncovers a treat, give her another treat as a reward. If she knows there are buried treats, she will likely stop digging elsewhere and focus her energies on her new “treat” pit.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal, CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 25 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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