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Why does my dog dig and what can I do about it?

Yup.  True.
Yup. True.
J. Donahue

Certain breeds of dog dig all the time while others - like mine - get the itch to scratch in the yard in early spring, just as the grass is greening up. Aside from the risk to ankles upon falling in these holes, there is also the muddy mess that is inevitably tracked in the house. Does your dog dig in the yard? Why does he or she do that, and what can you do about it?

Why digging and scratching?

In the case of Beagles, beagle mixes, and other hound breeds, they may be following their noses. Something in the dirt intrigues them - bugs, trash, decaying leaves/branches, etc. Some dogs actually eat dirt or, in our neck of the woods, Georgia red clay. You'll know if this is happening: your dog has a ring of mud on his or her nose; your dog leaves mud behind on toys or your hand when you pet him/her; the water bowl has mud, grass, etc. in it. This behavior is called pica and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has good information on it. If you suspect pica, talk to your vet to determine whether it is serious. Your dog may be compensating for something lacking in his/her diet, although if you're using any reputable brand of dog food this is unlikely.

Reasons for digging, scratching, and other unwanted behaviors are many, and can be as simple as boredom or anxiety. If you've ever caught your dog in action, you probably noticed that he or she was having a blast - apparently digging is a whole lot of fun!

Is the dog getting enough exercise? In the case of multiple dogs, are they operating as a pack? Are they digging to escape? These are all questions that can help you with what to do next.

What to do about those holes

Most of us don't want holes decorating our newly greening lawns, and for those who operate lawn mowers holes are downright dangerous. The good news is that you can remedy holes relatively quickly in warmer months.

If you have bermuda (and many of us in Atlanta do), you are in luck: you can use common play sand to fill the hole. Home improvement stores have this in stock year-round, and it is actually great for bermuda - bermuda will grow through sand quite happily. You can add seed and water, but in warm months, the grass will start growing through the sand by itself within a week or so.

Other grasses, fescue in particular, will need a little more effort. You'll have to fill in the hole with soil and seed or, depending on the size of the hole, put a patch of sod in place. Then water until well established, especially as the weather warms up.

What next?

So once you've figured out how to fix the hole, how do you prevent the dog(s) from digging there again? As a dog owner whose dogs get digging fever every spring, I can help you - but I have to admit, it's gross. If you scoop your yard regularly, you know that dogs like to spread it around. It is possible to train dogs to only go in one spot, but I have never had success with that; it just seems easier to scoop and move on. At any rate, scooping a small amount into the hole the dog(s) dug and then covering it with sand/dirt will prevent reocurrence in that spot. It also seems to create a zone of avoidance, so you can hopefully keep them at bay until the grass is fully green and the digging bug has passed...until next year.

This also works near fence gaps and other areas where dogs may want to explore - dogs love gross stuff, but not necessarily their own. Funny how a Lab who will roll in unknown grossness will avoid their own excrement.

Another easy fix is to keep your dogs nails short - shorter nails may create a less pleasant sensation on the paws and also alleviates any attempt to file their nails on the hard surface.

Doing your homework to find out why the digging occurred is important. In the case of seasonal digging, it really seems best to just wait it out. They get a little joy, eat a little mud, and you get to level the yard. Just watch out when you walk around!


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