A dog digging around the garden can destroy the plants, so it’s necessary to stop them in time. However, since digging is part of their instinct, it can be very difficult to prevent them from digging again.
To stop a dog from digging in the garden, pull the dog’s focus away from digging. Do this by the methods listed below:
- Train the dog
- Spend time with them and exercise them
- Get toys they can use without people
- Get them an alternate place to dig – perhaps assemble a sandbox to distract them
- Buy a doggie pool
As we’re about to learn, this isn’t that simple. Digging is part of a dog’s nature; even these steps could prove ineffective with some dogs. Read on to learn more.
Stopping Your Dog from Digging in the Garden
Dogs dig in the garden because of boredom, anxiety, loneliness, or simply because they want to explore. We can minimize this behavior by providing our dogs with attention and various enhancements to keep them busy.
To stop a dog from digging in the garden, we’ll need the following:
- Training snacks
- A sandbox
- A doggie pool
Tip #1 – Train your dog
Lack of intellectual engagement is often the cause behind a dog acting out. This is especially common with highly intelligent breeds, such as Rottweilers or German Shepherds. Training a dog every day will lower the chances of them acting out.
Dogs are curious, intelligent animals whose needs aren’t restricted to just the physical but also the mental.
Training a dog will not only make them feel less of a need to dig, but they will also listen better. A more disciplined dog will be easier to handle when it comes to digging.
Tip #2 – Spend time with your dog and tire them out
Spending time with a dog is one of the few things guaranteed to keep them from digging holes around the garden. They won’t dig around if we’re playing with them or if we take them out.
Take the dog out for a walk or a run. Throw a ball or a frisbee around. The latter is the better option, as it will tire them out – a tired dog won’t feel like digging.
This, however, isn’t always an option. We still have to leave home for work; in that case, our dog will have to find a different way to stay entertained. This brings us to our next few points.
Tip #3 – Get toys and things for your dog to destroy
Dogs, especially young dogs, must constantly be entertained while awake. Otherwise, they often find that destroying stuff is the most entertaining thing for them – this is why dogs that no one pays attention to often end up tearing pillows and shoes apart.
If there is something chewable – let the dog have it! It’s better for a dog to chew on a piece of rubber than dig a hole in the yard.
Toys are just as effective, if not more – dogs are easily entertained by squeaky toys or by pulling toys, such as rope. These should keep our dogs entertained while we can’t give them attention.
Tip #4 – Limit the digging area with a sandbox
If the dog is still digging around and ignoring its toys – get them a sandbox. A sandbox is easy to dig in, and the dog will have a blast, while the damage will be restricted to the sand.
Tip #5 – Cool them down with a doggie pool
Animals are known to dig during the summer as the ground is colder below the top layer of soil. It’s possible that this is the reason the dog is digging. Get a doggie pool to help them deal with the summer heat.
These pools are usually inexpensive and if overheating is the reason behind their digging, they’re a very simple solution.
There’s a plethora of reasons why dogs dig in the yard. This behavior is very similar to other digging behaviors observed in the wild. For example, dogs will often bury food leftovers under the ground.
This is a strategy used by many animals, especially when food is abundant. Since they can’t eat it all, they bury their food in different spots. That way, they keep food safe from other predators, and even if one cache is found, they don’t keep all of their eggs in the same basket.
We call this behavior hoarding, and it’s mostly seen with rodents but also with some larger mammals. Wolves, which are both closely and distantly related to dogs, are known to hoard food or toys and return to it later (source).
So, if you see your dog digging around the yard, they may be looking for a bone they buried a week ago.
Another reason for digging is cooling down. If the summers get very hot and we have a breed that isn’t adapted to hot weather (Siberian Huskies, for example), they’ll come up with their own ways to cool down.
One such method is digging into the soil. The temperature is lower, just a few inches beneath the topsoil, and the dog will remain cool for a while.
A dog will also dig if they’re looking for an intruder in the yard – a snake, rat, or mole.
Another common reason for digging is mental – dogs dig as a relief method The dog could be bored or anxious (source) because we’re not home, and digging a hole is their equivalent of letting stress go on a punching bag.
This behavior is very similar to the destructive behavior some dogs showcase. Sometimes a dog needs to rip something apart to entertain itself or to feel better.
Finally, the last reason a dog might be digging is to get out of the yard. Dogs are a very inquisitive species; if a dog is bored, it will want to get out of the yard and explore. Since they might not be able to jump over the fence, they will try to dig their way under it.
Since digging is a symptom of boredom and anxiety, the most effective solution is entertaining the dog. While the dog would definitely appreciate us spending time with them personally, they can be entertained with toys.
Dogs can dig up plants for any of the reasons explained in the previous section. They like digging up plants instead of digging a hole in the lawn because it’s easier to focus on something physical, such as a plant, than just digging up the flat ground.
A dog will likely dig less as it ages but is unlikely to stop completely. The instinct to dig is ingrained into their brains just like the instinct to bark, and it’d be incorrect to guarantee that a dog will stop digging.
Puppies and younger, immature dogs indeed cause more trouble than adult dogs. They have more energy and are curious about the world around them as they know little about it.
You’ll be happy to know that some dog breeds are prone to digging while others dig less. Terriers of all kinds are great diggers, as well as dachshunds. These breeds were bred specifically for ground-hunting (source), which is why they’re called ‘earth dogs.’
While no dog is entirely dig-free, greyhounds are an example of a breed known to dig less than other dogs.
Positive reinforcement and training are the best way to keep dogs from digging in a garden. Negative reinforcement should not be used as a dog-training method. That way, they will only learn to fear us. In this case, however, we’re only talking about momentarily stopping a dog from digging.
The best way to ‘explain’ to the dog why they shouldn’t be digging in the garden is by stopping them every time they start to dig. While dogs don’t understand words, they understand body language and tone of voice. They will understand what we mean if we give them a stop command.
There’s no 100% effective way of discouraging dogs from digging – they’ll dig if they want to. What we can do, though, is control where and when they dig and make sure that they don’t dig around any plants.
To truly minimize a dog’s digging, we need to train and work with them, following the steps explained at the beginning of the article.
For example, our late dog (a lab-poodle mix) loved to dig in the garden. We discouraged him from doing so with a stop command (ours was a very basic “Nuh-uh!”), and then redirect him to other activities. It didn’t always work, though, so we kept him out of the garden area as much as possible – and never let him go in there alone or unattended.
Dogs share many similarities with wild animals, and being deterred by smells is one of those similarities. They despise the scent of chili peppers, garlic, lemon, limes, vinegar, and alcohol.
If applied to the spot the dog’s interested in, some of these smells could discourage them from digging.
One thing that has to be pointed out is never to use mothballs to deter a dog from doing something. While mothballs are effective in this regard, they’re very dangerous if ingested (source), and the dog could die.
Will coffee grounds deter a dog from digging?
Animals do not like things that taste or smell bitter, which is exactly what coffee is. Dogs usually avoid coffee grounds, so spreading coffee grounds around a digging spot could deter digging. However, coffee grounds can also be toxic for dogs, so they should be used cautiously.
Before spreading coffee grounds where your dog can get them, make sure that your dog’s breed doesn’t have any known issues with it. Coffee grounds could be a problem for dogs if ingested. So if your dog is more likely to eat than stay away from them, keep them safe, and don’t use them.
Does vinegar stop a dog from digging?
There are two reasons why this will not work for longer than a few minutes. Firstly, the soil will naturally drink the liquid, and the scent will disappear. Secondly, whatever remains of the smell will evaporate quickly.
Spreading a water-vinegar mixture will probably have instant but short-term effects.
Vinegar has a very strong, acidic smell to it because of the acetic acid in it. This drives animals nuts as it overloads their sense of smell, and they become disoriented, not to mention that it’s unpleasant.
The latter is a big problem with scents – they evaporate quickly, and if they don’t – animals get used to them quickly. Smell-based repellents aren’t a viable long-term option for animal control.
Stick to what you’ve learned in this article to stop your dog from digging, but be ready to accept that it might be a digger. While this can be terrible for the garden, trying to stop a dog from digging would be like trying to stop them from marking its territory or scratching itself.
If the case is extreme, try working with a dog trainer, but nature is often impossible to un-train.
If you need to keep your chickens out of the garden, go check out our article 10 Ways to Keep Chickens Out of Flower Beds and Gardens.
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- “Caching in on Leftovers.” Defenders of Wildlife, defenders.org/blog/2012/10/caching-leftovers. Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.
- Gibeault, Stephanie MSc. “Why Do Dogs Dig?” American Kennel Club, 25 Oct. 2019, www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-is-my-dog-digging.
- Mothballs – Regulation, Proper Uses and Alternatives. npic.orst.edu/ingred/ptype/mothball/regulation.html. Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.
- “Why Do Dogs Dig?” American Kennel Club, 25 Oct. 2019, www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-is-my-dog-digging.